A First Timer’s Reflections on BETT

Last week we wrote a First Timer’s Guide to BETT about some of the things we’d learned in preparing for our first trade show. Now that the dust has settled, and our feet have stopped aching, we thought we’d reflect on the things we learned.

Before the show starts

BETT allows exhibitors two days setup time before the show opens to the public – we turned up the day before the show started, and picked our way through the carpenters, electricians, and fitters, pallets of displays, and got lost in aisles made dead ends by piles of ‘stuff’ - if you click on the image below you'll see the Vine video we made:

It was noisy, chaotic, and busy – if you need anything from the organisers or their contractors be prepared for a wait. As a first-time (and small) exhibitor, our experience was that we weren’t near the top of the priority list, which is fair enough when you realise that some of the biggest stands will have paid a high five figure sum or more, just for their floor space.

You might feel a little depressed when you see your empty space, and it’s surprising how even a small space swallows things that look enormous next to your desk when you test them out.

This was our inventory:

  • Two iPads (one full size, one mini)
  • iPad stand (for the full size iPad – this was our primary display device)
  • Two 1800mm pop-up banners
  • 35 t-shirts as prizes
  • 200 double-sided A4 ‘leaflets’
  • 200 ‘Speakr face’ stickers
  • 80 ‘Speakr face’ enamel lapel badges
  • A few large prints of 'Speakr faces'
  • A pack of business cards (50 was not enough)
  • A ‘box of bits’ including extension lead, Leatherman tool, tape, bulldog clips, post it notes, blu tack, and so on
  • A small glass bowl for visitors’ business cards

This is what it looked like after we’d got set up:

Next year we’ll pay the steep price for the ubiquitous badge scanners – we downloaded the Bloodhound app for the purpose, but the BETT organisers have stripped out all the contact information from the barcodes on attendees badges (meaning that non-official scanning apps are of little use), so we took photos of our attendees’ badges and are doing a little detective work to find out their contact details.

Wifi

Talking to the other smaller exhibitors, the thing that everyone was unhappy about was the wifi. The Excel centre has spent a lot upgrading its wifi infrastructure but just before the event, the organisers sent out a briefing containing this gem:

ExCeL have switched off its Wi-Fi service in the Bett event space to reduce Wi-Fi interference in order to help exhibitors sucessfully demonstrate their wireless solutions. If you do require Wi-Fi on your stand you will need to purchase a cabled Internet connection and connect your own 5GHz capable Wi-Fi equipment.

In other words – ‘we don’t want exhibitors to use the venue’s wifi when we could charge them for connection’. Needless to say – the cabled Internet was eye-wateringly expensive. We used whatever wifi we could connect with, which was Ok most of the time, but others had more trouble we did – for a show focused on technology as an enabler, it simply isn’t good enough.

If we’re in a similar group of small stands next year, we’re thinking we’ll get in contact with all of the other exhibitors in the area, and offer wifi access to a dedicated cabled connection for a fraction of the connection cost, so that we can share the cost, and be able to show what our technology can do without having to apologise for the speed of connection.

Don’t go it alone

BETT runs for four days, from 10 – 6 and 10 – 4 on Saturday, the last day. That’s a very long time to stand and talk to the hundreds of people that will (hopefully) come to your stand.

If you’re thinking of doing it on your own, don’t. Try and get at least two of you on the stand, however you can – otherwise you’ll need to leave your stand unattended when you get a coffee, or need to use other facilities. Standing all day and having the same conversation a hundred times is tiring - on your own we really don't think you'd last the four days.

The People

The purpose of exhibiting at a trade show is to talk to as many people as possible so that you can get your message out to the world.

That means that as well as your target audience (the people you had in your head when you booked the exhibition) you’re going to talk to people who are bored and looking for someone to talk to, people who are only interested in freebies, people interested in selling you advertising / space at other exhibitions / reseller partnerships, and so on.

One surprise was the number of international visitors on the first two days, due to the Education World Forum running concurrently. We had visitors from all over the world including the Ministers of Education from the Bahamas and Tunisia, as well as politicians and educators from Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and the UAE.

Above all, we were there to meet teachers from the UK, and they came in force with their pupils on Friday, then with their own children on Saturday. Our stand was with the rest of the new companies in the Innovation Zone at the far side of the (enormous) hall so people had to negotiate their way past the big stands to come our way – our theory is that the nearer you are to the entrances, the busier your stand will be.

There was a clear pattern of how many people were circulating through the day, with peak ‘flow’ at 11:30, dropping to a trickle over lunchtime, recovering a little then dropping away with only a few people walking by in the last hour, which looked like this:

 

Engaging People

British people are (usually) shy, and dislike getting involved in any conversation where they think they may be ‘sold to’. We’d had some good advice about how to bridge the gap, and found that a mixture of offers of stickers / badges / winning a t-shirt, was enough to strike a conversation and invite people to share how they felt as part of the ‘School of BETT’ that we’d set up for the event, and if they were interested the conversation went from there.

We were active on twitter through the event, posting on the show hashtag, announcing prize winners, sharing how the attendees at the School of BETT felt (with the graph below), sharing pictures and Vines of the events, and heading out to other parts of the show to find groups of school children, give them stickers and encourage them to come to our stand.

Sometimes we were standing around for twenty minutes waiting for people to walk past and show any kind of interest, sometimes we were overrun (the more people we were talking to, the more stopped to listen), but overall we were really pleased with how our first show went.  We’ve booked up for next year.