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Don’t Be “That Guy” At Trade Shows

Don't be "That Guy" at TradeshowsYou’ve seen him as you walk down the trade show aisle.  You point him out to your colleagues, trying to not let him see you as you do.  You let out a nervous laugh as you pass his trade show display — what if he tries to talk to you?

He’s “that guy,” and he’s doing trade shows all wrong.

Here’s 8 things you and the other trade show attendees are saying about “that guy”:

1.  “Why did that guy even come to the show?” He’s typing on his computer, talking on his cell phone, texting on his smartphone — basically doing everything in his booth except engaging with attendees.  He shouldn’t be doing things he would normally do back at his office; he should be working the show.

2.  “What did that guy just say to me?” Starting a conversation with a stranger in the aisle takes a delicate touch.  But there are offensive booth staffers who still think it’s okay to obviously read a person’s badge and say, “Hey Mike, how are you doing?” without realizing just how cheesy that sounds.

3.  “What does that guy’s company do?” If your exhibit graphics don’t make it clear what products you sell and what value you bring to your customers, then trade show attendees (who are already short on time and overstimulated) are not going to take the time to find out.

4.  “Why is that guy’s company at this show?” There are thousands of shows, whose attendees have various mixes of job titles, vertical markets, company sizes, and buying authority.  The guy who tries to sell products to attendees who are not a good fit can stand out for the wrong reason.

5.  “When did that guy last get a haircut?” From a bad haircut to a rumpled suit to a pair of scratched-up shoes, poorly groomed booth staffers can look more like the guy people want to cross the street to avoid than a person who you want to talk to.  As a representative of your company’s brand, it’s up to you to look the part.

6.  “Why did that guy give me that giveaway?” Trade show attendees want giveaways that are useful, fun, valuable, durable, and most of all, relevant to their specific needs.  But some “that guy” exhibitors continue to foist unwanted trinkets to save a buck or in the flawed logic of “we’ve always done it that way.”

7.  “What year did that guy’s trade show booth come from?” Some guy’s booths look like they should be on The Antiques Road Show, instead of at their industry trade show.  Don’t be the guy with a trade show booth that attendees confuse with an artifact, or an escapee from a time machine.

8.  “Why didn’t that guy call me after last year’s show?” If you put all your energies into getting leads at the show, but don’t follow up on them after the show, you’ve broken your promise to your booth visitors. They’ll remember that next year, and skip your booth.

So while you may not be “that guy” with a comb-over hairstyle or the loud cell-phone talker at a restaurant, you still don’t want to be “that guy” at trade shows.  Instead, demonstrate class, intelligence and market-savvy to your trade show visitors, so they recognize that you’re actually a good guy to meet — and even do business with.

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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.

11 responses to “Don’t Be “That Guy” At Trade Shows

  1. I agree with everything here except name reading. The reality is that many show attendees have forgotten (or never knew) what their responsibility to the exhibit floor is. Exhibitors underwriter the show, attendees should expect to talk to exhibitors and learn what they are doing. Attendees shouldn’t be offended that an exhibitor tries to initiate a conversation by using a their first name… its better than “hey you!”.

    1. Thanks, John. Glad you liked most of this. The badge reading is based on my experience, which is not the same as yours, and I have seen some staffers that can pull this off.

      But other staffers (including myself) who try to read attendees’ badges and call them by name have only got a “who-is-that-guy?” stare from attendees. After several of those uncomfortable encounters I’ve found much greater success simply asking, “What are you looking for at the show?”

  2. You’re right, Mike; the ability to do the nametag-reading thing is an art. This whole post is spot-on. I’m especially irked by booth staffers doing #1. If your mind is at the office, your feet shouldn’t be in the booth.

    Only one negative: when I read the line ” Don’t be the guy with a trade show booth that attendees confuse with an artifact, or an escapee from a time machine,” I clicked on the link at ‘trade show booth’ hoping to be entertained by a horrifying artifact from the past but instead found myself on Skyline’s home page. Kind of an odd feeling. Maybe it’s my expectations that were skewed. J

    1. Hello Dave,

      I love your line, “If your mind is at the office, your feet shouldn’t be in the booth.” Simply awesome.

      Sorry you didn’t find the images you were looking for when you clicked on the trade show booth link. That goes to our home page to help justify the blog — it helps people remember that we are in the trade show display business. Here’s a link to our own heritage page — the first picture is of a 30-year old display that belongs in the Smithsonian more than McCormick Place: !

      1. Mike, you’re welcome to that line. But if you make a million selling buttons, I expect royalties!

  3. Great info. I just did a show booth at the SF Winery Wedding Expo that Blue Salud hosted on Treasure Island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Saw all of those ‘guy’s there! Glad I wasn’t one of them. Thanks!

  4. Delightful blog – and perfect photo, Mike. Thank you. This is a great reminder because the basic principles apply to anyone who’s engaged in marketing.

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