You can learn a lot about business as the emcee of a startup event. As I waited onstage for the next elevator pitch, I wondered if the upcoming presenter would have taken the time to craft their one-minute message or—better yet—rehearse.

One part startup tradeshow, one part pitch competition, and one part investor presentations; this year’s Innovation Showcase put entrepreneurs through the paces as 63 companies sought to raise funding for their companies.

Each startup brought their own flare to their presentation, but the startups that stood out are the ones who made meaningful connections. And they did it with four simple steps:

Step 1: Know what you want.

How can you know if an event was a success if you don’t know what success looks like? Defining what you want out of a tradeshow, conference, or business competition will not only help you track your progress, but it will also galvanize you and your team with a focal point to guide decisions.

The Innovation Showcase had over 750 investors, entrepreneurs, engineers, and other business folks. With the kind of diversity that a large conference brings, it’s possible that you could have great conversations all day, but not have any measurable outcomes from the event. So, set your goals early. Then, you can go to work on designing a roadmap that will get you to the end zone.

Step 2: Plan out your pitch.

Innovation Showcase StageYou have seconds. Not minutes—seconds—to grab the interest of your audience. That means you first have to understand who your audience is. As each company founder took the stage in the Speak Easy at the Innovation Showcase, you could tell within the first three seconds how well each pitch was going fall on the ears of the investors.

By getting a clear picture of who you want to talk to, based on your goals (see Step 1), you’ll be able to better identify when you’re dealing with a real opportunity. Then, you can go about crafting a message that will have the highest likelihood to achieve the result for which you’re striving.

Step 3: Draw your audience in with your booth.

Leave the poster boards and permanent marker at home. That approach was charming at your middle school science fair, but this is your business. On a startup tradeshow floor, there are hundreds of things other than your booth that are vying for your audience’s attention.

This year’s Showcase companies brought motorcycles, interactive touch screens, and carefully designed displays. The ones that consistently drew a crowd were the ones you could tell spent time constructing their booth experience. Don’t leave anything up to chance

Step 4: Exude energy (yes, even when you’re exhausted).

Sounds simple, but executes hard. I know tradeshows and conferences can be physically and mentally draining. But when the lights go on and the doors open, it’s game time.

Near the end of the Showcase, I took the stage with a handful of the country’s most active investors. It was one of the most insightful panels I’ve witnessed (I’ll save all of that advice for a later post). But what really shocked me was that when the panel concluded, there were a couple of companies that had already started to pack up their booths.

Innovation Showcase InvestorsREALLY!? You’re going to invest all of this time and then just pack it up to head home early?

To each his or her own, but I’d suggest sticking around at an event like the Innovation Showcase as long as the organizers will let you hold down the floor. The investors I talked with on the panel still had plenty of energy and interest to speak with startups—even after our in-depth discussion on stage. You never know how you’ll get your next cash-generating opportunity. So, give yourself the best shot at winning and play until the game is actually over.

I was impressed with this year’s Showcase lineup. It was fun to collaborate with the Venture Club of Indiana again and I’m so thankful that our sponsors supported the growing startup community we have here, in the Midwest.

Innovation Showcase Sponsors

I learned a ton from our investor and entrepreneurial presenters. Each event has something new to teach you. So what are some of your biggest lessons learned from doing tradeshows and conferences?

Share in the comments below. . .