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Unspoken Rules of Trade Shows

There is nothing new about the Exhibition format.  It’s the face to face opportunity for innovators, dreamers, suppliers, and many others to interact with potential buyers.  The basic rules of engagement have remained virtually unchanged.  The methods of delivering the messages have certainly evolved to include social media, video, virtual reality, highly interactive demonstrations, and more.  As attendees, we respond to these inputs.  Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with advertising. We have become very sophisticated in accepting or repelling advertising.  On the show floor, as exhibitors, we need to pay attention to the unspoken rules. Simple is always better than complicated.

Communication As the attendee is walking past your display, you need to use that time to attract and educate that person. Within that brief time, you need to qualify the person to ensure that only potential buyers spend time with you. Depending on the show, you want to attract your buyers, and keep the rest of the attendees from using up your time. Booth design and banner language need to be as simple as possible while still communicating what you do. Research shows that you have about seven seconds to grab someone’s attention before they lose interest. If your material turns out to be wordy, rather than simple and engaging, you’ll lose attention spans and ultimately lose opportunities. Once you have the attention of a person or a group, hand them off to someone on your staff that can talk them through the details of your key messaging. Stick to the big picture.  The details can be explored after the show.  And remember people, go to shows to see something NEW.


Staffing You may have an amazing staff within your office, but are they the right people to have at a trade show? Not always. Booth staff training is by far the most important element of a successful show. We need to make sure everyone is clear on the message.  What are you planning to achieve?  Trade show engagement is very different than field sales, where salespeople have much more options to solidify business. At a show, time is measured in minutes, and each one has to count.  Some companies opt to hire event staff to support the team.  Make sure you have a solid plan and include training for all exhibit staffers.  And don’t forget to include the boss!


Meetings In many cases, you can control who you meet, and how.  Ask show management for lists of previous attendees.  Put together a list of your potential buyers and existing customers.  Set aside time for them at the booth, or, better yet, arrange meetings away from the booth to have more in-depth conversations.  The time you spend in preplanning meetings can pay big dividends after the show. And, these spaces can be used to cultivate relationships with new potential business.  For example, a customer from one of your competitors walks by your booth and is intrigued with your display, and your message.  Invite them to a special meeting nearby.  Depending on your industry, this is a powerful way to build a relationship.  After the show is done, make sure to pass every lead to the sales group for timely follow up, complete with all relevant information.


Keep it simple, be assertive but not aggressive, preplan, and follow up with every opportunity. This will give you a huge advantage over exhibitors who show up and hope for the best.


Better Booth Staffing for Greater Trade Show Results Book

To help you with the challenge of booth staffing, read the Better Booth Staffing for Greater Trade Show Results white paper. 85% of what attendees remember about your booth is based on your staffers, so make sure they are readily equipped.

To request your free copy today, complete the form below and we will send you a copy as soon as possible!

About the Author

Brian Gordon was a founding partner of Skyline Toronto before his retirement in 2018.

2 responses to “Unspoken Rules of Trade Shows

    1. Hi Mike,
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