conference vendor hall, view from above
Use your sponsorship and presence at industry conferences to tie into and amplify your company's broader narrative PHOTO: Michael Coghlan

Conferences make me nervous. I’m shy and I never feel comfortable in a room full of strangers. But I have to go to conferences.

So I developed a new conference game. I go around the room and look at the booths. I try to see if I can figure out what someone is selling before I talk to them. In about 75 percent of cases, I can’t.

I recently wrote about the 3-second rule for websites. The 3-second rule for conference booths is similar. As people walk by, you have a few seconds to draw them into a conversation. 

Putting the 3-Second Rule for Conference Booths Into Action 

Here’s how to do it:

1. Land the Eye

Your booth should give people a clear place to look that they can see from several paces away. A nice, big, well-designed logo is a decent approach.

2. State Your Purpose

What do you do and who do you do it for? Can people recognize their needs on your wall?

A simple statement of “We do xxx for yyy,” will do here. Make the words short and the letters tall.

3. Give Them a Reason to Stop By

If you’re at a conference, you’re investing real time and money. Use it to anchor your content and programming for the year. Make an announcement — whether it's a product launch a community program, a survey, the results of a survey, a contest — whatever. If you understand what your audience is doing, you can come up with an idea that is valuable and engaging for that audience and does not compromise your revenue stream.

Write about this in advance on your blog. If you can, get a speaking slot to talk about it at the conference. Try as hard as you can to get any press who may be covering the conference to interview you to say something about it.

For example, way back when, we were launching a team collaboration product. We announced it at a conference and received over a dozen press mentions.

At the booth, we posted the schedule of speakers, and had a registration slip to get on the email list. We got a lot of traffic. Did we sell stuff? Not a lot of stuff that day — but we got on the radar in a marketplace where we had previously been unknown. That lead to further attention, a nice subscriber list and yes, sales.

Importantly, we created a 12 month plan out of a single conference event — so everything we did for the year connected with everything else. It was simple to implement because we weren’t constantly reinventing the wheel. It was powerful in the media, because we had just a couple of streams of thought that kept amplifying (and building SEO juice).

The Upshot

  1. Every marketing asset needs to be crystal clear and directed at people who might care. And yes, that includes booths, banners, whitepapers and websites.
  2. Everything should build on everything else.
  3. What’s the best way to make sure things build on one another? A narrative. If you don’t have your core thoughts and ideas organized and formalized, this is a challenge. If you’re not certain what the most important things to know about your company or product are, your market is going to have a hard time guessing. Sort out what your big vision, methodology, offer and proof points are. Use those core truths to tell a lot of stories — each of which build on the themes.

The effort and discipline it takes to achieve this is very well worth the effort. It is visible when your team starts being visibly proud of the brand. It is visible when your team starts talking about the narrative amongst themselves, and making decisions that support it. It is visible when the product roadmap aligns with the big ideas. The work becoming more valuable as people become more clear on its value.

It is visible when your market picks up on that excitement and starts sharing it as well.

The best is yet to come.