Trade shows are a sea of competition, with vendors and exhibitors vying for the attention of the same customers. While larger companies can afford flashier show displays, small businesses can still grab their share of attention by presenting their business in a professional and engaging manner.

The show floor: presentation matters

First impressions are critical when competing for attention, and every attendee is looking: your customers, your prospects, your competition and possibly even the trade press.

Your booth says a lot about your business but limited space means you have to be thoughtful and efficient with the room you have. While incorporating innovative ideas into your trade show plan will help you stand out, there are some essentials that should be considered:

  • Make your space as personal as possible. Small touches can go a long way to create a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. Cover tables with tablecloths, preferably with your logo prominently displayed.
  • Keep clutter to a minimum. An area that is clean and uncluttered will always be inviting.
  • Use quality displays to showcase your work and draw customers’ eyes from a distance, including walls and banners which lift the customers’ eyes.
  • Display products upright so they are visible as crowds walk past. Use stands if necessary for flat objects like books, banners or art.
  • Choose the right swag: given the weight limitations of airline travel, less and less branded swag makes it home with potential customers. Functionality is key to ensure your swag doesn’t end up in the trash before the show ends. Currently popular swag includes mobile device chargers, reusable shopping bags and insulated water bottles.

Working the floor

After your booth, networking may be the most important branding activity you do at a trade show. How you present yourself on the convention floor demonstrates how you and your brand can be as resourceful and trustworthy as a larger company. The best way to prepare for your first trade show is to be approachable. Other important networking tips to note:

  • Come willing to learn and share, not just to pitch your brand.
  • Talk about displays and exchange business cards with your booth number on it.
  • Befriend your neighbors – the vendors around you. They’ll be less likely to compete with you for attendees’ attention and may even send you traffic if you do the same.

Social media promotion

Today trade show and event organizers have social media accounts and hashtags ready to promote their events. A great deal can be learned from watching how show organizers themselves promote the show. Official social accounts or hashtags can usually be found listed in marketing materials for the events or on event websites.

If you can’t find official social media promotion from organizers, check sites like Twitter and LinkedIn early during the event to see how attendees are connecting. To leverage social media to your benefit:

  • Include the event hashtag or account in anything you share. By doing so your message will automatically show in the related feed, increasing your chances of being seen.
  • Remind customers and prospects of your brand’s attendance, letting them know about contests, panels, and new products.
  • If there is no official hashtag for the convention, create a one with the show name.
  • Promote regularly throughout the event, not just once or twice. Live-tweeting during speaking events can be beneficial to non-attendees; talk about what you’ve seen. Retweet speakers, attendees and even select other vendors.
  • Use friends, employees and peers to help increase social visibility via retweets and shares.

Everyone can have a great convention experience. Customers aren’t always looking for the flashiest gizmo. They want to buy from and work with vendors who they can respect and with whom they can form a long-lasting relationship. It’s about putting forth your best professional and creative self. Standing out in the crowd isn’t about having the biggest toys or the brightest lights.