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Show Pro

22 Mar 2023

First impressions count

When planning your participation at The Meetings Show, it’s important to remember that you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

In this month’s Show Pro, we explore why first impressions count, and how exhibitors can ensure they make the right first impression on visitors.

Our expert line up to share their advice and tips are The Delegate Wranglers’ Diane Thompson, Emma Richards, business development manager, UK, for Visit Scotland, and Marketing Liverpool’s head of business tourism Jennifer Jenson.

First impressions begin before show time

As an exhibitor, making a good first impression can start well before you arrive on site. “First impressions for us are about engaging people pre-show, connecting with potential visitors via the app, and posting on social channels. That is the first point of contact and all part of creating the right impression,” says Thompson.

“The same goes for after the show – if you post on LinkedIn about the new connections you made at the show and what inspired you, that all helps to create a fantastic lasting impression. It’s about turning those first impressions into a lasting impression so that people remember you.”

Jenson agrees that social media is important for first impressions, with LinkedIn a particularly effective platform for Marketing Liverpool. “We want to give people a teaser of what they can expect at the show, and we do that by trying to raise the profile of our stand partners,” she explains.

“We choose our stand partners carefully to try and showcase the broad variety of venues and suppliers in our destination, so people get a true impression of Liverpool and what we have to offer, and share stories, video content and images, which are more impactful.”

Stand out

It goes without saying that your stand will play a key role in making a good first impression and encouraging visitors to come and talk to you. Customised-designed displays with colours that pop and designs that create the brand message you want to convey will catch the eye, set you apart from your fellow exhibitors and draw traffic to your stand.

“We always have an impactful stand with bold colours. We use bright pink, and make sure our stand is always in the same place, so people know where we are and recognise it’s Liverpool instantly,” says Jenson. “But we evolve the stand and have new graphics for each show to keep it fresh and exciting and create a strong first impression – this year for example will have a nod to Eurovision, so we’ll have a glitter ball. We often see lots of people taking pictures of our stand, and asking who designed it, which is a great talking point.”

If you have the space, offering on stand hospitality always helps to create a good first impression. For example, Liverpool has a water cooler on stand and gives out reusable bottles that are branded so people can come and fill up their water bottle whenever they want.

Hospitality is particularly important for the Scotland stand. “Our stand as a strong focus on Scottish hospitality and wellbeing, serving smoothies and natural energy shots each morning, a selection of health bars and fruit available throughout the day, as well as tea and coffee,” says Richards. “We want people to be able to experience that warm Scottish welcome first hand, and last year we got our catering team to wear kilts, which also created a great first impression and gave visitors a flavour of Scotland.”

Brief your stand partners

With many stands featuring multiple suppliers, it’s important to make sure everyone works closely together to create that good first impression, as visitors will pick up on that instantly. Try to get all your different stand partners together, ideally in person, prior to the show.

Delegate Wranglers organises a pre-show call with all its stand partners to make sure everyone feels welcome and part of a team. “We like to create an open and friendly vibe on our stand. As well as a briefing call, we create a WhatsApp community for our stand partners, so we can easily communicate any information they need to know and they can connect with each other,” says Thompson. “Our partners all offer different products, but by getting to know who they are exhibiting alongside, they can help each other out and make introductions which all helps build that community vibe.”

Liverpool also organises a meeting for stand partners, to cover all the basics for anyone who may not have exhibited at The Meetings Show before. “We use this meeting to communicate what the stand looks like, anything we at Marketing Liverpool are doing at the show that they can get involved in, and to help them get to know what each other’s offerings are so they can cross-sell. For example, if they are not able to accommodate a group enquiry in their venue, one of the other stand partners might be able to. We try to encourage them to sell Liverpool as a destination, first and foremost,” says Jensen.

Be on brand

It’s important that the first impression you give is on brand with your messaging. “The impression we want to give of Liverpool is that we are a friendly and welcoming city, and we all work together as one big team,” says Jensen. “For that reason, our stand is designed quite differently to some of the other shared stands at the show, we don’t have different booths for each stand partner but are all on the stand together.”

If you market yourself as a sustainable brand or destination, make sure your stand is not full of single-use plastic or lots of paper collateral, otherwise that can leave a negative impression.

Visit Scotland has a specific sustainability policy for trade shows including no collateral and no giveaways. “We always encourage all our partners to include a sustainability policy in their presentations and ask them to think about what CSR activities they can talk about during their appointments, which is the impression that we want to give show visitors about our destination,” says Richards.

Be present

It might sound obvious, but eye contact and a warm smile can make such a huge first impression and encourage people to come and talk to you, especially first-time visitors to the show, who might be feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Taking two days out to attend a trade show can make you feel anxious about your mounting inbox, and the temptation to check your messages can be strong, but anyone happening to walk past your stand at that point will not get the best impression.

“We always say to our stand partners, don’t sit with your head in your laptop or phone as you will potentially miss making new connections. You are there for a purpose, so be present and be switched on, otherwise you are in danger of giving out the wrong impression,” says Thompson. “We encourage partners to not just stick to their own booths, but come and mingle on the stand, as it creates more of a buzz.”

She adds that it’s important to leave your inhibitions at the door, come with an open mind and be open to talking to everyone, even if you don’t think they are relevant to your business. “It only takes one golden nugget to make exhibiting at the show worthwhile and you never know where you might find it.”

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