What I Learned About Audience Engagement From Running My First Expo Stall

When I fanned out the flyers and propped up the banner at the eHealth Queensland Expo 2017, they were my flyers and it was my banner. It was *my* stall with my logo on everything, and that was a first for me.

A disclaimer to begin: I have staffed stalls before. I used to work at The Department of Transport and Main Roads, and we would regularly have a stall at prominent shows: the Ipswich Show, the Brookfield Show, and of course, the Ekka here in Brisbane. I would often put my hand up to work at our stall and talk with people about our projects. It taught me a lot about audience engagement, what people want from a stall, and that most people are absolutely lovely. And that they love free stuff.

However, when I fanned out the flyers and propped up the banner at the eHealth Queensland Expo 2017 last week, they were my flyers and it was my banner. It was *my* stall with my logo on everything, and that was a first for me.

I thought long and hard about whether or not running a stall for a copywriting business was a good idea. Most trade stalls I’d seen in the past had something more visual or tactile to show, such as demonstrating exciting technology or selling amazing wind spinners. How would I successfully display my services? It was risky, especially with the financial outlay for the stall and materials, so the big question is, was it worth it?

To decide, I am going to break it down into what worked and what I would do better.

Pick The Right Show

The single factor that pushed me over the edge to say ‘yes’ to running the stall was that my ideal audience would be there. There’s no shortage of events at which I could pay to get in front of people, but they’re not my target audience. Effective audience engagement means firstly placing your message in front of the right audience. For the past year, I’ve been focusing on working with the health and community sectors, as this is where my background is and where I’d like to do more work. Not only would the people I want to work with be there, but there would be relevant keynote presentations and other stalls from which I would learn more about digital healthcare. This knowledge would be directly applicable to working with my ideal customers and I would be able to add more value to the content I would develop for them.

I’m happy to say that out of these things I hoped to get out of the expo, almost all happened. The only one that I missed out on was listening to the keynote presentations because people kept coming by the stall. A good dilemma indeed! I think the presentations will be made available to delegates soon, so even that benefit will be gained.

You know your stall is busy when neither of the people running it managed to see the keynotes in person, which leads me to my next point.

Have A Great Team

Copywriting can be a solitary task, even if you enjoy working with others. Most of the work gets done in the space between your mind and your hands. I was very lucky that I had an amazing colleague, Kerrie-Anne, with whom I’ve been collaborating on writing projects, who agreed to help me with my stall. In terms of audience engagement, this allowed us to speak knowledgeably with more stall visitors and almost eliminate waiting times. Her business values are aligned with mine, which meant that not only would she truly represent our values, but that she would also attract our ideal clients.

Kerrie-Anne (R) and I at the MRPR stall 

Having a trusted teammate also meant that she could take photos and talk with people while I did my presentations, which I will discuss in the next point. Lastly, having two people in the stall gave it a more social and relaxed feel, making it easier for people to approach us.

Play To Your Strengths

Talk is cheap, in a good way. In the lead-up to the expo, I was eyeing off fancy pens and personalised fortune cookies for giveaways, but my stall budget had gone. However, I still wanted something that would attract people to visit us, which would give them an example of my work, which would give them something valuable, and that would cost me virtually nothing. The answer was my ‘Five-Minute Mini Knowledge Sharing Sessions’.

I practiced the presentations beforehand at my weekly Rostrum Public Speaking club meeting, hired five folding chairs (only five would fit in my stall, so it was a small outlay), and bought individually-wrapped biscuits to place on the seats (nice Byron Bay Cookies, but still low cost). Here’s what happened:

I’ve never seen this at another stall so I didn’t know what to expect. I had hoped for the presentations to draw a crowd and for people to stick around and talk to us about the presentation content. I was very happy with attracting five to six people per presentation, especially as most of them turned out to be quality audience members who did talk to us afterwards and left their details with us. I would do this again, and I’d repeat the fold-out seating, as setting them out before the presentations brought people around to see what was going on.

Not Enough Of These, Way Too Many Of Those

My inexperience with expos showed here. I knew there would be around 1800 delegates on the day, so I printed 500 DL flyers with my services on one side and some expo-only packages on the other side. I don’t know if this ratio has been appropriate for others, but it was too many for us. One hundred would have a more suitable print run. Plus, because they show the expo-only packages, I can’t reuse them. Any suggestions for an art project using 400 DL flyers?

WORD 'mag' on the left, DL flyer on the right

My MRPR ‘magazines’ were very popular, however. I put them together a week before the expo to resemble the mags you’re likely to find in a doctor’s waiting room. I was going to print two, but on my husband’s advice printed a third because he liked them and thought one might be taken. So many people asked if they could take one! It was a wrench to tell people no, because here was something they were actually asking to keep that contained all our information. Towards the end of the expo I did end up giving them away. I’ll print more next time as they were clearly a winner for audience engagement.

All Glory To The Designer

My original idea for the stall was very ‘meh’. Think table and banners. I am so glad I had a chat with my amazing graphic designer, Sarah from Sculley Design . It started with a look for the posters, and expanded into a concept for the stall, which was to turn it into a doctor’s waiting room – a very nice one.

The end result reflected my brand aesthetic, showcased my copywriting, and visually set us apart from the stalls around us. The look ticked several boxes for audience engagement: it started conversations, it brought people into the stall, and it had a comfy-as couch for us to chat with people in-depth. I think it helped to have input from someone with an artistic eye. Sarah is not only a graphic designer, but also an urban artist, so she knew what would visually stand out and appeal to people.

Was It Good For You?

I am very happy with my first time running a stall. I certainly felt great! I have learned a lot about the content needs of the digital healthcare sector, met many people who spoke at length with us about their copywriting projects, I’ve grown my mailing list and brand awareness, and it has resulted in more leads than I’ve ever had in one go. Time will tell if the leads will result in business.

Based on these results, I would say that running the stall was definitely worth it. In particular, making connections with people who are my ideal customers is fantastic. I have stretched my skills to create audience engagement, this time in a stall, and I feel propelled in the right direction with my business.

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