Conventions can be a great way to promote your show, sell related merchandise, and build relationships. However, participation with a podcast booth can be expensive, time consuming, and physically exhausting.
For some folks, it can be hard to decide if it’s worth it to rent a podcast booth to promote yourself at a convention. If you have something new and specific, like a season launch, or a product to sell like a book, renting booth space can be an asset.
I spoke with some folks who are experienced with conventions and good at promoting their work with a podcast booth. Plan ahead, keep it simple, and don't take things too seriously, and your podcast booth experience will be a good one.
Know in advance what your goal is.
Are you going to a podcast convention, or is it a convention centered around a topic that your podcast covers? For example, is your podcast about sustainable gardening, and you’re attending a gardening convention? Or, will you be a podcaster among zillions of podcasters? In the case of the former, you’re more likely to stand out easily.
At a podcast convention, you might just want to learn some skills, meet other podcasters, and build relationships for cross-marketing. Because conventions can be crowded, busy, and overstimulating, focus on one or a very few things that you want to make sure you do before you leave.
You should also know if this is an industry convention (for podcast creators) or a fan convention (for audience service).
As Sean Howard, creator of Alba Salix, said, “Be sure to know the difference between an industry con and a fan con. The latter is where you can move a lot of merchandise and you can reach new fans. Industry conventions are where you want to walk the floor, go to sessions and meet other producers, agents, etc.”
Travis Vengroff, of The White Vault, Liberty, and Vast Horizon said, “As a podcaster at a business event, the goal of making money or gaining a large number of new listeners is very difficult to achieve, so you should instead see it as a loss ahead of time and try to seek sponsors, brand recognition, new relevant contacts (and/or peers), advertisers, new technologies and services, and incidentally work to gain listeners or sell a few pieces of merchandise. ”
Research the convention, the venue and the area.
Know where you’re going, and what resources are available. Is it a big convention hall, that frequently hosts big corporate events, or something smaller, like a hotel ballroom or banquet hall? Is it in a major city or a small town? Google Maps can show you what parking or mass transit is like in the area, and where to get snacks and other things near by.
Has this convention happened before?
Conventions that have been successful for several years in a row may be easier to deal with than new ones, or ones which have had problems in the past. As Sean Howard told us, “You might want to attend before you buy in.” Ask some of your podcast peers if they’ve attended, and what their experience has been like.
What’s the convention venue?
Convention centers, especially in major cities, are used to corporate clients with deep pockets.
“If it’s a major or large convention centre, be aware that these places charge ridiculous fees for everything, as they are used to working with big, multi-national corporations,” said Sean.
You might be facing the same price tag for your podcast booth space as a luxury car company. Check the fine print on your contract, to know if you can use an electrical outlet or wi-fi. You’d be surprised what’s not covered.
Where in the area can you get cheap snacks, water, first aid supplies, etc.?
“You will need to save money wherever you can,” said Sean. Again, don’t expect that anything you need will be provided for you. This can include, surprisingly enough for podcast conferences, wi-fi.
“It’s best to just bring everything you need. Lots of battery packs for your computers and phones, for example. Bring more water than you think you need,” Sean told us.
Make yourself easy to find, but don’t go overboard.
Jeremy Moskowitz, tech-conference veteran, succinctly stated the challenge for podcasters: “people are pretty visual.” There are companies that specialize in pre-made convention booths, even including special floors, furniture, lighting, screens, and printed walls that curve to eliminate distractions from other booths. They're tempting to hire, but expensive.
Don’t bring what you can’t carry. Jeremy said, “You don’t really need a 10×10 professional booth; but you should have a nice printed tablecloth and a pop-up banner succinctly expressing who you are and what you’re doing. Have a one page (two sided) handout to give people after your chat. Beyond that, it’s bells and whistles and maybe overkill.”
Sean Howard echoes this minimalist sentiment. “Invest in a pop-up banner and materials to help your booth look professional and make it clear what you do.”
In the example photo here, Travis Vengroff kept it simple when he promoted Liberty's podcast tie-in with a graphic novel at a Comic Book Store Day event. It's distinct and eye-catching, but packable.
Gavin Gaddis, of Tuned In, Dialed Up, grew up with years of experience helping his family run booths at art and craft fairs. He advocates for minimalist creativity. “You might see a $15 clothes drying rack at Target, I see a collapsible stand you can hang stickers and signs from easily that weighs next to nothing. Check out pictures of artist alley setups at comic conventions, they’ve been at this game a long time and have it down to a science.”
What does your podcast booth offer?
People are often tired or distracted at conventions in general. Giving people something to read later isn’t a bad thing, though large flyers or booklets can end up in the trash. A card with a QR code to scan is good, particularly if the QR code takes them directly to your podcast information and “listen now!”
Candy goes far with folks who are tired from walking and standing. Taping pre-wrapped Hershey’s miniatures or other trick-or-treat candy to a business card will get those business cards picked up.
Stickers are a big deal. Not only do people like having them, because it shows they’ve made a connection, they’re effectively making their laptop case, water bottle or notebook into your billboard.
Sean suggested that you mock up your booth at home in advance. Test-drive the table, and lay out whatever items you’re bringing. You don’t want a broken table leg to get in your way.
You might sell merchandise to offset the cost of your booth rental. Travis said, “Most important is your cash box, a healthy amount of $1's and $5's, a square reader, and something to tally sales.” T-shirts can be hard to move. Sean mentioned that from his experience, smaller items with a higher margin, such as logo pins and magnets, fit everybody.
Concentrate on conversation and connection
Knowledgeable people who are enthusiastic about your podcast should be staffing your booth, not people who aren’t involved. It’s nice if your mom wants to help out, but not if someone from Time Warner comes around asking questions, while you’re getting a soft pretzel.
When someone stops by your booth to chat, as Sean suggested, don’t start with your pitch, ask a question. Ask what kind of podcasts they listen to. If you can, recommend other podcasts they might enjoy.
Gavin suggests rehearsing what you want to say to newcomers. If you're comfortable with yourself, you can avoid pressure and awkwardness. “If you can get that ice broken quickly in a way that leaves the door open, then someone can choose to stay and find out more, or politely smile while walking away.” He also suggests, “Learn what it feels like to have someone’s genuine attention, versus when they’re simply being polite, doing that awkward ‘I’m not technically stopping here' shuffle. You want to leave a lasting impression.” Use your best ability to read social cues.
Take that elevator pitch as seriously as all the other content you create for your podcast! Travis said, “I wish someone had told me about really perfecting an elevator pitch. I can't tell you how much time I've wasted saying a long and ineffective elevator pitch, when I could have written and one down, tweaked it, and memorized something only a third the length.”
Travis further suggests, “As a general good practice, you should have a conversation starter, an elevator pitch, and a call to action. The shorter you can talk about your show, the better, so you can discern the interest of the person on the other side of the table and get them your call to action: Subscribe to my podcast, Consider sponsoring my show, be a guest on my show.”
Give people a reason to hang out at your booth. Sean said, “At PodCon we created less room for us, and instead bought some $20 inflatable chairs to make our booth a gathering space for our fans and fellow creators.” It was a much-needed little oasis. They had one-hour podcast consultations. What if there were a way to have listening stations, or a card with a QR code linking to a trailer? Use your creativity.
Don’t get sucked into the pace of the convention. Focus on your own individual experiences with people that you meet.
There will be slow times when it seems like everyone has gone somewhere else: lunch, or a celebrity meet n’ greet. “Counterintuitively, it is during these slow times that the BEST conversations happen!” Jeremy said.
Sometimes people use conventions as an excuse to experiment with boundaries. They’re not at home, they have a little bit of anonymity. They know that if you’re at your podcast booth, you’re a captive audience for them.
Nearly every convention has a horror story, passed among participants, of a person who was banned for grabbing or speaking rudely to another participant. Have a friend at your podcast booth, or a mental back-pocket-script (i.e., “that’s inappropriate”) if someone misbehaves.
Be careful of taking other people's behavior personally. Travis said, “It's very important to consider your emotional state and focus on maintaining a positive attitude. The reality is that not everyone is going to like your show, your concept, or you. Whatever you can do to accept these odds, accept that the people you'll be talking to have no obligation to speak with you, and maintain high morale so you can talk about your passion or business to the folks who do want to hear, is different for each person, but it's something that you need to find.
Be aware of your own limitations. You’re human. Take bathroom breaks, take breaks for quiet in general, have someone else there to help or diffuse tension. As Gavin said, “Remembering to eat and drink is vital. Nothing opens you up for being absolutely zapped than getting in the groove and working so long you look up and it’s 4 p.m. The second you look at that clock your body will catch up, them’s the rules.”
Podcasters tend to be a bit socially awkward. They’re people who function well in quiet rooms with computers and headphones. It’s not a Renaissance Faire, with people who are comfortable being seen and heard from a mile away.
Quality conversations go a long way to building relationships later.
Just because there are balloons, doesn’t mean you have to be the prom queen.
Manage your expectations, so you can meet them. Take time to think about what you want to learn, and what you hope to achieve. Think of this as an opportunity to plant seeds for future growth.
Our Handy Guide to Podcast Events in 2019 is a great resource for ways to meet other podcasters in person. Of course, if you join The Podcast Host Academy, you'll benefit from our live Q&A sessions, courses, downloadable resources, and community forums- all from the comfort of your own home!