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exhibiting 101
Get Your Act Together
All the world's a stage, but not all exhibitors should seek the spotlight. So before you plan an in-booth presentation, heed the following advice. By Candy Adams
Most exhibitors have seen their fair share of sleep-inducing in-booth presentations. But they've also seen the opposite: show-stopping speeches and demos with standing-room-only crowds. To make sure your in-booth presentation is in the SRO boat, consider the following advice.

Have Something to Say
Before you start planning your in-booth presentation, ask yourself whether or not you have anything interesting to say. A boring presentation about a product or service you launched three years ago might do more harm than good, positioning you and your brand as dated and irrelevant. But if you have any new products, new features on existing products, or a new marketing or branding campaign, then a live presentation might be a good idea.

A live presentation may also be appropriate if your primary objective at the show is to educate attendees about who you are, what you do, and why they should buy your products, or if you hope to demonstrate a complex technology or dispel myths or rumors about your brand. A well-crafted presentation can help you achieve these goals; plus, the one-to-many format can help you reach a broader swath of attendees than if you relied solely on one-on-one conversations.

Once you've identified that you do, in fact, have something interesting to say, ask yourself if that message is relevant to the majority of attendees. If the bulk of the show's attendees represent your target, and you're looking to announce a new product, for example, then a presentation makes perfect sense. But if you are only targeting a fraction of the show's attendees, a formal presentation could be overkill, and your budget might be better spent on a tightly focused campaign aimed at top prospects.

Craft Your Key Message
Next, craft your message. Ask yourself: "What information made our current customers buy from us?" The most effective presentations demonstrate how a company or its offerings will help attendees cut costs, increase efficiency, or avoid hassles.

So focus your script on the benefits of your product that will help attendees achieve those things, and your message will be more likely to resonate. Obviously, you don't have to limit yourself to a single script or style.

Some of the best live-presentation strategies alternate between product- or application-specific presentations and informational overviews. In fact, I've seen exhibitors post schedules of rotating presentation topics, including everything from brief product demos to lengthier panel- or session-style presentations addressing customers' pain points or providing a case study of how a client employed a product to overcome a particular challenge.

But remember, when it comes to in-booth presentations, it's generally best to keep things concise. Just as graphics with too much information are ineffective, endless presentations that drone on won't retain attendees' interest either. My rule of thumb is that a presentation should last no more than seven minutes, and attendees should be informed how long it will last when they are seated.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
Before you get too far into your planning, decide who will be presenting. That person might be one of your staffers, a product specialist, a business partner, a current customer, or a professional presenter.

If you pick someone who is not accustomed to presenting, such as a member of your company's research-and-development team, it is important he or she understands the scope of the assignment and is willing to rehearse – and I don't mean a couple of pre-show run-throughs during booth setup. Your presenter needs to memorize the script long before leaving for the show's host city. Then, hold a pre-show rehearsal in the exhibit using all audiovisual and presentation tools. This on-site test run is a chance for your presenter to polish his or her performance, get used to the microphone, deal with any AV-related problems, and work out any pre-show jitters. But if this is the first time your presenter has seen the script, you are begging for a trade show disaster.

If you don't have any in-house staff willing to take on this job, you can find talent that specializes in trade show presentations through a trade show marketing or talent agency. Most big cities have several different agencies, and there's usually an official one listed in the show manual. Some are full service, which means they can help write the script, develop on-screen graphics or slide decks, and choose a presenter. They can also connect you with their trusted AV providers for on-site support.

Set the Stage
Your presentation area should be highly visible from the aisle and inviting enough to draw in droves of attendees. Use a high-quality display and sound system so everything looks and sounds professional and so that attendees can see and hear clearly from a distance. Remember that the industry standard for the maximum decibel level when measured from the center of the aisle in front of your presentation space is 85 to 90 decibels. Exceeding this sound level will annoy other exhibitors, and it won't endear you to show management either, since reps will be fielding complaints from your neighbors. In fact, I have seen exhibitors who have ignored multiple warnings by show management to turn down their sound levels have their booth's power turned off for the day.

For brief presentations, you don't have to provide plush seating – just something to let your audience take a load off for a few minutes. You can rent stacking chairs, benches, hassocks, or horizontal "bum bars" to lean against. Whatever you choose, decide how to handle those attendees who stand behind your seating area and spill into the aisle. Your booth-space contract most likely has a "confines of booth" clause that prohibits you from using the aisle space outside your exhibit. Obviously exhibitors can't totally control aisle traffic, but if your presentations continue to create crowds that block the aisle traffic to other exhibitors, show management might mandate that you get security personnel to keep the crowd moving and not blocking the aisles surrounding your stage area.

Time it Right
When should you hold your presentations and how often? One consideration is your location on the show floor. It takes longer for attendees to get to the back and rear corners of the hall, so if your exhibit isn't front and center, you may want to delay your first presentation of the day until a half hour after the show opens.

Also consider aisle traffic. If the show is known for having keynotes, educational sessions, or meals that pull attendees away from the exhibit hall, you may want to space out your presentations during those times to avoid putting on a show for a bunch of empty chairs.

To prevent a dueling banjos effect with neighboring exhibits that may also be hosting live presentations, contact show management and get the names of neighboring spaces' exhibit managers. Then contact them before the show to coordinate the times of your presentations. It generally works out well if neighboring exhibitors agree on which one will present on the hour and which on the half hour, with any others presenting on the quarter and three-quarters hour. You can even announce to the audience that "Our neighbor is getting ready to start a presentation in just a few minutes" to cooperatively drive traffic between your presentations.

Promote Your Presentation
Many companies spend time and money to create presentations but fail to promote them. Then they wonder why they're not drawing the traffic they'd like. So before the show, mail or email invitations to prospective attendees. Advertise your presentation schedule on your company's website, and if you plan on distributing token gifts to thank attendees for coming to your presentation, promote those as well.

Inform booth visitors when your next presentation will begin by using a programmable display or clock that boldly shows presentation start times. You can also post announcements on Twitter so those following you at the show can plan to attend the presentations that appeal to them.

Don't Forget to Measure
All of your planning can be for naught if you don't have a surefire method to collect, manage, measure, and evaluate information from presentation attendees. To capture demographic information, use either an electronic badge reader or manual lead forms on clipboards with pens. Make sure that you have sufficient booth staffers available to monitor the audience's buying signals during the presentation (having attendees raise their hand in response to questions during the presentation is a great way to help staffers identify interested attendees) and to speak with prospects after each presentation is over. Having your presenter point attendees to staffers standing on the perimeter of the presentation area or toward demo stations within your booth can also help direct interested prospects to further conversations with your team.

Set quantitative goals for both the number of presentation attendees and the number of qualified leads among that group. You can gather this data through your lead forms, audience-response systems, and/or notes from conversations between staff members and prospects indicating that they have attended your presentation.

You may also want to consider using crowd gatherers to administer exit surveys between presentations to record attendee feedback, such as whether the presentation triggered a change in perception of your brand or increased their interest in your company's products or services.

Finally, don't forget to thank the booth visitors who took time out of their busy trade show schedules to attend your presentation. Whether it's just a sincere "Thank you" or a gift that's appropriate to your target audience, letting attendees know they're appreciated is the perfect finale to any in-booth presentation. E

Candy Adams
"The Booth Mom," is an independent exhibit project manager, trainer, speaker, consultant, and an Exhibitor Conference faculty member. CandyAdams@BoothMom.com

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