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Catastrophes come from out of nowhere. Massive thunderstorms can roll through a region without a moment’s notice, knocking out power and phone lines. An iffy meal at a local restaurant, and you have a staff member flat on their back with food poisoning. Open up your sales materials only to discover that you have all the wrong literature – and that it’s printed in a language you can’t read! What do you do?

The key is preparation. Most problems can be addressed using your creativity and common sense – but implementing those solutions can be tricky. Begin by laying a strong foundation for your team with advance preparation.

Advance preparation will make the difference between success and failure. By starting well before your trade show, you’ll be assured of smooth sailing, no matter what happens. There are three areas to concentrate on: People, Places, and Things.

You are only as good as your booth staff. The best display, graphics, and give-always won’t save your show if your staff isn’t up to snuff. Provide comprehensive training before the show. Cross train your staff so that one member can cover for another. This doesn’t mean your sales people need to be technical gurus or that your mechanical whiz-kids need to become top-notch sellers – but each should know enough about the other’s purview to pinch-hit.

It’s not enough to merely know where the convention center is. Take a few minutes and do an internet search about your destination. Where is the closest medical facility? Airport? Copy shop? Shipping center? Having area knowledge will save you valuable time if you need to send staffers out of the venue for errands. You’re only at the show for a few days. Make your time there as productive as possible.

Designate a team leader before the show. This person will be the go-to person in case of any emergencies, and should have decision-making power. If an unforeseen event occurs, your team will know who they should turn to for direction.

The biggest headaches often come from the simplest items. If your brochures have been sent to Hong Kong instead of Dallas, there’s not much you can do to remedy the situation, short of hopping a red eye and physically retrieving the wayward literature yourself. That’s not always practical.

Instead, depend on back-ups. For example: Having a CD-ROM back up of all your literature is a simple, easy step. Most major cities have print shops that will happily run off a few thousand brochures. You’ll pay a premium for rush service, but that’s a small price compared to the potential revenue loss.

Advance preparation is only the first step. Whether an emergency response works well or not depends on how effectively your team implements it. Use your pre-show meeting to establish how you want your team to ACT during an unforeseen event.

A: Assess
It’s easy to panic and run after any solution when a problem first occurs. You’ve made a substantial investment in time and money to be at the trade show, and to see it run less than smoothly can be terrifying. Remember to take a moment to stop, consider every aspect of the problem, and make a list of your possible solutions.

C: Coordinate
Make sure that every member of your booth staff is aware of what the situation is, what your planned solution is, and the roles you expect each staff member to play. This avoids duplication of effort when two or more employees have the same good idea. It also ensures you’ll have adequate exhibit coverage at all times. This is where your training efforts pay off – when one or more staff members can cover for the others and still create a flawless show experience for the attendees.

Additionally, in the case of show-wide difficulties (power outages, flooding, etc.) the convention center staff will be doing their utmost to alleviate the situation. Designate one person to be liaison with the convention center staff. This person will be responsible for disseminating vital information to your booth staff in a quick and efficient manner and to communicate the group’s needs to the convention center staff.

T: Take action
After you’ve decided on the best solution, and informed all booth staff, it is time to implement your plan. Pro-active, calm teams will carry the day.

This process can happen very quickly, especially if your team is prepared before the event. Make sure they know who is in charge at any particularly moment, and what procedure they’ll be expected to follow in case of an emergency. Then you’ll be ready for whatever surprises Mother Nature – or the Sushi Bar – can throw your way.

This Marketing article was written by Susan Friedman on 6/26/2005

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. For a free copy of ExhibitSmart Tips of the Week,;