Some events can be pulled together last minute with only a few days of frantic turn around. Locations can change and guest speakers can back out, but the show will go on.
Conferences on the other hand need to be meticulously executed, with no details overlooked. The long-term preparation is easily the most difficult factor for a startup-starting up their conference tenure.
Rubikloud has been fortunate enough to participate in not one, but three conferences in the last year. Each time we exhibited our booth at less than ideal locations hoping for an idyllic outcome. Unfortunately the following list is filled with what “not” to do, in order to get the most out of any conference experience as a startup.
1. The Sooner the Better.
Anyone working at a startup knows the budget for events is perpetually in flux. Priorities change and so does your promised amount for fun things like summer parties. Things are typically sporadic, but like they say it’s all fun and games, until a conference gets hurt.
Regardless of how uncertain you are of what makes sense and what doesn’t, you have to decide on your conference schedule several months in advance. Make a list and stick to it and let the other things continue fluxing. All of the best deals, locations and opportunities fill up at conferences incredibly quick. You are up against companies who have had their names in the game for the last 10 odd years and “early bird prices” to them means they’re already booked until 2021. You can’t let the big guys get the most out of the conference because they were more decisive. It is not worth ultimately spending the same amount of money, booking 4 months later and then benefiting less from the overall experience.
2. Location, Location, Location.
As it pertains to number 1, getting your booth booked early means getting a better location. Most spots are picked on a ‘first come first serve’ basis, other than the monster booths that cost the equivalent of 9 years of participation at your current level. Your booth location can single handedly determine the value of the conference. A lot of times it can be hard to know the best places if you have never exhibited or been there before. Obviously, there is a reason for spots that are filling up quickly. Locations near food vendors are misleadingly not as good as one would think. Other than lunch hour they tend to be dead. And most people will be eating during that time, not gallivanting between booths to learn about new and exciting software.
Being near the front is also not as good as one would think. Everyone has to get in the doors yes, but there are typically 5-9 doors to choose from, so being front-row semi-center may only yield half as many stragglers as anticipated. If you are lucky enough to get to choose in a situation where only bathroom or back walls aren’t the only spots still available, it is smart to just…ask. Ask a company you know that has been there or an organizer you trust. It is better safe than sorry because, if only 100 people pass your booth, and only 5 of those people are potential leads, those are some very expensive leads.
3. You don’t know anyone; act like you know everyone.
It is hard being the new kids on the block. Hopefully you are fortunate enough to have a seasoned designer on your team, so your booth design isn’t what’s giving away your greenness. It is typically your lack of connections, meetings and “heeeey how have things been since last year?” conversation starters. You may be missing a few key after-party invites too. But the most meaningful conference conversations are often those that happen over cheap wine purchased with a drink ticket.
It’s easier to build relationships while everyone isn’t stepping over each other vying for attention, or booth swag. If you find yourself on day two, ready to head back to your Air BnB unsuccessful in finding an after party with your name on it, pretend you lost your ticket. Befriend the nearest employee who seems vulnerable or empathetic and get your name on the list. Steal a caterers uniform or offer to help out with valet parking, whatever it may be, just get there and close some deals.
4. Booth bait VS booth babes.
The age-old conference question has always come down to the necessity of booth babes vs booth bait. What will have a stronger, longer lasting allure to the conferencing world. The answer is bait. Tangible swag can be anything from pens to poppers. Sometimes it’s something you could use and sometimes it is completely useless. Regardless of what it is it has one very important commonality, it is branded.
Booth bait means an item which will initially spark conversation and not diminish clout, but rather intrigue someone. Intelligent conversations will ensue and that person will walk away knowing more and holding something that will forever be branded with your company’s logo.
5. Messaging is like a fine wine, it’s better with age but you still need to go with grape juice.
Your company messaging in early stages is almost never going to be nailed down. Like your budget, it is constantly in flux and there is no way around that. You can, however account for it and use messaging at conferences that welcomes change. Also a booth with interchangeable paneling doesn’t hurt. Be ready to explain your product details upwards of 600,000 times.
By the end of the conference your messaging may have even changed since day 1. Startup brands have to be fluid and open for moderation and sometimes interpretation, but as long as you are willing to embrace the change, you won’t get caught up in the mix.