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ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
Q.
Representatives from some of our biggest competitors speak at industry events. Aside from warm fuzzies, what do they stand to gain from doing so – and what is our absence from these activities costing us?

A.
Whether you develop a full-blown trade show speaker program or a couple of your firm's executives give a presentation at an event or two, at-show speaking engagements can provide a host of benefits to your exhibit-marketing program and your brand as a whole. Granted, you'll need to weigh the time and ancillary expenses required to score speaking slots and prepare presenters – and of course ensure that the show's demographics are a good match for your areas of expertise – but here are just a few of the many benefits of speaking at trade shows.

1. Thought-Leader Status – When someone from your firm speaks at an industry event, it usually implies that he or she is an expert in the field. Not surprisingly, then, attendees typically extend that perception to your entire company. That is, session attendees and those that have reviewed session offerings and promotions will be more likely to recognize your company name and perhaps want to talk to your staffers when they walk the trade show floor. Plus, they will often develop an affinity for your brand and a belief that your firm and its employees are thought leaders.

2. Booth-Traffic Uptick – Along these same lines, speaking at an event can have a positive impact on your booth traffic. This is due in part to the brand familiarity and awareness generated via the speaking engagement. You may be surprised how many session attendees will stop by your booth after a respected industry guru suggests you have something of value to offer them, assuming your presenters have crafted a substantive talk that highlights your company's expertise without crossing into sales-pitch territory.

3. Free Advertising – Speaking at a show can score you free advertising from the show organizer. As the show promotes its speakers and sessions via its website, printed materials, social media, etc., your company's name will likely be included. These show promotions also provide an authentic news item you can share on your own social-media channels.

4. Industry Insight – Getting up in front of a large group of people is an incredible motivator, prompting presenters to fully review their topics and likely dive into some new research materials. So, by simply offering a presentation, your presenters are apt to prime their knowledge base with fresh insights. Additionally, presenters can learn a great deal about the company's target market and its pain points by posing questions to session attendees. This is a fantastic avenue for finding out what clients and prospects struggle with and how your company can create or better market products to address those challenges, thereby potentially increasing your sales down the road.

5. Connections and Networking – Event organizers will often have a speaker reception or networking event to help presenters get to know one another. This is an opportunity for speakers to meet the movers and shakers in your industry who can alert you to new information, introduce you to critical connections, or even become partners, distributors, or customers at some point in the future. And of course, presenters can also connect with session attendees, who may become clients.

6. Trimmed Expenses – Some shows will comp hotel rooms, flights, meals, conference passes, and more for their presenters. So while creating a speaker program or prepping your presenters may cost you a bit of time and money at the onset, you could save on show-related travel fees for those wielding the mic.

Certainly, these benefits will go straight out the window if you don't offer a quality presentation that leaves a positive, plug-free taste in attendees' mouths. But assuming you've got the skills and content attendees crave, at-show speaking engagements can help you make the most of every minute of your trade show experience, and, in effect, bolster your program's return on investment.

— Sofia Troutman, digital marketing and product innovation senior manager, Skyline Exhibits, St. Paul, MN
Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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