How to make the most out of conferences and trade shows – effective tips for startups

Guest post by Elodie Castagna and Shane Murphy, FTI Consulting

There are a number of big technology events being held every year as CES January, Mobile World Congress in February and Microsoft Ignite in February s.  It can be somewhat daunting attending these events, especially when you are a small fish in the sea and most of the attention automatically goes to big and established players.

Prior to the event:

When deciding to attend, the first question you need to ask yourself is ‘How do I make the most out of this event?’ It can be intimidating at first, as networking is not about how many business cards you are able to quickly hand out, but rather how you can establish rapport and build a relationship that can lead to opportunities. The key is really to break the ice by making meaningful contacts with the people you want to get in front of, and that can eventually lead to a follow up discussion. Think about what you want to get out of the conference and the 3-5 people you really want to speak to.

o    Therefore do the appropriate research beforehand, check online which companies are due to attend, and on Twitter who will be there via some relevant keywords, and if you are interested make contact with them before the event, and even try and arrange a meeting time for during the event. A fixed appointment time set before the conference starts, is far more likely to be kept than a passing comment that you should “catch up”. This is an easy way to break the ice beforehand, when everyone has more time.

o    Successfully meeting a few key people you would otherwise perhaps not have reason to meet is a great outcome; after that any additional unexpected contacts are a bonus.


At the event:

Once at the conference, you should make it easy for people to understand what you do.

o    Come up with a sentence or two that quickly and accurately explains what your company does. Make sure it includes what the primary benefit is to your customers, and leave out unnecessary jargon that people new to the industry might not understand.

o    This is the classic “elevator pitch” – you’ve just gotten in the lift alongside a well-known investor or financier, and they seem interested in what you do – but you’ve only got 30 seconds at most before they step out.  How do you cut through in a short time?

o    You could also have some key words printed in the booth which describe what your solution does and its main key advantages to the user. It is also useful to have a rolling demo of your product on a screen showing how it works.

o    Have collateral ready to hand out, as a one page factsheet on the business and on what you are offering.


Also avoid marketing trinkets, as harsh as it sounds big companies will do it better.  We have all received cheap gadgets from trade shows which are generally given away by 80% of booths and end up in the bin.

o    Also hiring young, college-aged female models to help promote technologies as messaging apps, or 3D printers is a BAD idea as it does not convert in the greatest return on investment.

o    It’s best to have someone there who can talk in detail about the technology you are showcasing.


What you should focus on is developing an interactive booth, somewhere people feel compelled to step into.

o    What the team at 3D printing company, ROBO 3D did at CES was to make people help them print pieces of a giant 3D printed robot called ROBBIE that was being printed live at the Show. This got attendees involved and every person who took part in the printing entered into an automatic raffle to win one of the company’s 3D printers.

o    You could also start a competition where once attendees take a selfie of themselves in front of your booth with the banner in the back, and tweet about it, then they receive a free offer for the product, i.e. if you have a messaging app you can give away free calling minutes. Giveaways in general work well for startups as you have a fixed, known cost for the campaign (i.e. the giveaway) but you can “scale” to as many competition entries as you may receive.

o    An alternative could be to host a fun game at your booth, which is relevant to your industry, and is a great way to start interaction and communication.

o    Also make sure you think about the “flow” of your booth – you want to make an open and inviting space that people feel comfortable walking into. All too often a booth will be turned into a “booth fort” ringed by counters or other furniture that inhibits free access to the floor space.


While there, also make notes on the back of business cards you collected to help you with your follow-up. If you have an idea about how you might work with someone you met, or if you have an idea for how this person might be useful to you, write it down.

Directly after the event:

Fresh after the conference and while people remember you, schedule your next contact.

o    Send to the key people a ‘nice to meet you email’, reminding them what you do, what you can do for them, and that you would be keen to have a meeting or follow up call in the next two to six weeks from the event. Also offer something in your email that is useful for your contact.


There are many ways to get ready for a conference, just remember to always do enough preparation beforehand, as being at a conference is about executing a plan rather than making it up there!

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