Tricks of the Trade Show: Visual Storytelling

A convention center at trade show time is oddly similar to any county fair you’ll find popping up during the summer months: it’s loud, a little bit hectic, and filled with a whole mess of vendors using their best gimmicks to get your attention. If you happen to be one of those vendors, you’re painfully aware of how easy it is to blend into the noise, and you’re probably familiar with that rising sense of desperation that accompanies feeling invisible.

The solution is actually pretty simple: don’t be invisible. Choose the right visuals to tell your story and you will hook your trade show prospects before they’ve even heard a single word of your pitch.

Going Live: Authentic Visual Storytelling

For starters, remember that it’s people, not companies, who are researching products and services at trade shows, so having the focus and flexibility to respond to individual needs is paramount. And you can’t do that with an over-finessed, jam-packed set of chronological slides, especially in an environment dominated by quick interactions.

There are a handful of necessary steps to take before you even hit the booth. Perhaps the most obvious (but often overlooked) is to find out which of your existing prospects is planning to be there. Sometimes attendee lists are made available by the event organizer; still, that should never stop you from reaching out beforehand and actually planning interactions with potential customers -- instead of falling into the death-trap of canned, over-rehearsed presentations that happen when you slap together visuals that can mean anything to anyone.

The leg-up this will give you is huge. You’ll be able to adapt your pitch and presentation so it feels personal, authentic, and relevant to each prospect, and they will love you for it.

As you develop your assets, remember the three core values of authentic visual storytelling: simplicity, consistency, and composition.

  1. Simplicity. A straightforward concept, and the easiest of the core values to mess up, simplicity is #1 on the list of things you want your trade show presentation to exhibit. It all comes down to focus; sure, your upcoming software has 22 new, super amazing features, but if your prospect won’t ever use 20 of them, why even bring them up? Zero in on the things that you know matter to your listener, and use clear visuals that support and enhance those topics. For example, if your prospect is the head of engineering, chances are they care about how your software impacts learning curves and productivity, not its shiny new design or ESN component.
  2. Consistency. You know how commercials for kids’ toys are basically a composite flash-fest of colors and really excited people? And how they make your brain hurt a little? That’s because a bunch of different visuals in quick succession is confusing, difficult to process, and worst of all, disruptive to the overarching message. If all you leave your prospect with is the knowledge that you want them to buy your product, you’ve wasted their time and yours, because that is an absolute given from the start. Clean, consistent colors, fonts, styles, and organization create a clear story arc that resonates. A dynamic but still uniform presentation also leaves room for conversation and questions, while allowing you to return to your message without skipping a beat (since you won’t be frantically searching through a bunch of random noise).
  3. Composition. Similar to consistency, composition is about clarity and impact, but particularly in how you present each segment of info to your listener. Hierarchy matters, so use your visuals to convey the importance of different data or features through size and other types of emphasis. Break the information down and order it on the frame in such a way that it tells its own mini-visual story, complete with beginning, middle, and end. This will make your presentation highly flexible, as you can arrange and rearrange each individual piece according to your audience without interrupting the flow of your pitch.

Trade shows are often a more challenging place to sell than the conference room, but they provide a uniquely personal environment for connecting with prospects and telling a story they’ll actually remember. Don’t waste the opportunity by doing the same old thing (or the same thing for everyone). Seize it, be strategic, and get selling. The power of visual storytelling is something your prospects -- and you -- can see and believe.

Keep on with your trade show self! Read our next post in the series: Conversational Presenting

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