Running a high school trade show is not an easy feat to pull off. They require a lot of preparation, acceptance of rejection, and determination from the students. However, year after year we are able to grow the event and make the student businesses more profitable. Organizing a trade show within your high school business program can seem like a challenge, but I hope to share my insight to make the process as easy as possible for you.
By delegating certain responsibilities and accessing resources available to you that you may not even know you have, you will be able to develop your trade show idea into a reality in no time.
I previously wrote about running a high school trade show, but I have updated a few things in this post. Some of it will be a rehash of information, but I made changes in certain areas to make it more successful.
Class Scheduling Can Be Your Best Friend
I was very lucky this year to have a say in when my courses would be offered. We ran two sections of Venture Development, a Grade 11 course focused on starting your own business. The convenient way of scheduling these would be to put one each semester, but I asked for them to be offered in one. By doing this, more students set up table displays than ever before. Each student brought in their own group of friends and family, which lead to an increase in attendance. Every student group benefited from this as they had more potential customers.
Bring In Trade Show Experts
You would be surprised to see how many community members not only participate in trade shows themselves, but are willing to share their insight with students. After a bit of research, we brought in a few business owners to show their booth designs, and their inspiration behind them. By doing this, students were able to get their creative juices flowing. Trade show table designs can be the hardest part of the process. Finding ways to show it is possible, and giving the students an expert to bounce ideas off of makes this process a lot easier.
Schedule Your Trade Show During Part of the School Day (If Possible)
The length of the trade show is difficult to decide on. After a few years, we found that the 3 hour length was perfect for a variety of reasons. Students were able to stay attentive and excited, it did not conflict with work schedules as badly, and there were less stretches of downtime.
Additionally, we ran a portion of our trade show during the school day. By running it from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., teachers are able to bring classes for at least half an hour. This lead to an increase in attendance, sales, and emotion. It became overwhelming when hundreds of students came in at once. However, it helped the students deal with the realities of a trade show. Having students attend also helps showcase our program, and has lead to an increase in enrollment in the business courses over the past 3 years. Students with no interest in business love the possibility of making money in a class.
Running the trade show until 6:00 p.m. allows family, community members, and judges who work a set schedule to still attend. Many people within our community like to come to the event and support the students. Due to this, we try to make it possible for these people to attend without making the event too long for the students.
We even have many business alumni come to show their support for the next generation of business leaders!
Bring In Business Experts For Judging and Networking
Something we have done each year is ask business owners in the community to act as “sharks” or “dragons” for our student businesses. Each judge is given a set amount of money and can choose how they want to invest it. This helps motivate the students to try harder with their displays and their overall presentation. Competition has been the driving force behind the growth and success of our event.
Finding judges has been difficult, but using resources available in our school division made this process much easier. We have a career development coordinator who helps set up apprenticeship and internship opportunities for students. His connections with business owners has been the best resource in contacting judges. Also, I have found that the majority of people we ask to judge are more than willing to support student entrepreneurship.
Give Responsibilities to Students
The students are the main reason these types of events can be successful. Therefore, I believe that students should be involved in every step.
Having students market the event has lead to more community members attending. I have found that doing it myself was successful, but many people resonated more with the students in this process. I have students use digital and physical marketing methods. Social media helps reach many people, but they also spend time contacting local businesses. We also make sure students contact our local media for coverage of the event. By putting the marketing responsibilities on students, it frees up time on you to take on more of the back-end work.
I also like getting the students to contact our confirmed judges in advance. I usually try to make connections between their ventures and the judges to open up lines of communication on a common topic. By doing this, judges come in and have a familiar face they can go talk to. This also allows the students to develop their business network at an earlier age.
Major business events are a lot of work. However, they are also very rewarding for both the students and your business program. I have found that my programs enrollment has increased drastically after starting to run these three years ago, and we continue to see increases year after year.
There are also many opportunities to include students in other courses of yours. Marketing students can take on that role with the event. Management students can oversee the planning and preparation of the event set-up and take down. Introduction to Business students can help with analyzing the table designs and giving constructive feedback. The opportunities to include many different people is endless. However, with a calculated approach to the event, you can grow it to a size you have only dreamed of.
Please share your feedback or experiences doing your own high school trade show. My event is constantly evolving, and I am always looking for feedback on how I can do it better. I would also love to help any of you with your own events!