10 Ways To Make Sure Your Trade Show Isn’t A Bust

Conferences and trade shows remain popular, but doing them right is not easy. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of your investment.

10 Ways To Make Sure Your Trade Show Isn’t A Bust


Despite the stagnant economy, industry trade shows, conferences, and exhibitions remain popular. In fact, a recent Center for Exhibition Industry Research report reveals an increase in the primary indicators of trade show activity (square feet of display, revenue, attendance, and number of companies exhibiting).

As summer begins, thus signaling the end the current trade show season, this is a particularly good time to start planning for the fall events. So here are some insider tips for getting the most of a trade show appearance.

1. Map out your objectives for the event early and create a plan. Show attendance is more than an opportunity to collect leads and engage with prospects. It is also an opportunity to meet with partners, press, potential employees, even competitors. So taking a strategic view of a show makes sense. Shows are often handed off to marketing folks who excel at handling show logistics, but don’t see the big picture. Some things you may want to consider are announcing a new product, implementing an incentive plan for recruiting partners, or arranging meetings with industry analysts. Understanding who will be attending the event and other activities that will take place at the show should play a role in your decisions. It is not always wise to ‘blow’ a good announcement on the wrong event.

2. Apply early for a meaningful speaking opportunity. Presenting at a conference/trade show brings credibility to your company and amplifies your message. Getting a customer to speak on your behalf is even better.

3. Reach out to the people you want to meet before the show. A good place to start is your prospect database. Programs like G2 Maps for Salesforce provide GIS functionality on top of CRM systems that can help you locate your prospects within a certain radius of the show. Use social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to see who is talking about the show. Reach out to these folks via targeted emails. Get personal and be specific about why people should meet with you.

4. Bring the right staff. How many booths have you walked past and seen the staff standing around talking amongst themselves? These folks are doing your company a disservice. Pick staff who like engaging with strangers, even if they are not in sales. Product developers are sometimes your best advocates. If you hire local staff to augment your company presence, make sure they know the basics about the company/product. There is nothing worse than talking to someone who clearly has no idea what the company does. Work out an effective hand-off protocol, so the best prospects get preferential treatment and the time-wasters (and every show has lots of these) don’t clog up booth operations.


5. Choose a good booth location. At a small show, location is not important, so don’t spend extra money on it, but at the larger shows, it pays to get a location that is:

· On a busy aisle or near the hall entrance

· Near an anchor booth (a big company in a related market).

· On a corner. This gives you more effective space than you paid for, since you can encroach on more aisle space without running afoul of the show managers.

6. Booth graphics and messaging need to be drop-dead simple. Typically, you have about two seconds to capture attention as visitors meander through the aisles. So focus on the top keywords and tasteful graphics. White space is a huge plus. I am amazed at how many companies load up their booth graphics with complicated diagrams and tons of text. It is a total turn-off.

7. Create an engaging way to interact with visitors. Contests and challenges are good ways to create some meaningful interaction, but make sure they are connected to your company’s value proposition. For example, we have run “Pepsi-challenge” type contests to create familiarity with our products while attendees enjoy a positive experience. People love to play hands-on games and win a chance to get something substantial, like an iPad. Photographing or videoing participants and uploading the content to the company Facebook page is a great way to keep the buzz going even after show is over.


8. Prepare packaged demos, so people can understand your product within two minutes. If someone wants more information, pass them on to a qualified person to go more in depth. Personally, I hate being trapped in endless demos that really didn’t interest me in the first place. It’s another turn-off.

9. Don’t waste the time and money participating in “Speaker’s Corners”-type demos. Many shows allow you to demo your product on the exhibit hall floor, for an extra fee. I have always found these to be a colossal waste of money.

10. Use giveaways and swag judiciously. If there is a way to tie the giveaway into your company’s value proposition, then giving something away makes sense, because it reinforces engagement and brand equity. For example, clever T-shirts can work well. Giveaways such as pens, rubber ducky squeeze toys, and other such nonsense are a waste of money.

And of course, do all the obvious stuff like wear clearly branded company attire, rent a lead retrieval device to get accurate prospect information, make sure you have ample literature on hand, follow up with leads quickly with prospects after the show, and all the other generic tips you will find on exhibition web sites.

If you have additional suggestions, comment below, email me at or tweet me at @dlavenda.

Author David Lavenda is a high tech marketing and product strategy executive who also does academic research on information overload in organizations. He is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.


[Image: Flickr user Daniele Meli]

About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission.