I just participated in my first large show: a holiday show in Chicago where I had a booth for my baby and kids apparel line: Typebaby. Because this show draws tens of thousands of visitors, I prepared for months in advance. However, I still learned much through the 4-day experience.

Though this was a retail show, the tips I gathered below would also apply to any industry trade show.

Figure out technology in advance
I assumed the show floor’s WiFi connection would be a no-brainer. After many failed attempts at getting online (luckily before I had customers in my booth), I had to seek out technical support.

Have backups for your technology
Midway through the second day of the show, the credit card swiper stopped working on my iPad. Luckily, I had my iPhone as a backup. On that note, bring all of your chargers and keep devices charged.

Have ample promotional materials on hand

I ran out of postcards during the show, but I had plenty of business cards. I also brought linesheets/catalogs for potential wholesale customers visiting my booth. It’s also helpful to locate the nearest office center in case you need to make extra copies of forms or promotional materials (which I did).

Offer attendees a way to connect with you after the show
In addition to printing them on my postcards, I made a wall decal with my social media links and suggested attendees follow my company on Facebook.

Set up a mock booth

Ok, I admit I didn’t do this. I made booth mockup sketches but in the end, decided to wing it. I ended up bringing in additional furniture each day, which cut into my morning prep time.

Let your booth evolve
It’s OK to allow your booth to evolve and change. If the flow isn’t working, move things around. If an item isn’t getting attention, move it to a more prominent location. I moved products and furniture each day and took note of what was working.

Observe and listen to attendees

What are they drawn to? What are they saying as they walk by? These comments can give you clues as to what is working or not working in your booth. (Don’t forget to make notes of your observations.)

Take detailed notes
I kept a notebook detailing daily traffic patterns, customer demographics, feedback and comments, ideas and suggestions and new booth ideas.

Drink lots of water
Dehydration can lead to headaches and crankiness—and you don’t want that.

Recruit volunteers—and backups
I recruited volunteers for each day—and all but one canceled (for understandable reasons). I ended up recruiting friends who stopped by and booth neighbors to watch my booth for meal/bathroom breaks.

Have an organized, yet hidden, workspace
Keep all your important tools and materials (and backstock, if applicable) at your fingertips, but hidden away from attendees. A shelf or cubbies with drawers or a table with a floor-length skirt works great. Make sure you also have a place to safely store collected business cards—or better yet, snap a photo and store them in an app like Evernote.

Follow up quickly
Aim to follow up with attendees within 2-3 days. Make sure to mention something you spoke about to jog their memory.

Smile and enjoy!
Participating in a several-day long show can be an exhausting whirlwind. A fellow exhibitor told me that every time he looked over, I had a smile on my face. Things may not go exactly as planned, but just grin and bear it!