When September rolls around, parents all across the country gleefully take to the stores, loading up their carts with all the supplies their little darlings will need to make it through the coming academic year. After all, school is a really busy time, and to do well, you need to be prepared.

The same holds true for tradeshows. Autumn is the busiest time of year for exhibitors -- and just like those students we were talking about, to do well, your booth staffers need to be prepared. It's time to do a little shopping! Instead of stocking up with notebooks, number 2 pencils and highlighters, your booth staffers need a different set of supplies. Here's what you need for tradeshow back to school:

Notebooks
Staffing the tradeshow is a lot of work. There is a lot your booth staff has to know -- about what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and what questions to ask. Luckily, if your team is prepared with lots of notes from the pre-show training you provided before the show season started, they'll be well prepared.

What do you do if your team hasn't been preparing? Even the worst student can occassionally pull off an A+ with some last minute cramming. Consider a day long intensive training session, attended by every member of your team. This is as important for the 'old hands' as for the newbies. Everyone needs to brush up on something!

School Uniform
Many school systems require uniforms. They say it promotes a more focused learning environment, cuts down on distractions, and helps their student body convey a specific image.

The same is true for the tradeshow environment. While it may not be appropriate for your booth staffers to wear a uniform, it is essential that they all present a similiar, professional appearance.

Be specific when detailing what you want your staffers to wear. "Office casual" doesn't help. Instead, list the elements of the look you want: Shirt with collar, black slacks, blue tie, scarf, etc.

Pens & Pencils
In the course of a tradeshow, your staffers will speak with hundreds of people. There's no way they'll remember names and faces after the event. That means when they're looking at a pile of business cards, it'll be impossible to discern who was a likely prospect for a big sale and who was a nitpicker who only wanted to complain about his last purchase. As a result, often, neither lead gets followed up!

Select and implement a lead-gathering system. Train your people how to use it -- especially important if it's a newer, high-tech system -- and insist upon its use. This way, your staffers will be gathering more high quality information. Follow up will be easier and more effective.

For ultimate results, make sure that your lead gathering system has a prioritization function. Hot leads should be handled immediately -- perhaps overnighted back to the home office for next-day follow up -- while others should be sorted into promising, maybe, and unlikely categories.

Listening Ears
This is the one supply teachers wish their students had! It's crucial to listen more than you talk, especially in the tradeshow environment. Ask qualifying questions and learn what the attendee's problems are. What do they need?

It's only after you understand the attendee that you can start offering solutions to their problem. This is the crucial part of relationship building, the vital aspect of face to face marketing.

Too many staffers, eager to talk with as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, get in a pattern of repeating their sales spiel over and over and over, without ever listening to the attendee. This is not very effective. Insist your staffers wear their listening ears.

Assignment Book
Students use assignment books to write down what their teacher assigns for homework. Booth staffers don't have homework, but they do need to know exactly what they're supposed to be doing, and when they're supposed to be doing it.

Before the show starts, clearly deliniate who will be working the booth, and at what times. Assign break and meal periods -- which need to happen off of the show floor. Don't just leave this up to your team to decide for themselves. Otherwise, someone will wind up missing a break and become disgruntled and cranky, or someone else will take far too long of a lunch, leaving his peers to shoulder an unfair share of the load.

Additionally, delegate responsibilities. Who is responsible for making sure the display is set up properly? Who takes it down and prepares it for shipping at the end of the day? Someone has to overnight hot leads back to the home office, and so on. Make sure your team knows who is expected to do what.

Author's Bio: 

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 “10 Common Mistakes Exhibitors Make”, e-mail: article4@thetradeshowcoach.com; website: http://www.thetradeshowcoach.com