Leave the right impression

Conferences and trade shows are popular ways of marketing your products and attract attention to your business.

They’re also great places to expose your organization to key people in your industry.

Do you ever attend conferences for your company? If so, you know that the impression you make on others can stay with them for a long time. That’s precisely why you should prepare for a conference carefully – before you attend.

Pre-Conference Preparation

Your role at a conference can vary. You may be an attendee, you may have a company booth to exhibit products or services, or you may even be a speaker. Regardless of your involvement, you must do a lot more than simply show up and wait for new business opportunities to come to you.

With careful planning, you can get the most out of your investment in the conference, and make the most out of every potential business opportunity.

Set your objectives

What do you hope to achieve by participating in the event? Are you:

  • Looking for sales leads?
  • Launching a new product?
  • Developing customer loyalty?
  • Building new relationships with suppliers, distributors, and other stakeholders?
  • Developing your brand?

When you know your goal, it’s much easier to focus your attention in the right places. Make sure you link your conference objectives to overall company strategy.

Establish a budget

What can you afford to spend? This is an important pre-conference consideration: these events can use up marketing budgets very quickly. When you know what you can spend, you’ll be able to customize your exhibit and other marketing materials accordingly. Consider the following promotional materials:

  • Brochures.
  • Business cards.
  • Giveaways (pens, paperweights, T-shirts, and so on).
  • Display booth (ranging from very large and elaborate to small and simple).
  • Press kits (press releases, photos, interviews, CDs, and so on).

Publicize your involvement

Let your key customers know that you’ll attend the conference or trade show.

  • Send a mailing to your customer database.
  • Use your website to announce the event, and invite people to stop by your booth.
  • Mention the event in promotional material and press releases.
  • Sponsor an activity at the conference, like a breakfast or reception.
  • Put your logo on bags, pens, or other conference giveaways.

Develop a system to follow up on leads

This step is often overlooked. The leads generated from conferences are already highly qualified. Make sure you know how you’ll deal with each contact. Enter all names into a database, and assign someone to follow up immediately after you return to the office.

Also, have a system to deal with direct sales at the conference. It’s important to have someone back at the office to process such requests.

Research other attendees

Know who else will attend the event, and develop a plan to talk to key representatives. Whether you’re an exhibitor or an attendee, you may want to talk with speakers, contact industry leaders, and network with many other people to make the most of your time at the conference.

Your Conference Presence

“Impression” management is key to a successful conference. You’re essentially on display for everyone to see, so make a good impression and be a good ambassador for your organization.

Know your product and business

Be prepared for any question. Familiarize yourself with new developments, research topics on the conference agenda, and understand how your organization fits into the industry.

Prepare your materials

  • If you’re an exhibitor, keep your booth simple. Choose one main message, and reinforce it with all your materials. Make sure that you understand your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and stick to it: The more focused your message, the easier it will be for your contacts to remember that message – and remember you.
  • If you’re speaking or hosting an activity, prepare in advance. Practice with your team, and make sure you’re confident with your material. For specifics on presentation skills, see Delivering Great
    and the Presentation Planning Checklist.

Be professional at all times

  • Establish a dress code.
  • Make sure someone is at the booth at all times.
  • Keep the booth clean. Try not to eat at the booth, and make sure coffee cups and other personal items are put away.
  • Remember that you’re always representing your company – whether you’re on a lunch break, relaxing after dinner, attending a cocktail party, or simply walking around the exhibit floor. Don’t say or do anything that would reflect poorly on your organization or be offensive to anyone.


If you’re at an evening event, make sure you don’t overindulge in food or wine – it’s easy to do this if you’re nervous, and you’ll create a bad impression if you do.


  • Try to stay at the hotel where the conference is held. This will help keep you in contact with other attendees.
  • Have lots of business cards with you, and make sure to give a card to everyone you speak with.
  • Attend as many activities as possible. Choose those that are most relevant to your organization and your objective. Personally thank the person hosting each activity, giving the speech, and so forth.
  • Ask questions. Find out as much as you can about other people’s work, organizations, and products. This is a time to learn and gather information as well as sell. Make sure that what you ask is relevant and “on topic”, and don’t just speak for the sake of speaking. Moderation is the key to not creating a negative impression.
  • Talk to as many different people as possible. It’s easy to seek out people you already know and spend coffee breaks and other social time together. Force yourself to keep meeting new people, and split up the people on your team as much as possible.

Be enthusiastic

You’re there to sell and effectively represent your organization. You must show high energy and high motivation at all times.


When the conference is over, you and your team will probably be exhausted and just want to relax. Unfortunately, that has to come later. The days immediately after the event are critical for following up on leads.

Prioritize your leads

As a team, discuss the most promising leads, and develop a plan to follow up with the key contacts for each. Track your progress, and record each step that you take.

Explore strategic business opportunities

Investigate opportunities that you may have discovered at the conference. Are there new developments, trends, or industry challenges that you must address?

Evaluate the return on your investment

Use figures like these:

  • Number of leads generated.
  • Increase in contacts.
  • Sales achieved.
  • Cost per contact or lead.

Evaluate your performance

After the event is also a great time to assess your performance and identify ways to improve. Here are elements to consider:

  • Was your objective-setting and pre-planning sufficient?
  • Was your booth set up well?
  • What was the quality of your marketing materials?
  • Were your giveaways well received?
  • Did other attendees do things that you could do at the next event?

Consider serving on the organizing committee for next year’s conference

This is a great way to be more involved in setting the agenda, determining the theme of the event, and making sure your organization’s involvement fits well.

Key Points

Conferences, and others events that bring industry professionals together, are great places to generate highly qualified leads and develop your presence among your customer base. To be successful at these events – whether you’re attending, exhibiting, or presenting – keep in mind one important rule: watch your words and actions at all times, because you’re being watched at all times

These events are wonderful marketing tools. To make the most of your investment, plan your objectives up front, then be an excellent networker and ambassador to ensure that you leave the right impression.

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