Trade Show Booth

WORK our trade show booth?” I had visited many trade shows for a variety of industries over the years, but I still remember the first time I was asked to work a trade show for my company (Cynroc, Inc.). I was 22, and I was confident about my knowledge of our business and the industry in general, but the idea of pouring all my energy and smiles into hundreds of strangers was a bit daunting and uncomfortable. As it happens, my industry is marketing and graphic design, and part of marketing is understanding people and the way they think. Obviously, being a graphic designer is very handy in creating an attractive booth. So, I have put together my experience as a trade show booth worker and visitor with my marketing skills, and I hope you find this practical guide helpful! At the least, it’s a good starting point, and something you may want to share with employees working your booth. Let’s get this ball rolling!


So your company’s space for the trade show has been reserved, you have the info you need (don’t be shy about contacting the show organizer if you have questions or need help), and you are ready to prepare the booth and get ready for the big trade show.


  • SET GOALS – Figure out what needs to be accomplished by participating in this trade show. Are you wanting to create awareness about the company or product? Are you wanting to generate leads? Exactly how many sales do you want to make or contacts do you want to get? Consider the specific goals and then keep revisiting them through the planning process, because everything that is done should support the goals that have been set.


  • LET PEOPLE KNOW – Getting the right traffic to your booth begins before the trade show. Contact as many people as possible in advance to let them know you will be at the show. Post it on the website, post about it on Facebook, send emails and e-news, twitter, advertise it, and use any other methods you can think of. And do it shamelessly. Be sure to include any attractive information like giveaways or other special benefits that will serve as incentive for them to come.


  • PERSONAL APPEARANCE – Dress appropriately for the occasion and also consider the nature of the company you represent. The bottom line is that you want your appearance to send the message that you are credible and knowledgeable. Look clean, high-tech, modern, and smart, and any other way that portrays your brand well. Always dress respectfully.


  • NAME BADGES – If you do not already have name badges, you may want to purchase some for the staff who will be working the booth. It will help visitors identify you as members of your company, get your attention if they need help, and for some it will help them remember you and the company.


  • CONSISTENCY IS HELPFUL – Staff should discuss their dress plan, so that consistency can be maintained when possible. For example, if the company has shirts for everyone, agree to wear those, or if you have another accessory or color or idea for a way that visitors can visually identify each of you as being part of the same company/team, do that.


  • BE YOUR BEST – Wear comfortable shoes and have a cooler with bottled water under the table, so staff can stay hydrated.


    • RESEARCH – If you don’t already know it, find out about your booth’s setup.
      • Space dimensions
      • Space location
      • Ceiling height
      • Access to lighting
      • Access to electricity
      • Access to Internet (Is the connection reliable? Does it cost anything?)
    • LAYOUT – Think open and inviting. Leave room for visitors and staff to move around. It is nice if visitors can “step into” the booth so they don’t have the pressure of others walking on top of them while they are visiting. At the same time, you don’t want to be so far from the walking area that it’s easy for people to miss you completely or for you to miss making eye contact with passersby and communicating. Ideally, a gentle moon shape is a good rule of thumb for encouraging traffic TO and IN the booth and making it comfortable for them to stay. Visitors don’t want to feel cut off from you and they don’t want to feel trapped.


  • APPEARANCE – The booth should look sharp and grab attention. Using color smartly and having banners or graphic backdrops of some sort are a terrific beginning. Keep in mind that the booth is a backdrop – it’s not a brochure. Visitors should be able to instantly recognize who you are and what you do. It’s the staff’s job to take it from there. Here are some more ideas to inspire you:
    • Use colored tablecloths rather than neutral ones.
    • If the table is looking rather empty, add a couple potted plants. They’re welcoming in a huge room that probably doesn’t have much natural light.
    • If the booth needs more color and height, use clusters of balloons to add vertical interest.


  • HANDOUTS – Handouts are an obviously important part of the booth. They should visually represent the company accurately and attractively, and the information inside should be pertinent and include contact info (don’t forget the website’s QR code!) These handouts will be reaching visitors you didn’t even know you had, and some that you didn’t have at all. Handouts are going to be acting like an extra, very informative employee, so they should be awesome! Also, make sure there are a lot of them so you don’t run out. Some examples of handouts: Brochure, Flyer, Rack Card, Company Card, Bookmark, other material with contact info.


  • MORE VISUALS – Is there a video or demonstration or online catalogue that visitors will want to see? Set up a laptop or use iPads to show visitors.


  • GIVEAWAY – Giveaways are a good way to entice passersby to give their contact info for the chance to win something. Who knows, they may become a customer/client in the future.
    • FORM – Many visitors will enter the giveaway with their business card, but for those who do not have a card, provide a stack of entry forms (and a pen connected to the table) that visitors can fill out on the spot and drop in the box. So what info is needed? Here’s a suggestion:
      • Full Name
      • Company, if applicable
      • Email
      • Phone (check if it’s business or personal)
      • Address – (If your mail won’t be sent, you may want at least the city and state for statistically helpful info, and you may not need their street address – plus it will save them time filling out the form)
    • BOX/BOWL – Any container will do, but if you don’t want visitors trying to figure out their odds of winning before entering the contact info, consider a closed and opaque container (such as a ballot box rather than a fish bowl). Mark the container/vessel very clearly for visitors and remember to write what they are entering to win and any other appropriate information.
    • MAKE IT WORTH IT – When choosing what to giveaway, it’s usually better to choose one or two really great items than to have a few or even several of an item that doesn’t excite anyone. Visitors don’t put their contact info in the box because they think it’s fun. They do it because they want the item being given away more than they want privacy of their contact info.
    • CHOOSING THE GIVEAWAY ITEM – You may have an item or a service produced by your company that would make a good giveaway. An added benefit to giving away something relating to the company, is that the visitors who enter the giveaway are more likely (though not always) to be truly interested in the company and what they offer. This is a helpful assumption when it comes time to follow up after the trade show has ended. If you need further ideas, electronics are generally an appealing choice for giveaways.


  • TRINKETS TO GIVE OUT – Trinket-like items that don’t cost too much but give the visitor something memorable or purposeful to walk away with can be a good idea. Be sure the item has some amount of value or usefulness, so it doesn’t just get tossed at the nearest trash can and most importantly, it MUST have your company’s name and preferably the company’s contact info on it, as well. So think carefully about how the item represents your company.



So the booth is set up and looking great. The booth is now ready to do its part – Attract visitors to YOU. Without you and the information you have to share, the booth has done little more than what could have been done by putting an ad in the paper. This is your opportunity to achieve the following important goals: 1) Help visitors understand the company through conversation and giving out information, 2) Make a positive impression, 3) Stand out from the competition, 4) Ready visitors for next step – using the company’s service or purchasing the product.


  • ENGAGE VISITORS – The goal is to get passersby engaged in the booth, because the more senses we use, the better our memory. If they can see the booth, hear you or a video speaking, and speak to you in conversation, then you have made an impression. You’ve given them something to remember. If there is something they can touch or interact with as well, then you have made an even deeper impression.


  • DON’T LEAVE – Make sure there is always someone staffing the booth.


  • ENJOY YOURSELF – Trade shows are supposed to be fun and help you network, so don’t beat yourself up over missed opportunities. Instead, move forward and focus on visitors who show an interest.


    • ENCOURAGE VISITORS AND PASSERSBY TO TAKE ONE! Sure, a lot of the handouts will get thrown away in the end, but a lot of them won’t! Even if the handout ends up being thrown away tomorrow, the person had to look at it one more time to make the choice to toss it. And that’s one more time they will see the company’s name and logo.
    • IT’S IMPORTANT – The info that your handout contains is the most important thing you can share with visitors. The simple truth is that you will not be speaking with everyone who enters your booth, much less those who simply walk on by. Some people want the knowledge, but they do not want to get into a conversation with you. That’s okay. That’s why we have handouts/flyers/brochures/etc. Get it in their hands. Hopefully they will read it later. They won’t remember having a conversation with you, but they should remember that you were approachable and kind and that your booth looked fantastic!


  • DIFFERENT HANDOUTS? It will be helpful if you can differentiate interested persons from those who really don’t care. With that in mind, it could be beneficial to hand out different handouts to different people. For example, hand out material that was cheaper to produce to everyone who goes by, shows up, etc. Hand out your more impressive material to the people who really may be interested.


  • A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE – It should go without saying, but people in the booth need to be friendly, enthusiastic, cheerful, confident (not cocky) and helpful! People will leave the booth feeling either good about the company or bad about the company, so the way the employees conduct themselves and interact with visitors is crucial. The booth’s impressive graphics may have attracted the visitor, but it’s the staff running the booth that will make the lasting and most important impression!


    • Be aware of body language. Don’t cross arms or have a scowl on face.
    • Staff needs to keep conversations amongst themselves to a minimum, so approaching and current visitors won’t be discouraged.
    • Never sit or eat in booth. Potential visitors will be turned off and pass by.
    • Staff needs to be focused on visitors and what’s going on around them. Being busy with mobile devices is not sending a good message.


  • CONVERSATION – Striking up conversation with strangers isn’t easy for most people, so here are some tips to give some courage.
    • IT’S OKAY – Chances are pretty good that the visitor with whom you are interacting is as uncomfortable as you. So put on a smile, be approachable, and you’ll be off to a good start.
    • WHEN ASKING A QUESTION, try to word it as an open-ended question, as opposed to a yes-no question. More information will be gained if they answer the question, “Which service do you use?” rather than “Do you have service?” Or you could ask, “How far did you travel today?” rather than “Are you from around here?” Open-ended questions lead somewhere, unlike yes-no questions.
    • AT THE LEAST, you can always kindly ask if they are finding all the information they need and let them know you are happy to answer any questions. You can also direct them to your giveaway(s) or invite them to take a look at the model/demonstration/etc. If you’re really struggling, offer them a trinket-like item you are handing out.
    • YOU AREN’T BEING PUSHY – Remember that speaking to someone doesn’t make you pushy. You aren’t standing uninvited on their private property trying to sell your service or product. They have come to the tradeshow for the very purpose of learning and making some headway in possible purchasing choices they may need to make. Visitors will not hold it against you if you offer information and help while being courteous and confident. Being informative and helpful is what they expect!
    • SHARE WHAT THE VISITOR NEEDS TO KNOW – Be ready to share information that you feel your visitor needs but may not know to ask about. If you leave the flow of sharing information only to the visitor, they may miss out on hearing the very information that they need but don’t know exists.


  • THE GIVEAWAY DRAWING – Make sure you do not forget to include the handout/brochure/info with the giveaway when the winner claims it.


  • FACEBOOK – Another way to get word out about the company and get the logo and brand image floating around is to take advantage of social media. And do it during the show! For example: Advertise through a poster on your table and also during your conversations with visitors, that if they “like” or “share” your company’s Facebook page, they will be entered into a giveaway. (Have a big QR code on the poster, so they can go straight to your Facebook page right then.) Make and advertise this as a great giveaway, because 1) If they “like” the page, they will begin seeing the company’s Facebook posts, which will keep the company in front of them for much longer than a brochure! 2) When they “like” or “share” the page, their friends will see it, too! You just showed off the company to more people, and because it is being seen as something a friend liked or shared, the company has more credibility with those just now seeing your name than it would otherwise. And besides, it’s free (minus the cost of the giveaway)! NO INTERNET? If there is not a wi-fi connection in the building, hand out little QR codes and promote it that way. (Or better yet, give them your handout with the QR code on it.)


  • BE SAVVY ABOUT THE COMPETITION – You’ll be in very tight quarters with the competition, so while you’re there, notice what they are doing that is working or not working and learn from it. Also, realize that they are doing the same thing to you, and keep your eyes open.


    • SALES – Utilize technology to help with sales, so customers can place an order and you can process the sale without the time involved with paper orders.
      • There are free applications (like “Lettuce”) that take orders and either processes them immediately with an Internet connection or saves all the data for later when you can connect.
    • TWITTER – Live-tweet your trade show experience, keeping it fun and interactive with info and photos, and keeping those hashtags going!
    • FACEBOOK – Post what’s going on and remember photos.
    • Remember that while technology is an asset to you, you need to keep it fast and get straight back to your booth’s visitors!


  • BE COMMITTED – So the trade show is almost over, and the crowds have died down. Not to mention, you’re feeling exhausted and hungry and wanting to wrap it up. But don’t stop now. Be aware of those potential customers/clients who are still walking the floor. Now may be the perfect opportunity to really engage with them, since they clearly like a less busy atmosphere, and you happen to be much more available than earlier in the day.



It’s all over! Well, not really. While you’re relaxing your feet, be thinking about the next step… Hopefully, you have a big stack of contact information on potential customers (from the giveaway entries and maybe from another source). Many of these will not be warm leads but some will be. So be sure to follow up! If you don’t follow up, then your booth and giveaway had little purpose and your hard work will be fruitless.


  • TIME TO DEBRIEF – Very soon after returning from the tradeshow, meet with the booth staff, marketing team, members of sales, etc. to discuss the good, the bad, what worked, what didn’t. Learn from your successes and failure to improve the next tradeshow!


  • EMAIL THANKS – Send an email to thank visitors for stopping by the booth and try to gauge their interest by suggesting the company’s Facebook page to them or offering them something. After this initial contact, you’ll have a better feeling of who is really interested and who just wanted that giveaway item.


  • KEEP YOUR COMPANY’S NAME OUT THERE – Every time you get the company’s name in front of someone, it increases the likelihood that they will choose you over the competition when the time comes for them to need your service or product. Psychologically, [positive] repetition turns into assumed credibility.


  • KEEP THE FIRE BURNING – If there is an appropriate deal or discount or some new or important info you can share with them, include it in your follow-up. This is the best time to “entice them” because you are still fresh in their memory and you want to stay fresh.


  • SOCIAL MEDIA – Post a big thank you to those who came out to see you, and if you took advantage of the Facebook giveaway, remember to post the winner and how cool the giveaway was. Don’t wait long before you post new and useful info or another great deal, to keep your new “friends!”


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