What happens in Vegas shouldn't stay in Vegas - How to make the most of trade shows

I've been to Las Vegas for two different trade shows in the past month. Although the city has a notorious reputation for debauchery, it's also an unparalleled hub for business. If you're going to any trade show, whether in Vegas or at your local VFW hall, there are a few things to consider to ensure a successful experience.

1. Even if you can't afford a booth, the first step is to show up. Purchase an attendee badge (or see if they have a free option available) so you can at least walk the floor to network with potential customers and conduct some competitive research.

2. If you have a booth, feature something unique to draw people in. At the recent Nightclub & Bar Show, there was a booth for an extermination company. You'd think that this booth would quickly be overlooked at a show that featured countless beer and liquor companies offering free samples. However, the exterminators featured an assortment of live creepy crawlers such as tarantulas and scorpions, delivering a crowd that rivaled even the liquor companies. There are countless ways to draw attention to your exhibit: free giveaways, a putting green, a raffle, an open bar, models. At another trade show, I saw one company that had a live monkey in their booth (animals are pretty much a guaranteed hit). At the very least, make sure to have a live product demo. You're competing for the limited attention of the attendees; no one is going to take the time to stop by a boring booth just to grab your brochure.

3. Be prepared. A large portion of the work that goes into a trade show takes place prior to the event. The first step is the booth itself. A professionally designed exhibit will help you put your best foot forward. Also make sure that it is set up during the designated installation times before general attendees are allowed on the show floor. You will also want to bring ample marketing materials and plenty of business cards to hand out.

4. Try to close the sale right at the show. This means that you should bring order forms and any other purchasing paperwork that's going to be required. While people are surrounded with the excitement of the convention, they get wrapped up in the moment and will be more likely to pull the trigger on a purchasing decision. Once people leave the show, they quickly lose enthusiasm and you lose momentum. Granted, some purchasing decisions require additional time and consideration, but at least try to get a hard commitment out of the prospective customer if possible.

5. Take advantage of after-hours activities. Prospective customers often have their guards down at the convention's happy hour and other evening events. This offers a more informal venue for networking and provides an excellent opportunity to build a connection when they're not feeling as defensive against sales. 

6. Leverage the media in attendance. Trade shows and conventions are always prime locations to get face time with reporters from industry publications. They're there looking for a story - give them a reason to use yours. Obtain a media list from the show organizers prior to the convention and reach out to potential contacts to pitch your story, pique their interest and, ideally, set up a time to meet with them at the show. Put together a basic press kit with some of your marketing collateral and recent press releases to hand to the media at the show, or leave a few in the press area with your business card.

7. Don't let what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas. This is probably the most important one to remember. Follow up with all your leads after the show. You want to stay fresh in their minds and avoid losing momentum. You likely invested significant time, resources and capital to attend the show; don't throw this investment away. 

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