Trade Show Diaries

A behind-the-scenes look at trade shows.


You Should Have Started Yesterday
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tradeshowguy


Whenever someone new to trade shows calls me about doing one, I invariably have to point out to them that they are already running behind. If you are planning to go to to a trade show, and it is less then three months away, the odds are that you have already committed yourself to spending more than you should. The lead times on trade shows vary greatly, but three months is a good rule of thumb for the minimum, and even then, you may have already missed some important pre-show discounts. The best possible time to plan to attend a trade show is while the show is happening the year before. In some cases, this is almost mandatory. For instance, if you are planning to attend Comic Con, which happens every July in San Diego, the discounts are good until the end of the year, but if you haven’t applied for a space before the end of August, you are probably out of luck. This popular show fills up fast, and you will find yourself stuck in the crap shoot of cancellation slot availability (which can sometimes work to your advantage, but never count on it).


Of course, the downside to early sign-up is when the bosses decide that they would rather not attend a show that you have already committed to. An early space reservation means getting the exact space on the show floor that you want, but it also means that half of the price of the space is immediately due, and this is usually non-refundable. The best way to avoid this situation is (as is the case with many things in life) good communications. You may think the show is going great, but the boss might feel differently.

Nearly every trade show has early-bird specials. For springtime shows (and international summer shows) this often means that some payments are due by the end of the previous year. It is important to get together with the CFO and discuss this. Most people who are not immediately involved with trade show planning are unaware of how early some payments must be made. If the bosses have not budgeted those payments into the previous years expenses, you may meet resistance when it comes time to spend the money.

It is twice as important to plan ahead when you are going to an international show. Shipping, alone, for these shows can take months. I once worked for a man who always liked to ship the most important products for a show at the very last minute. This was mostly because he wanted to work on them and refine them up until the day of the show. Whenever we did an international show, I started to worry, because I knew that—unlike a show in the United States—overnight shipping to Europe or Japan is rarely a possibility. Even when he was willing to pay the exorbitant rates for one-day overseas shipment (and they are astronomical) he never took into account the fact that whatever he was shipping still had to get through customs. Often his solution to this predicament was to enlist some poor soul from the company, who was also attending the trade show, to carry the product with them as part of their luggage. While this technique usually worked, it also meant the person chosen to do the transporting had to contend with excess baggage fees and the headache of schlepping around a heavy piece of equipment while in transit. One year, he wanted to ship a 200-pound machine to a show, he devised a plan whereby different people would carry different parts of the machine into Germany and then he would assemble the entire device on site. All well and good until he left the assembled machine with me to ship back. It took me three months to get that blessed machine out of Germany. As you can imagine, Germans are meticulous about keeping track of what is brought in and taken out of their country. As far as they were concerned, this piece of equipment was made in Germany and needed to be accounted for. On the plus side, my boss was deprived of his most precious new product for three months. I think—I hope—that he learned the most valuable lesson in trade show participation: plan ahead.

The 2010 Revelation Perth Film Festival
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tradeshowguy
I recently flew to Perth, Australia to attend the Revelation Perth Film Festival—one of the most unique and innovative film festivals on the planet. Every film festival likes to boast that it is the most imaginative, forward-thinking, and ground-breaking one there is, but most suffer from timidity. Perth does not have this problem. This is due in part, no doubt, to the fact that film historian Jack Sargeant is the program director. Mr. Sargeant mainly writes about unusual, obscure, and individualistic films, with a strong emphasis on the transgressive. This influence is evident at Perth with films like Dogtooth, Sons of Steel, and La Horde, but he also realizes that any good film festival requires a broad range of films—from childrens’ films (Stephene Aubier and Vincent Peter’s zany A Town Called Panic), to documentaries (Tom DeCillo’s excellent Doors documentary, When You’re Strange), to low-budget features that you probably missed (Ben Wheatley’s overlooked Down Terrace).

It is a strange sensation to travel for twenty-eight hours, only to end up in what looks for all the world like San Diego. Not to mention that the trip from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere means that not only time, but the very seasons are turned upside-down. Perth is normally a very hot place, but I got there during their winter and the weather was cool and rainy. This suited me just fine, but the people of Perth (who are just wonderful) kept apologizing. I told them, “Look, I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. If I wanted sun, I’d have stayed there!”

This kind of north-to-south, halfway-round-the-world travel plays hob with a person’s sleep cycle. I kept waking up at two-thirty in the morning, but it turned out that this wasn’t really a problem. The final games of the World Cup were in progress and two-thirty in the morning is exactly when they started. I pity the rest of the world if the World Cup ever comes to Perth.

At the core of the Revelation Perth Film Festival is something that is missing all to often from other film festivals: a real love of the medium. While many film festivals devolve into competitions among the local socialites to see films first, Perth’s festival is all about the movies. Yes, it has the requisite world premieres, but this does not seem to be the driving force behind the festival. Rather, it is about giving people an opportunity to see films that deserve more attention than they might otherwise receive. Sometimes this means bringing back forgotten oddities (like Sons of Steel), and sometimes it means opening new films to new audiences.

The RPFF was held at the Astor Cinema, a beautiful old Deco theater in the Mt. Lawley district. Most of the screenings I went to were well attended and the crowds were enthusiastic. In addition to the films, they also offered a lecture on oddball film genres, a workshop on how to market and distribute films, and a panel discussion on the state of independent filmmaking in Australia. I was giving the lecture on oddball films, and I was impressed with how well things ran. Drivers were organized to get me to and from the theater as well as radio stations where I did a couple promo spots. Everything along every step of the way was in order. Having been in charge of several dealer meetings over the years, I know how much is involved in getting all these details right: the hotels, the airlines, the the transportation. It is so much work! Hats off to guest liaison, Toni Clancy, for all her hard work.

Review: Roku HD
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tradeshowguy

Okay, I am going to go a little off topic today.  A few months ago, I decided to try and cut down my Dish network bill. I had heard good things about the Roku HD box and decided to try it out. The main advantage of the Roku was its ability to stream Netflix. By itself, streaming Netflix wasn't that much of an advantage. Yes, it certainly increased my ability to watch Netflix movies without waiting for disks, but there are still many films that are only available on DVD, Showtime is very good about providing streaming versions of their shows, but HBO, nada. Fans of foreign films and documentaries will find the streaming feature far more useful than those of you who like to watch whatever Hollywood is selling. Roku offers several other channels, but only a few of these are worth mentioning. One of the best things about it is the fact that it will stream Pandora. Some recent additions to the radio line-up include Blastro, which streams hip-hop and dance music (pass, thank you), Radio Paradise (better), and RadioTime. RadioTime seems to be the Roku version of Shoutcast, which isn't really a bad thing. I have also noticed that I get far better streaming results with RadioTime than I do with Shoutcast. For the techie, Roku also offers the Revision3, TwiT.TV, Blip TV Techpodcasts, and Blubrry channels. Also, although it is listed as a premium channel, MHz Networks offer the news from France24 and Al Jazeera everyday for free (it also offers RT News and South Asia Newsline, but the less said about these, the better). Of course, if you prefer the U.S. slant on the news, you can also watch that with the Roku box via the Mediafly channel, along with a host of other video podcast news.

If you are willing to pay a little every month, there are some other channels of varying quality. Netflix is, of course, the main pay channel, but Amazon also offers pay-on-demand movies. Compared to what my Dish TV charged for pay-per-view, Amazon is actually a pretty good alternative. Drive-In Classics, Moonlight Movies, Kung-Fu Theater, and Cowboy Classics are low-cost channels that specialize in specific genres. I wish I could recommend these, but the quality of the films on these channels is roughly the same as that old video copy of Night of the Living Dead, that you have lying at the bottom of that box of VHS tapes in your closet. BigStar TV is another premium channels that specializes in independent films, but at $4.95 a month, it hardly seems worth it to me. A quick check of their movie selection shows that many of these films are also available via Netflix.

For sports fans, there are also channels devoted to baseball, basketball and ultimate fighting. For the real hard-core nerds out there, there is also the NASA channel, which appears to be running in HD. Okay, I'll admit it: I sometimes enjoy watching those high-def external views of the earth from the space station. If you want to use your TV as wallpaper, there is also a channel that streams you photos from Flickr. And if you are gay, there is a channel for that too.

All in all, I'm finding the Roku HD box to have been an excellent investment. I now only receive the local channels via Dish, which cut my bill from $80 a month to $6. Plus, I switched to one disk at a time for Netflix. In other words, the Roku box was paid for before the second month was over!

Not all is peaches and cream though. I have heard reports of incompatibility with certain routers. Linksys/Cisco routers seem to work fine, but I can't vouch for any others. I'm using an old Linksys WRT-G router, which is not exactly state-of-the-art, but it works well. A friend had a newer Belkin router that did not work at all. If you are a game player, then you probably already know that you can get many of these features through your PS3, or Wii. For the non-gamers out there, the Roku box is a great way to go.

When This You See, Remember Me
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tradeshowguy


At any trade show, you'll find plenty of promotional giveaways (or “swag” in the popular vernacular). Pens, bags, mugs, posters, mints, balls, and nearly everything else you can imagine have been used to try and get people to remember a company that they visited during a show. These items range from the immediately practical (e.g., pens, and sticky notepads) to playful (e.g., stress balls and yo-yos) to ridiculous (e.g., Weepuls and temporary tattoos). A promotional item can be a powerful tool for attracting customers to your business or web site, but it can also be a waste of money, and, in some cases, it can even work against you. Here are my rules for trade show promotional items.

 

Rule 1: What is its primary function?

You need to answer this question before you even begin thinking about what to give away. Is the item designed to attract people to your booth at that show, or is it to get people to remember you later? For most companies, the latter is the goal, but there are occasions when what you may want is to get as many visitors to the booth as possible. For this, you want something that will be readily visible when carried by people at the show. The most common example of this is the shopping bag. In the past, these were usually plastic bags, designed to help people carry their swag, but lately, as people become more aware of ecological issues, companies are switching to reusable shopping bags, like the ones sold at most major retail stores. The advantage of the plastic bag is that it is usually printed with brighter colors than the reusable grocery bags and therefore more likely to attract attention. The downside is that most of these are good for only one thing: carry around promotional literature at a trade show. They are rarely kept more than a few weeks after a trade show, and some people may feel that they send the wrong message ecologically.

 

The reusable grocery bags are usually made of either a non-woven material or cloth. The cloth ones will set you back more, but they are more durable, and people keep them much longer.

 

As a rule, the bigger bag will always end of on top. As people wander around a show, they will stuff the smaller bags into the biggest bag. The ultimate example of this practice was seen a few years ago at Comic Con, when Warner Brothers films handed out faux burlap bags large enough to carry three weeks worth of laundry. The end effect,however, was exactly what they wanted. You could not help but notice the WB bag wherever you were on the trade show floor, and all the other bags ended up inside of the WB bag.

 

One of the most clever alternatives to the shopping bag I ever saw was at the IPEX show in England. Fuji was giving away small, bright orange, roller board suitcases with the company logo and their IPEX booth number silk-screened on them large enough to bee seen a few feet away. This must have cost them a pretty penny, but they were all over the show floors, and certainly caught the eye of anyone who saw them. I even found myself visiting their booth, and I had no personal need for their products! I doubt that many people kept these for very long after the show, but I don't think this mattered to Fuji. With the booth number printed so large on these roller boards, the purpose was to drive visitors to the Fuji booth. Judging by the crowds there, this item did the trick.

 

If the primary function of the giveaway is to get keep your company information in front of the attendee for several months, then you probably want something that will end up on their desk. While pens are popular, I think you'll find that pens often migrate to other places. Nonetheless, pens do get used and—on occasion—are looked at by customers.

 

If you are trying to promote a web site, one of the best giveaways you can choose is the sticky note pad. Look in any office and you will see that most monitors are covered with sticky notes. Could anyone ask for better advertising? It's like branding their monitor with your product. Every time they log on, they are looking at your web address. It is usually only a matter of time before they check it out.

 

I am always amazed at the number of serious businesses that give away kids toys. Here's what happens with those: the booth attendee gives it to his kid when he or she gets home and never looks at it again. In truth, they probably didn't look at it that closely at the show either. They will attract people to your booth, but for all the wrong reasons. If you just want people to visit your booth, toys may have a place in your marketing, but most of the time, they are a waste of money.

 

Rule #2: Does it Make Sense?

Ideally, your choice of promotional item should relate in some way to your business. This isn't always possible, but when it happens it's a good thing. A coffee company can always take advantage of a coffee mug as a giveaway, but this will also work for meeting software. The idea is to find a mnemonic relationship that makes sense. Be careful though, a manufacturer of toilets, for instance, probably shouldn't give out water bottles, unless they are intentionally going for cognitive dissonance.

 

Rule #3: Make it a Good One

It is possible to buy pens for as little as 10¢, but resist the temptation. Usually these cheap pens barely work and will end up aggravating the person trying to use it. Is this the message you want to send to potential clients? A good, well made pen that lasts may cost a little more, but people will keep it longer. It may even become their favorite pen. A couple years ago I received a very nice pen from Go Events Management. Every time I use it, I find myself admiring the heft and writing quality of the pen. This inevitably leads me to look at it and Go Events is reinforced in my mind in a positive way.

 

Rule #4: Giveaway Does Not Mean Give Away

The number one mistake that most booth personnel make is to treat giveaways with the same indifference as they treat the sales literature and mints. Too often I see booths with stacks of pens lying on the counter for anyone to take. Think of a giveaway item as a form of business card. You wouldn't walk around a trade show handing out your business card to everyone you see, so why do it with your promotional items? They are not called promotional items for nothing. I recommend handing them out only to people who might have some reason to purchase your product or services. That doesn't mean you have to be penurious: If someone asks you for one of your items, by all means let them have it. There will always be a few swag collectors that want everything (in Germany, they refer to them as “Beutelratten”: bag rats. But by not simply giving them to every student, swag collector, and passer-by, you increase the odds that those items you spent money on will end up in the hands of people who can use them to profit your business.

 

Giveaway items are a great way to promote your business, but they are not a panacea. They are advertising, and like all advertising, their proper application requires thought, study, and imagination.


The Trade Show Utility Kit
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tradeshowguy

While I'm busy trying to keep track of all the big things involved in a trade show, it is easy to overlook the little things. For this reason, the one thing I always make sure I have with me at trade shows is my utility kit. The utility kit is a box containing all the little things that you might need during the course of the show. My utility kit contains the items listed below. Some are obvious, but some are less obvious and easily forgotten, but no less useful.

Office Supplies
Like a regular office, you will inevitably find yourself needing paperclips, a stapler (with extra staples), scissors, and pens. You can forgo the pens if you you are using them as your giveaway items (more on this at a later date).

Adhesives
A variety of tapes is always a good idea. This includes a roll of regular magic tape, duct tape, masking tape, and double-sided tape (removable). I would also include in this category some Velcro strips. If you are using a pop-up stand, Velcro becomes even more useful as you can use it place to signs on the panels. Of all the tapes I bring, the Velcro strips usually wind being the most useful. A small container of white glue is not a bad idea either.

Business Cards
Before you pack up, get a small stack of business cards from everyone who will need them at the show. The sales people will remember to bring their cards, but the executives won't. Even those who remember to bring their cards may run out and they will thanks you later for bringing extras. This is especially true at shows in China and Japan, where handing out business cards is the equivalent of the handshake.

Misc. Electronics
An extra surge protector or extension cord can save the day. An iGo with the most common adapter plugs can make you a god to the salespeople (in our company, iPhone and Razr phones were the most common). This is by no means necessary though, see this article on what to do if you forget your phone adapter.

Emergency Supplies
A small first aid kit, or, at the very least, a box of Band-aids is highly recommended. A small sewing kit is also helpful.

Real Tools
Don't forget the screwdriver! I use one with interchangeable tips. That way I never have to worry about not having the right one. A pair of pliers, a small hammer, and some tweezers are also a good idea. I also recommend a box cutter. You will certainly need it when you get to the show. Just don't don't try to bring this kit on the plane with you.

The Rest of It
A nail clipper and emery boards are also useful. You may want to add a box of mints and some hand cleaner, but these are easy to find at most convention center shops nowadays. A ball of string is also handy, especially when faced with the need to tie things down (see my last article on exhibiting in Shanghai).

That is about it for my utility kit. As long as you have all these things you should be okay. The biggest problem now is forgetting to restock certain supplies when you run out. Are there any things that you would add to this list? If so let me know in the comments.

A Tale of Two Cities
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tradeshowguy
       

It was the best of shows, it was the worst of shows. I thought it might be fun to compare two trade shows: one in Shanghai, and one in Tokyo. Although relatively close to each other geographically, the tenor and techniques at these trade shows could not be more different than chairs and chopsticks. Each has advantages and disadvantages. I'll let you decide which you prefer.

The Japanese have a hard-earned reputation for exactitude. This trait is in full evidence at their trade shows. You'd better have all your i's dotted and t's crossed or your booth shipments will come to a standstill until everything is in order (you'll find this is also true at German trade shows, but more on that some other time). The Japanese run things efficiently, but the price of that efficiency is an attention to detail that many Americans will find intimidating. You forgot to sign one of the sheets? No shipment. You turned the paper in at office A instead of office B? No booth. They are also sticklers about deadlines, so don't try to slip things in at the last minute. That might work in the land of McDonald's, but not in the land of the rising sun.

In Shanghai, on the other hand, an attitude of “whatever works” is the order of the day. You want to bring in more equipment after the show starts? No problem. You are missing some important papers that are required before your set-up can be completed. Okay, we'll just set things up anyway.

The biggest difference between the two cities is the difference between the behavior of the trade attendees. Suppose you have small sample on display at your booth. In America it is common to attach these with chains or string to the booth counters to make sure that they don't disappear during the show. At my first Japanese trade show, I naively asked one of the Japanese booth workers if they had some way to tie my sample books to the counters. He looked at me like I was a child. “You don't need that in Japan,” he said. In Tokyo, the samples can safely sit on the counters unattached to anything. Even if every single sample is being circulated through a large crowd at your booth, by the end of the show you'll find that all of the samples have been returned to their appropriate spots. In Shanghai, you better make sure that not only are your samples attached to the booth, but anything else that can be easily carried off is also tied down. At regular intervals, security guards come through the show with free tie strings to help with this. It is also not uncommon for fake Rolex sellers to approach you while you are working the booth. These guys are extremely pesky, but if you bother to learn a little Mandarin, you may find that this helps shoo them away.

Both the Japanese and Chinese trade shows end promptly as scheduled, but at the Shanghai show, my pallets were in the aisle a half-an-hour before the show ended. In America, a stunt like that could get you banned a show, but even with a half-an-hour left, we were one of the last booths to start packing. The Japanese show was more like the American show, except that the pallets arrived much sooner after the show (although I have, on occasion, gotten lucky and received my pallets at American shows remarkably soon after closing).

The Japanese have an interesting technique for ending trade shows. Seeing that westerners always end their New Year's celebrations by singing Auld Lang Syne, the Japanese decided that the song had something to do with ending things and going home. As a consequence, many places in Japan use this song to indicate that they are closing. There is even a station on the satellite radio there that does nothing but play Auld Lang Syne, over and over, 24 hours a day! The song starts softly at the end of the day in the Tokyo Big Site (the most popular sites in Japan for international trade shows), and slowly increases in volume until it is impossible to ignore. By then, most attendees are gone. Even so, it is far less offensive to me than those terrible theme songs used for Drupa (see previous post).


Wherefore art thou MacWorld?
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tradeshowguy



                              
The MacWorld Expo has come to San Francisco once again, but this time, things are different—really different.

 

When the MacWorld show started in the eighties, it was a medium-sized show. It shared the south hall of the Moscone Center (the bigger of the two halls) with a boat show. As interest in the Mac grew, the show got larger and larger, until the boat show found itself out at the Cow Palace and MacWorld had taken over the entire south hall.
            

Then it really began to grow. Things peaked out in 2008, when the show filled both the north and south halls at the Moscone Center, and the newer west hall as well. The MacWorld Expo was the place to be if you were at all interested in Apple products.

      

But some time between 2008 and 2009 things changed. The fact that the MacWorld Expo occurred within weeks of the Comdex Show had never been much of an issue before, but with the crossover between computer technology and every other piece of technology in the house, suddenly the Comdex show had an appeal to many software and hardware manufacturers (Apple and Adobe included) that it never had before. Adobe underwent a major rethinking of there trade show strategies for 2009 and decided to skip the MacWorld Expo (they also skipped the Print show in Chicago, choosing instead to concentrate on the photo market instead of the printing market).

 

Then this year, Apple announced that they weren't going to bother coming to MacWorld, opting instead to release the new iPad a week earlier at a special event in essentially the same location as the MacWorld Expo. Ouch!

        

The end result: dozens of vendor pulled out, and the once grand MacWorld Expo shrank down to the size of the average baseball card convention. The management put up screens to close off portions of the south hall, and created large special interest pavilions to help fill things out. In the picture above, the show looks crowded, and it was. But keep in mind that what you are looking at is roughly half the show floor on the first day of the expo.

         

On the plus side, the keynote speaker was David Pogue, a man whom I greatly admire. I did not go to the keynote speech, but I suspect that I would have enjoyed it more than Steve Jobs. By restricting the floor space, the MacWorld people ensured that all the vendors kept busy, which probably made the vendors happy.

            

As a side note I also noticed a strong demographic shift in the crowd away from the twenty-somethings and yuppies of the past to people in their forties and fifties. I don't know what that means exactly, but I do suspect that this is a crowd that is more likely to have some actual purchasing power, which can only be good for the vendors.

              

It will be interesting to see what next year will bring for the MacWorld Expo. Perhaps we will see it at the Hyatt Regency instead of the Moscone Center. After years and years of attending this show, that would make me a little sad.


So you want to be a trade show manager?
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tradeshowguy
Back when I was a kid there was a series of books found in every school classroom. The book titles all started "So You Want to be a..." Each book discussed all the major aspects of a given career, what other skills you needed for the job, and the level of education required. I remember one titled "So You Want to be a Rocket Scientist." I think that was my favorite. I never saw a book with the title of this post, but there is a great source of information online at How Stuff Works. Marketing writer Lee Ann Obringer covers the main points of trade show work remarkably thoroughly for such a short article. The article also includes some useful links (including two of my personal favorites: Exhibitor Magazine and CEIR), although some of the links are no longer active. The article brings up some interesting issues which I will be discussing in a future post at greater length.

A BOOTH IS NOT A STOP SIGN
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tradeshowguy
“A trade show booth should act as a stop sign,” the saying goes. The idea here is that a trade show booth should make people who are passing by stop and take notice. I don’t really think the stop sign analogy is a good one. After all, we only brake at stop signs because we are required to by law. It also suggests a certain “Hey, look at me!” approach to booth design, that usually ends up more pitiful that effective. There are better ways to get your booth noticed by the wandering hordes.

Perhaps as a writer I tend to relate everything back to writing, but here I find a useful analogy between writing and booth design. One of the first rules of writing—and this is true for any type of writing—is that the first sentence should make you want to read the rest of the paragraph and the first paragraph should make you want to read the rest of the article. The same certainly holds true for a trade show booth. Use this simple formula for your trade show booth design, and I think you'll find that you have a better chance of attracting visitors to your booth.

The First Sentence
In terms of a booth, the first sentence represents the major signage. These are the words and images on the walls of the booth. Look at them carefully and ask yourself if they make you want to investigate a booth more closely. This can also include the hanging sign, although I think you'll find that the hanging sign serves more to help people find your booth when they are looking for it than to attract newcomers to the booth. The approach you use here will depend greatly on the primary interests of the people attending the trade show. Are they technically inclined or just the opposite? What is the current trend in the field, and does your product address this trend? If you've attended this show in the past, what have you noticed about the interests of those that did visit your booth? All of these things will play into your choice the major points that your booth signs address.

People who visit trade shows fall roughly into two categories: people who are interested in the latest technology and people who are interested in buying that technology. Obviously, you primarily want to appeal to the latter group. Lookie-loos are fine, but your odds of persuading them to purchase your product is inherently questionable. Do you have a solution to an important issue in your chosen field? If so, you should come up with a way to express this succinctly to the people who are simply walking by your booth. Try to find the right catchwords that will pull people over to your booth. For this, a solid background in that particular field is always helpful.

The First Paragraph
This represents the things that people will find when they move into the booth space. This includes, smaller signage, brochures, tabletop displays and the like. At this point, you should start focusing the interest in your products. That they were attracted by the major signage indicates at least a passing interest in your products or services. Now it’s time to explain to them the real advantages. At this point, they will want compelling overviews. Ideally, you want them to say, “Ooh, I need that!” Here again, a good working knowledge of what show attendees are interested in is vital. Obviously, this is easier to accomplish if you have attended this particular trade show in the past, otherwise, some research is in order.

The Rest of the Article
This is the point where you talk to the attendees, either individually, or—if it is more efficacious—as part of a group demonstration. Too often booths are designed without taking this important factor into account. Is there a consistent flow to the floor plan for your booth or are people from opposite sides constantly  running into each other? Does your group demo file out directly into the path of the new visitors? If the booth was designed with specific flow models in mind, make sure that everyone working the booth understands this and watch out for the maverick who chooses to ignore this (there's one in every company). Your staff needs to know that booth flow is an important aspect of the booth design and that they ignore this at the expense of the company’s bottom line.

The Conclusion
Finally, the people that are interested in purchasing your product or services immediately need to be given special attention. In most cases, you should turn these people over to your sales force at this point. This is their bailiwick, and they will know how to deal with these people. If that is not possible, you will need to listen carefully to what these potential customers are saying. Are they fishing for the drawbacks, or the advantages? If they are looking for the drawbacks, try and preempt any objections with solid advantages. Ideally, no you should not let them introduce a single minus without countering it firmly. If they are looking for the advantages, your job is easier, but you can still blow it at this point if you are not careful. Now they need to understand the advantages of purchasing the product as soon as possible. Trade show specials are a great way to implement this.

Above all, make sure that you talk to as many people as possible at every trade show you attend—including the lookie-loos. Sure, they aren’t going to buy anything, but the more you know about what they are thinking, the more you can deal with it in the future. They are still part of that trade show’s audience. If you've given them good memorable information about your products, then there is always the possibility that they will have the opportunity to act on the information in the future.

INTREPID TRAVELER #6: HP MINI 1000
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tradeshowguy
Quite by accident, I seem to have become an expert on netbooks. When the Asus Eee PC came out—the one that started the netbook craze—I was an early adopter. All those hours of traveling around with a six pound laptop were taking their toll on my poor back. Let it be noted that six pounds doesn't sound like much, until you find yourself walking around a strange city for hours with the thing slung over your shoulder. The Eee PC seemed like a godsend. Alas, it wasn't.

With the reduced size of the netbooks came a new issue: the keyboard. If you are reducing the size of a keyboard, you have to make some concessions. Some the keys have to be smaller, but you still want them to be as large as possible. Most netbooks solved the problem by shrinking the shift, tab, and enter keys, and the space bar. On the original Eee PC, Asus chose to solve the problem by shrinking the shift keys down to the same size as the other keys, and then shifting the number row one key to the right. As you can imagine, this led to lots of typing errors. While it is true that you eventually adjust to the keyboard, I never found myself completely comfortable with it; due in part, no doubt, to the fact that most of my time was still spent on a regular keyboard. [Apparently, I wasn't the only one who felt this way. The next generation of Eee PCs had a notably better keyboard layout, althouth the problem with the miniature shift keys persisted.]

My next netbook was the Acer Aspire One. Weighing even less than the Asus, it was definitely a step in the right direction. The larger size of the space keys helped with typing, but I still never got completely up to speed on it. The layout was nearly perfect, but the 89% of normal keyboard size was still an issue.

Which led me to my latest device: The HP Mini. The HP Mini keyboard is still larger than the Acer, and it weighs even less. It seemed like the perfect solution, and in some ways, it is. It is relatively easy to type with, and the screen resolution options make it possible to view multiple frame web pages on an 8.9" screen. It doesn't have the Wow Factor of the Acer; more people asked me about my netbook when I had the Acer than they do with the rather drab looking HP, but if I have to choose one to work on, I would go with the HP.

Which leads me to my inevitable conclusion: As good as netbooks have gotten, the fact of the matter is that there is a reason keyboards are the size they are. Any attempts to make them smaller are a step in the wrong direction. The HP Mini is acceptable. I find I have few typing problems with it, but I would still prefer a full-sized keyboard. If anyone ever comes out with a laptop that has a full-sized keyboard yet weighs a kilogram, I am going to give that device serious consideration.

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