Conference Survival Toolkit: 9 Tips to Make Your Exhibiting Awesome

The first few months of this year are jam-packed with conference fun (and plenty of planning). As with many phases of a company’s growth, shifting from a small 10×10 booth–where most items can be packed up into one of those nifty rolling cases–to a 10×20 or larger booth requires more planning, logistical work, and a jump in “stuff.” Last year we upped our conference game and now have an enormous wooden crate that stores eight different booth ~*~elements~*~ (locking kiosks, standing banners, etc.), and a slew of overhead lights, cords, pop-up banners, tablecloths and more.

 

I’ve always loved conferences (whether attending or presenting). Along the way I’ve learned a few lessons and tips to share with anyone who is coordinating a (larger) conference booth for the first time. While it’s safe to assume that Murphy’s Law will apply to any conference you attend or exhibit, here are nine tips to help you make your next conference planning (and execution) a success.

 

You can never have enough time to set up. Living in NYC, traveling in the winter can be hit or miss. While I missed our only Snowmageddon this year, I made sure to request early morning flights out of the airports in case of any delays. You don’t want to have too small of a buffer between your scheduled arrival time and when the expo hall opens. You never know when an unexpected snow/ice/sleet/~*~wintry mix~*~ or even rain could slow down your schedule–and if you have a connecting flight, you could only be delayed further.

 

If you ship a crate, be ready to wait for it. In many cases, the conference logistics team have until a certain time to bring out any stored crates. At FETC, for example, this was 9 PM. The Expo Hall closed at 2 PM. That’s a seven-hour wait, and no matter how much you beg and plead and show the time of your flight home, they (understandably) won’t favor your crate over anyone else’s.

 

Save boxes during setup. We often have additional items shipped to the booth separate from the crate, so while we usually have more boxes than we need, I’ve been in situations where we think we’re keeping things neat and tidy by tossing out empties right away… only realize we’re short a few containers during teardown for odds and ends we accrued during exhibiting time. Save everything, and only once you’ve packed up the crate fully should you bother to recycle any items.
packing boxes for an effective and successful conference and booth

 

Pack up as much as you can when the Expo Hall closes. Consolidate swag, wipe down your booth materials, and get everything into their respective carrying cases. For items that can only be packed in the crate directly (with no carrying case), lie the items out so you can easily pack it up when the crate arrives. Once that’s done, it’s probably safe to leave the expo hall for a while (or for the day, depending on the teardown schedule). At TCEA in Austin, I got an email from the logistics crew letting me know the booth had been delivered–awesome!

 

Make sure your departing flight home is after deadline of the crate delivery during tear-down. This could mean you have to spend an extra night. We were a little too close for our departing flight home than I would have liked, but thankfully the crate came and we packed it up real quick.

 

Keep things organized. As tempting as it may be to just dump all the dongles, cords, booth screws and electrical wires into the crate, it will make things much easier when you (or someone else) unpacks it at the next event. Put things in their rightful place, and label them.

 

Pack a conference survival kit. We have a plastic bin filled with all sorts of handy items that you don’t realize you need until it’s too late. Our kit includes things like:

  • Sharpie markers
  • Band-aids for nicks and paper cuts
  • Packing tape
  • Scissors
  • Rubber bands
  • Thunderbolt <> Ethernet dongles
  • Thunderbolt <> HDMI dongles
  • Granola bars
  • Clorox wipes
  • Pens and pencils
  • Power strips
  • Post-It notes
  • Business cards

Plus, some things I want to add for next time:

  • Purell
  • Advil/Tylenol
  • Gum

 

Treat ya feets. Our booth setup currently doesn’t include any sort of chairs, so we are on our feet all. day. long. While we all work together as a team and give each other time to find a spot to sit down, catch up on email, and of course grab a bite to eat–it doesn’t hurt to get yourself a pair of these shoe inserts for the other 90% of the time when you aren’t taking a breather. It will surely leave you with some happy feet.

 

Keep funds in your budget with Honey. I’ve found the Honey Chrome Extension to be particularly helpful when ordering last-minute collateral for last-minute savings. The extension sits quietly in your toolbar until it spots some promo codes, then magically applies and tests them for you, helping you find the best deal automatically. No more Googling “Vistaprint Promo Code” and copying and pasting dozens one by one–now, Honey will do it all for you.(Also great for personal use, too, natch.) I saved almost 50% on an order of pricey postcards just by clicking a button. It’s an easy way to pinch pennies that can go back into your budget for some more swag, business cards, or another round of brews for your team after a long day on the expo hall floor.

 

I have one more conference to wrap up before planning begins for the Big Kahuna (ISTE). Stay tuned for more tips!

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