How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows

Successful trade show booths require planning


How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows

Tips on Setting Up a Booth – Tips on Attending

Al Getler

Whether you set up a booth display at one or simply attend a trade show, both are an investment of time, resources, money or all three. How do you make sure your investment gets the best return?

Trade shows can be on a national scale or can be smaller shows that feature businesses in your area. Regardless of the size of the show, you will want to make the best impression possible as an exhibitor or an attendee.

Setting up a Booth

Large booths seen at sizable national trade show booths can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars and are designed by professional trade show designers. These booths can be built to reflect product brands and often times feature celebrity appearances.

The booth we will discuss below is on a smaller scale, but can be just as effective.

A successful trade show booth presents your company or organization in a nutshell. Remember those shoe box displays you did for school as a kid that captured a historic event? Your trade booth is your version of that shoe box. It needs to present your story clearly, with one glance.

To design a booth that clearly represents your message, follow these steps:

  • Plan Your Booth Before the Show – Even if you think you can’t draw, make a simple sketch of the booth. Decide what goes where in the small space you are provided. Be sure not to pack too much in, rather, use large graphics and signs to make your message clear and to attract people to your booth. Contact a sign maker and share your sketches and ideas. This supplier will be able to recommend the best solutions up to and including a custom-made display booth.
  • Consider a Flat Screen TV Presentation – With the use of a flat screen TV and a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation set on a continuous loop, you can create a flowing commercial with words and visuals. DVD presentations work as well, but be sure to understand that sound will be a factor as attendees will not be able to hear in the large, packed room.
  • Prepare Handout Materials – Don’t waste money on handing out 50-page documents about your company. Instead, spend time designing an attractive, one-sheet handout that sums up your sales proposition.
  • Provide a “Free White Paper” Handout – Make your handout even smaller and more compact, yet effective, by handing out a postcard that invites the attendee to get a free white paper on a subject related to your product or service. As an example, the headline could read, “HOW TO SAVE ON ENERGY COSTS – DOWNLOAD OUR FREE WHITEPAPER” and include the website.
  • Qualifying Prospects – Combine the free white paper mentioned about with a sign-up process. Have the person visiting your booth sign-up to receive the free white paper information or at least be required to provide a business card.
  • Use LinkedIn’s Card Munch – Add another flare to your business card capture by using the Card Munch app on your smart phone. Card Munch will capture the business card and add it directly to a database.
  • Don’t Forget the Bling – If you are going to give something away, make it cool and different. It doesn’t have to be related to your product or service, but it should have your name all over it. As an example, I gave away those little balsa wood airplanes that come in an envelope and is constructed to create loads of flying fun. People came from all over the trade show seeking them out. We weren’t selling airplanes, but we grabbed people’s attention as I flew one in front of our booth.

My Most Important Piece of Advice For a Trade Show Booth

  • Get Out From Behind the Booth – The table that is a part of every display booth becomes a safety barrier for many people working a trade show. The tendency is to stay behind the table. This is a barrier to success. Instead, get out from behind the booth. Shake hands and meet people, handout materials or give-a-ways and invite people to your booth to sign-up for a drawing or that free white paper. If there are two people working your booth be sure one person is directing people to the booth while the other is receiving people.

Attending a Trade Show

Most people associate going to a trade show with leaving with a bag full of free stuff or bling. While that is certainly a side benefit, set your sights on these tips for getting the most out of a trade show:

  • Have Plenty of Business Cards – Most trade shows now use a scanner to capture the information off your name tag when you visit a booth, but some booths will still rely on receiving your business card. Even if a scanner is used, many people will ask for your business card. Be sure your business card represents who you are and what you do well.
  • Study the Booth Display List – By giving the list of products and services that are on display during the show a quick study, you can spot the ones that provide solutions to your business challenges. Let’s say you are considering a new way to market your business. Be sure to make time to visit each booth that can provide a marketing solution. Spend time visiting the booths, but respect that the people at the booths have many people to meet. If you like what you see, set an appointment for after the trade show.
  • Visit Each Booth – Now that you know the booths that you absolutely need to visit, leave time to visit each booth. You may find solutions you were not expecting and you may even find people you can do business with. Have abundant business cards to introduce yourself to the people you meet. It is a trade show, so don’t be afraid to give your elevator speech to the businesses and services that are on display.
  • Have an Elevator Speech Before the Trade Show – You will be asked several times over what you do. Be sure to have a concise answer. The term ‘elevator speech’ is used portray that your speech can’t be any longer than an elevator ride. Even an elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building is a short one. Make it short and to the point.
  • Network – There is a room full of people just like you at the trade show. Be bold and introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Exchange business cards and follow-up with each person via an email. Do not grab hold of someone for a long period of time, even if you think they can change your life. Be respectful of each person’s time.
  • Don’t Be a Bling Hog – Just because people are giving things away, it doesn’t mean you will complete your holiday shopping at the trade show. Businesses give items away with the hope that you remember them when you use that item. The hope is you will take one give-a-way item. If you would like one for someone else, ask politely if you can have another. Taking fifteen flash drives to last you the rest of your life and the lives of several generations of ancestors is just plain wrong and selfish.

Trade Shows Are About Doing Business

Trade shows are all about promoting business. The shows can be fun and exciting, but requires an investment from everyone involved. At the end of the day, the mission of the trade show is to network and growth your business as a result of this worthwhile event. With the right plan and the right execution the day of the trade show, the dividends can be well worthwhile.

For more information see the Trade Show Exhibitors Association

If you liked this post, sign up for my free newsletter below. Also below, leave a comment about this post.

Al Getler is a newspaper, website, book and magazine publisher. He is also a comedian/ventriloquist and a speaker on leadership, customer service and personal branding.

Image courtesy of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.