Getting noticed at a busy conference is tricky business. You and a colleague are all alone in a sea of colorful booths, dealing with thousands of people who are only looking to grab a few pens and a new notepad before they attend their next session. So how do you stand out to the people who are really looking for your services?

Not surprisingly, you have to get creative. And that doesn’t necessarily mean dropping a huge budget for a crazy booth – you just know how to execute a great trade show experience. In this week’s 352 Noodles & Doodles, I’ll share some of our biggest conference tips for exhibitors.

Transcript below.

Image credit: Patrick

[Peter VanRysdam:] Hi, I’m Peter VanRysdam, I’m one of the founding partners here at 352 Inc., and today I’m going to talk to you about, “How to Exhibit at a Trade Show.” And when I’m talking about that, I’m talking about how to do it well but do it on a budget still. We’re not the kind of company that’s taking a big crate and several semis to a show and setting up an entire house worth of furniture. We’re doing 10 by 10 booths and things like that to try to get some exposure at industry events. So I want to give you some of the best practices we’ve found from doing this for a few years.
The first thing is, it all starts well before the show, the pre-show time can be very important. Most exhibits and things that you go to will provide some sort of list of the attendees, maybe just a mailing list, sometimes if you’re a little lucky an email list, you might have to pay for it but it’s definitely worth it, because if you can start some conversations beforehand, and have that brand recognition when people come by your booth, they already know who you are and what you do, that’s very helpful. So we’ll oftentimes send out a mailer that’s a little unique, not just a postcard or a brochure, but something that’s a personalized letter that lets people know what we’re going to be doing at the show, any fun things we’re going to be doing, and give them kind of an incentive to come by and see us. I’ll talk a little bit more about that in the second.
Next, when you’re actually at the show, I want to talk a little bit about the rules in the booth. And this is one of the things that, as I’m always standing at our booth, I look around and I see lots of people making these mistakes that can turn off potential customers. 
The first one is, no eating in the booth. Sounds obvious but, someone comes up to you and your mouth is full, it’s not going to sound too good. Also, people might avoid coming up to you because they don’t want to bother you if they see that you’re busy eating. So you want to typically have two people with you so you can take turns, one of you can go out and eat while the other one stays in the booth and then switch, because lunch opportunities are a good time when people are walking around the booth in a lot of cases.Along those same lines, there’s no texting or checking emails or on phone calls in the booth. Again, it’s going to happen, your away from the office, these things are going to come up, step out of the booth for a second, take the phone call and then come back in. There’s always some chairs and things you can go to, to do that kind of thing, but you don’t want to do it in the booth for the same reasons as the eating.No sitting. Studies have shown it makes you seem very unapproachable, if you’re sitting down. Again, people don’t want to come over and make you have to get up and then when you’re in that conversation it’s kind of a weird dynamic, you’re sitting, they’re standing, so you do not want to sit in the booth. I know sometimes we’re talking about 12-hour days on your feet and that can be tough. A stool may be a little more acceptable because at least you’re kind of at eye level and it’s not a big inconvenience for you to get up and get out from behind a table or something.

The next thing you want to do is you don’t want to be engaged in some conversations among your booth staff. Again, people don’t want to come up and interrupt you if you’re in the middle of a conversation. So if there’s two or three of you in the booth, kind of spread yourselves out a little bit, and make yourself look a little bit more approachable by not having those kind of conversations.

This is a fun one, you want to kind of identify people right when they come into your booth of what they’re there for. A lot of people, the people you’re looking for are the ones that are interested in your products or services, but there are a lot of people at trade shows that come to sell to you. It’s a ridiculous practice in my opinion because most of the time people that are in a trade show booth are sales people themselves, don’t really have the buying power to make purchasing decisions, but people that didn’t want to spend the money to get a booth are going to come around and try to sell you.

So identify those kinds of conversations quickly say, “Hey, I’m not the person to talk to, give me your card, I’ll pass it along to someone.” When you’re really going to pass it along to the trash can, but you want to identify those people quickly so you’ re not wasting your time in conversations with someone trying to sell you, when you could be selling to someone else.

The last thing is, you don’t want to hover too much, you don’t want to get into someone’s face. You’ll find when people are walking down the aisles at trade shows, they’re very wary of getting stuck in a conversation they don’t want to be in. They don’t want that used car salesman kind of thing where someone comes up and it costs them and takes their time when they’re really not interested at all. So back off a little bit, let the person walk by, smile as they take a look at your booth real quick and see what you do. If they stop, and if they start reading a little bit you know, “Okay, this person is at least a little interested in what I have to offer. Maybe I can spark up a conversation and say hi without going in for the hard sell.” So you don’t want to hover too much. Give some people time to read, you know, what your booth says, see your logo and go from there.

Next thing I’m talking about is swag, everyone says, “Okay, we have to give something away at our booth, whether it’s a big prize, like a raffle, an iPad, or something, or if it’s as simple as a pen.” I don’t know how many pens you have on your desk that have company names on it that you have no idea what that company does because you just grabbed a pen and moved on. So think about what the swag you have is doing for you. I’m going to give you a quick example.

We’re doing a show this week in New Orleans, for the American Marketing Association, and so we want to do something a little creative that gets people thinking about our company and gets some more involvement. So what we’re giving away, instead of just pens, is Mardi Gras style beads with our logo on it. So what we’re saying to people is, “Pick up this bead in our booth, wear it around the show.” Then when we see people wearing them, we’re going to randomly select people to give some cool prizes to.

So that not only gets something a little more interactive that they think about what they’re doing, but it also makes people walk around with your logo on it, which is a fantastic thing. In years past we’ve done other fun things like that to just try to find something unique about the shows location or the topic to get people more involved.

And finally, post-show. Post-show, just as important as pre-show, you want to follow up quickly, not necessarily too quickly. If you email someone the same day that you met them, they’re probably not even back from the show yet, they’ve got a ton of emails to get through, so you want to think about the next week maybe when people have had a chance to kind of get back in and un-clutter their inbox, that’s when you want to get in there.

At the same time, you want to make sure that during the show you’ve been taking really good notes. So whenever you get a business card from someone, which you always should, just write something on the back, what service they were interested in, maybe if some key pain point that they had that you want to address so that when you write them that email or give them that phone call you can say, “Hey, remember we talked about this and that and I’d like to follow-up and see how we can help you.”

If you can schedule meetings at the show too, that’s fantastic depending on the type of sales cycle you have or product that you’re selling, but post-show is just as important as pre-show. So those are the basic tips for how to exhibit at a trade show, I hope it helped you.

If you have any tips or things that you’ve done, please share those with us in the comments, that would be really helpful to get some discussion of going about that, and make sure you subscribe to 352 Inc.’s YouTube channel

Thanks so much for watching this episode of Noodles and Doodles and we’ll see you next week.


352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.