It seems that no matter what industry you work in, eventually, there will be a conference designed for your industry.

Business Conferences & Trade Shows 101

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It’s easy to see why. Conferences have a unique appeal. Rather than general conferences aimed towards those in any business, an industry conference means you are free to discuss in depth the issues that impact a particular sector.

There is no need for exhibitions and talks to try and cover all the bases; instead, they can tout their specific, individual knowledge, much to the benefit of all that attend.

Conferences in and of themselves are useful, too. It’s a chance to spread the word, market yourself, explore new innovations and make those all-important business connections.

Most conferences also feature a chance to see what’s new in your little corner of the business marketplace, and being on the pulse of development is key when it comes to retaining customers (for more information please check this infographic as well!)

So it can be agreed that deciding to go to a conference is a good thing. When you have made that decision, you then have an even more crucial one waiting for you:

Should You Exhibit?

Business Conferences & Trade Shows 101 - Exhibition

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As with most things in life, there are pros and cons depending on what you might want to achieve from your attendance.

If you are in the market for new business (be it with customers who may be attending, or wanting to work business-to-business), then an exhibition at the conference is the most likely way to get you noticed.

The reason that businesses go back to conferences year-in-year-out that they are generally good for business, so if you’re in need of a new direction or just more custom, then this might be your best bet.

However, that’s not to say that exhibiting is an easy business. You’ll need supplies for your stand, including a few freebies to entice people over.

Some of these costs you can offset by buying through, but there will still be an outlay to think about. You have to be confident you’re going to make back the costs you will incur in new business, which should hopefully lead to repeat business – meaning your investment will continue to repay you for years to come.

There is also a management angle. If you’re a sole trader, then exhibiting can be an extremely stressful process – you might not want to take that level of scrutiny onto your business. If you work with a team it is made simpler, but you will need to ensure you pick the right people to be able to make the exhibition go as planned.

Should You Sponsor?

If you want to guarantee as much promotion as possible, then sponsoring a conference might be the best route forward. This means that your logo – at least – will be included in all the promotional literature, which can be extremely valuable if you’re trying to spread your brand.

Obviously, there is a financial cost involved here; especially if you exhibit also (as most sponsors will maximize their return on investment). If you do this, then try and find the budget for it from marketing – after all, showcasing your business to interest parties is one of the purest forms of marketing that there is.

Or Could You Just Attend?

Conferences & Trade Shows 101 - Break

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If, however, business is ticking over just fine and you’re more wanting to see innovations in your industry, then just attending could be sufficient. There will still – of course – be the chance to network, which may lead to more customers in the future.

If you’re a sole trader, then networking is probably your best route to getting more clients anyway, so an exhibition would be overkill. Keeping your finger on the pulse can as much be about seeing what your competitors are doing as anything else.

Which of the above three options – exhibition, sponsorship, or basic attendance – will depend on where your business is at and what you are hoping to achieve at this time? However, all of these options involve much of the same strategy when it comes to making the most of your time there.

1. Be Engaging

It’s fair to say that conferences are going to have a big toll on you if you’re an introvert. A conference is a time to be all out with your personality, your biggest and best salesperson smile on your face. Don’t be overbearing – that goes too far in the opposite direction – but ensure someone has a reason to want to keep talking to you.

2. Be Polite

One of the major downfalls of how you approach a conference is to use the opportunity to try and besmirch your competition. Of course, it’s tempting: everyone is there, including the businesses or people that you are in direct competition with. You figure a few creative jabs in their direction is well worth it, especially if it helps direct the attention they are receiving back to you.

So let’s be clear: it’s not worth it. You don’t want to get a reputation for being the person who is rude and unpleasant, or who will spread misinformation about their competitors. That also means that if someone says any such things to you, you smile, say “I wouldn’t know, to be honest” and either change the conversation and move on.

3. Stay Switched On

It might be late at night and all you want to do is get back to your room, but if you step into the elevator and see a fellow conference-goer wearing a lanyard, then take a deep breath and click into professional mode. It helps to brush up on some business etiquette beforehand; has some great tips.

Always being ‘on’ can make it an exhausting few days with only your hotel room as a resting place, but you never know where the biggest break of your career might come from.

4. Be Interested In Others

Business Conferences & Trade Shows 101 - Networking

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If you’re attending a conference for the sake of promoting yourself or your business, then it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that’s all you should be doing. It’s important to try and remember that’s exactly what everyone else is thinking too, so try and listen just as much as you speak.