5 Tips for PR Pros at their First Tradeshow
I recently attended my first tradeshow, CES 2023. It was intimidating, to say the least: I had no idea what to expect, what to pack, or how to prepare to attend a tradeshow as a PR professional. But with help and support from my amazing team, I successfully got through CES 2023 – and I had fun!
If you’re inching scarily close to this feeling of the unknown (anyone reading this from KBIS/IBS or ISE 2023?), don’t worry. I’m sharing 5 tips on how to survive your first tradeshow.
- Get a good night’s sleep before you go
Although you might feel anxious, it’s extremely important to get a good, full night’s sleep the night before you leave for a tradeshow. Starting off strong with a full battery will put you in the best position to take on whatever the week throws at you. In today’s travel industry, you never truly know how long you’ll be in transit (especially if you fly Southwest). When you do arrive in the busy city hosting the tradeshow, chances are that you’ll be entertaining clients until reasonably late that night – which might feel even later to you if you traveled to a different time zone. The bottom line is that you need to be on your A-game at all times during a tradeshow. There’s no wiggle room to feel irritable or moody from a lack of sleep.
- Bring a big-ish bag
It might be obvious that you should bring a bag to a multi-day event, but what’s critical is the size of the bag that you bring with you on the show floor. I was worried about lugging a heavy bag around with me all day, every day because trust me: carrying yourself is tiring enough. Your bag should be big-ish – that is, just big enough dimensionally to fit your laptop and a few personal items. As a PR pro, you should always have your laptop on you at the show in case your client wants to see files, check coverage, or boost a social media post.
In addition to your laptop, it’s a good idea to have a good, old-fashioned paper notebook. Crazy concept, right? Because tradeshows are about making connections in person, it can be rude and/or distracting to be on a device during the conversation. It’s much more polite to take notes in a small notebook so your guest knows that you’re present and enjoying the interaction. That being said, try to refrain from looking down to take notes too often. Maintaining eye contact in intervals of 4-5 seconds shows that you’re interested and can result in more connection between both parties.
The rest of your big-ish bag should be filled with any personal items that you think you might need. You can’t really go wrong here – it’s much better to be prepared than find yourself stuck with sushi breath when an interested visitor asks you to explain what your client’s product is. Specific items that I was glad I had in my bag at CES were hand sanitizer, lip balm, mints, a portable phone charger, and snacks.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”
When you’re a PR professional representing your client at a tradeshow, visitors at your booth will most likely assume that you’re on the client’s team and ask you questions about their company and/or product. If you’re asked a question that you don’t know the correct answer to, don’t panic. It’s best to honestly tell the visitor that you’re not sure rather than guess or fumble to come up with a vague response that sort of answers the question. In this situation, you should introduce the visitor to a member of your client’s team and ask them to answer their question(s). Don’t be embarrassed! Remember that the client is the expert, and your job is to connect them with the right people.
- Go with the flow
Even if you go into a tradeshow with a tight schedule, just know that it will get rearranged at some point – Sorry, Type A’s. Most press at the tradeshow will have back-to-back appointments and, if the venue is anything like the Las Vegas Convention Center, they might be running to their next destination. Some people will be late for their appointments. It’s crucial to be flexible and willing to accommodate both your clients’ and guests’ schedules so that they can still meet at the show. Make sure to communicate any conflicts to the press right away; they are usually easy to work with.
‘Going with the flow’ applies to post-show hours as well. In my experience, it’s smart to be ready all the time. You never know when you are going to get invited to an event last minute. You want to be ready – physically and energetically – so you don’t miss out on the opportunity. After all, you’re at the show to grow your professional connections. You can rest when you get home!
- Don’t overthink it
The most important thing to remember at a tradeshow is not to overthink it. Sounds simple right? It can feel intimidating talking to a representative of a large company at an event with over 100,000 attendees. But at the end of the day, you’re just talking to people. And guess what? They’re human too! Don’t forget to ask visitors at your booth how they’re doing. Check in to see how their day is going, how they’re feeling, and if they want water. Chances are that the water bottle you offer them is going to make their day. Asking people questions about themselves and active listening are both easy ways to make genuine connections with press and make a good first impression for your client.
If your teammates are at the show, don’t forget to check in on them too. Shoot a text to see if anyone needs an extra hand at their booth or if there’s anything you can do before you leave the show floor for the night. If you’ve managed to get away for lunch, ask if you can bring any of your teammates something to eat. These small acts can go a long way! Having support from and providing support to teammates can help the whole process feel easier and the environment more comfortable.
Thriving at your first tradeshow is no small feat. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at any point before or during a tradeshow, follow my 5 tips to stay on track.