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16 Fun Things To Do At A Trade Show

Trade shows are a serious marketing medium in which we invest billions of dollars. In our quest to achieve business results, we often talk about getting the highest ROI (Return on Investment) or ROO (Return on Objectives).  But what about the greatest ROF (Return on Fun)?

Trade shows are about meeting people, those unpredictable, emotional beings.  To be engaging, you need to be having some fun, because if you are bored or too serious, that puts up an invisible barrier.  After a few days per show, and many shows per year, how can you keep yourself entertained (without going overboard at the clubs and the casinos)?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Look up on the show city’s Visitors and Convention Bureau website all the fun activities you can do outside of show hours (try indoor skydiving in Las Vegas, it’s a blast).
  2. Go to dinner with the funniest sales person who is staffing the booth.  Repeat nightly.
  3. Count how many trade show booths you can walk by before a booth staffer tries to engage you.
  4. Visit your competitors at the show and ask them what they don’t do well.  Watch ’em squirm.
  5. When you meet attendees in your booth, stop treating them like numbers on the sales chart, and treat them instead as if they are going to be your new best friend.
  6. Drinking game: Walk down the trade show aisle carrying a bottle of water (unless you are at a European show).  Whenever a booth staffer says, “Hi! How are you?” you reply, “Fine,” take a swig, and keep walking.
  7. Pick up giveaways from your fellow exhibitors, and then give them back … to different exhibitors.
  8. Go to lunch with the second-funniest sales person who is staffing the booth.  Repeat daily.
  9. Look up old friends you haven’t seen in ages that live in the show city, via Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media, and relive the glory days.
  10. Create a fun activity in your booth that helps get your message across to visitors.
  11. Walk into an island trade show exhibit and play with their products. Count how many seconds (minutes?) it takes for a booth staffer to engage you.
  12. Smile at your booth visitors, even if they aren’t.  Pretty soon you’ll both be smiling.
  13. Have a contest with fellow staffers to see who can work specific obscure words into conversation when talking with booth visitors, such as “corollary,” “obtuse,” and “Sandra Day O’Connor.”
  14. Walk the show with a colleague.  Have a bet on who can count the most: booth staffers sitting down or booth staffers on the phone.  A third friend can count booth staffers eating or drinking. (This is like counting states on license plates when on a long drive.)  Loser buys lunch.
  15. Have another bet: Before you hit the show floor, bet which trendy new color will be on the trade show displays.  Then count the exhibits with that color.  Loser buys drinks … that are the color they picked.
  16. Thank everyone who has helped you with the show – your booth staffers, your exhibit house, your manager, the show owner, the show labor, and especially your booth visitors.  You’d be surprised how much fun that can be.

What do you do to keep yourself entertained when you are at a trade show? Share your ideas in the comment box below.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

41 responses to “16 Fun Things To Do At A Trade Show

  1. Oooh Oooh Oooh I’ve got one. At shows with an international audience try to guess what country visitors are from based only on shoes, attire, coiffure. (I know, shoes are part of attire but are often the tie breaker)

    But NEVER use this game to figure out where visitors are on the totem pole…never works…strictly for fun only.

    Saving this post on Evernote for use next time I’m on the road!

    1. Great game, Traci! Bags and glasses are another clue to country of origin. Even how they walk together as a group. I love to listen to them talk and try to guess the language, too. And that goes both ways — us Americans are easy to spot with our backpacks and chewing gum!

  2. Funny!

    I will be doing #13 at the next show.

    Engaging a booth visitor using a foreign language would be fun.

    When s/he says “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” you could say the same with a puzzled look on your face — in the foreign language.

  3. #17

    Head on over to the Smart City service desk, pick up the telephone (since there most likely won’t be anyone there anyway), and ask the person on the other end if they’ve heard of Trade Show Internet.

    We do this at every convention center and have received reactions ranging from being hung up on to long explanations about how Trade Show Internet’s service is illegal/ineffective/risky, etc. It’s fun and it makes the Smart City folks nervous.

    The truth is, there’s nothing illegal or risky about Trade Show Internet’s $299 rental solution for exhibitors. Unless you’re Smart City and afraid of disruptive technology, of course!

    This is America and competition is fun and good for everyone, except if you have a monopoly.

      1. Mike,

        I’m happy to hear you’ve figured out a cost-saving solution that works for your needs.

        Our Internet Kits also use broadband cards — they are a great way to save money on the in-house Internet fees. We provide a mobile broadband router which allows you to “share” the connectivity across multiple computers at your booth. We also supply an antenna to help overcome signal strength challenges inside convention centers and hotels.

        Best of luck at your shows this year,

        Ian Framson
        Trade Show Internet

  4. I’m a Trade Show Magician so I am always playing with the attendees and the vendors around me. I have a small PA system so quite a few people can hear me. I have dozens of gags like when I say “Did anyone loose a roll of money with a rubber band around it?” Of course everyone yells “yes,I did.” I say, “Great, I found your rubber band,” hold up the rubber band; of course then do a trick with it. Breaks the ice pronto. Sometimes I’ll teach someone a simple trick. Or have a giveaway magic trick with the clients information on it. I get a kick seeing them run around showing everyone what they learned. Sometimes I’ll clue all the other booths around me into helping me with a trick such as: An attendee picks a card, (say 7 hearts) I yell to one booth, “Hey, what color are you thinking of” (they say red). I say to the next booth, “Is it a heart or diamond?” (they say heart). Next booth “Is it a picture card or # card”? (they say # card) and the last booth “What # are you thinking of?” and they say 7. I look at the person who picked the card and say “Is that your card, the 7 of Hearts?” They usually fall over, mouth drops and say how in the world……

  5. All of my staff puts a dollar in a cup each day. The person who sees the worse toupee on either a participant or vendor each day gets the pot. If a tie, it carries over. Don’t worry about in fighting, it is always exceedingly clear.

    1. We have done similar game with worst/most outrageous outfit or if we are in Las Vegas, highest heels on a “booth worker.” For some reason we don’t think the girls dressed for a night on the town with 4″ to 5″ heels are serious members of a company’s Sales and Marketing team.

      1. Darn! I must have been going to the wrong shows, since I missed those girls.
        I did see a couple of girls being bodypainted in a booth at a show in London though… Strangely enough they threatened to shut the booth down if they did not stop. I don’t think many company had more press at that show, so they did a good job. Never underestimate the power of hormones, eh?

  6. Love the suggestions!
    One of our favorites is to find the nearest utility cord bundle that happens to run across the aisle. The facility always puts a “speed bump” over them, or caution tape, or something, so that people do not trip.

    Well as you can imagine, people don’t pay attention and they trip. Towards the end of the show when things are slow we’ve even gone as far to make score cards to rate the “tripper”. It passes the time and provides lots of laughs…

  7. I’m all for humour, but the jokers should be aware that humor is not always international. What works in Las Vegas with an American might be very embarassing in Germany or Japan.
    It also depends on what you are trying to promote and to whom. “Funny” salespersons are not always effective. Might be good for selling used cars to dads, but not necessarily good for selling high-tech to the president of a large, serious firm.
    I think a shot of humor at the right time is better than trying to be funny all the time (to misquote Abraham Lincoln).

  8. Trade shows are an opportunity to show off your best products and show off your best sales people. Shows should be fun and exciting. I think of them as a glorified cocktail party with products as a backdrop–the excuse for being there. Schmooze for heaven’s sake!

  9. Mike,

    Looks like you can add how many exhibitors are on computers to #14 rather than engaging potential customers.

  10. OK, you had mentioned:
    10.Create a fun activity in your booth that helps get your message across to visitors

    How about this? I’d love to try this at a Tradeshow but haven’t had the opportunity to work with anyone at a tradeshow. It seems like a great way to create a buzz and capture more attendie information.

  11. I exhibited at the Learning Annex for a few years. When Donald Trump was the headliner, I flew in a Donald Trump impersonator! We offered photos and autographs from our guy.

    Well, his photo online was pretty good. When he arrived however, he was about 50 pounds over and 6 inches shorter than the Donald! I was nervous it wouldn’t go over very well.

    On the day of the trade show our booth was packed. Even though this guy BARELY resembled D. Trump, over 50% of the people REALLY thought it was him! FUNNY!

    We captured over 600 leads in 2 days.

  12. Do you ever get the feeling that you are stuck in a conversation that’s going nowhere while valuable leads are not getting any attention? My staffers and I have invented a little technique of signaling to each other so we can be rescued if needed. We even have a custom qualifier on our lead retrieval so we can identify the chatty Cathy’s when we get back.

    Also, for vegas a good game is worst hangover spotted on an attendee…also easy to pick out and never any arguing.

    1. Jamie,

      That’s a great tip to have your team help you end an unwantedly lengthy conversation.

      And I love your game! I will try that at my next show in Las Vegas!

    1. Thanks, Karen. If it’s more fun for the booth staffers, then they’ll do better at relating to their attendees, and actually create more business opportunity. Talk about your win/win situation!

  13. I had the honor of working next to a “ringer” and I learned a lot in the 2 days next to him. Here are just a couple things I learned and you will notice them too at your next show.

    There are 2 phrases that your non-buyers will use. Never fails, if you hear these words they are not going to buy. They are “That’s neat” & That’s interesting.” There are a few variations but those are the main phrases. Keep an open ear for them at your next show and you will know if the person you are talking to is the buyer or not.

    1. Thanks for sharing your veteran’s tip! I will listen for those words at the next show.

      One thing I’ve learned as a staffer is not to present until after doing a good job of asking about the attendee’s needs. That way you can focus your presentation on what you offer that is most relevant, and hence valuable, to them. Hopefully there are fewer non-buyer reactions that way.

  14. We have a rubber duck sign that says 1/2 price sale, we use that at the retail shows to draw people in, and for a laugh, we wave the sign around endlessly, it creates a lot of good laughs, and draws people into our booth!!

  15. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find
    this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will
    try to get the hang of it!

  16. The 4th point “Visit your competitors at the show and ask them what they don’t do well. Watch ’em squirm”, literally made my day. The points are simply amazing. I will be trying them in the very next trade show I attend.

  17. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day.
    It’s always exciting to read content from other writers and use something from their

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