Tips for Trade-Show Booth Success

July 19, 2011

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Successful exhibitors use strategic business practices to convert prospects into clients. Here are a few methods to make your booth or exhibit stand out on the trade-show floor.

On a particularly busy trade-show floor, attendees can face legions of booth exhibits, products and gimmicks. They also have their pick of which booths to visit and which exhibitors to do business with.

Here are a few ways to make your exhibit stand out and draw attendees' attention — and their business.

Be an Early Bird Various professionals recommend planning ahead, yet it's important to know exactly how to prep for an exhibit with specific tactics in mind.

Early arrangements leave room for proper staff training and event negotiating and can help secure a speaking spot. It also provides time to get in touch with prospective clients. "At a minimum, send out advance invitations to draw visitors to your booth," Inc.com emphasizes.

Another advantage in being an early bird is reserving a quality and accessible booth space. "As a first-time exhibitor, you may have to settle for a spot in the boonies," Small Business Review explains. But you can get the best available space if you register as early as possible for the show, according to the small-biz resource, which also advises negotiating a spot.

Provide Lights and Action John Krisko, director of exhibitions at the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), emphasizes the importance of the "see it, feel it, hear it" effect of a booth or exhibit.

"It can be as easy as the difference as the casino effect, where there's a little bit of noise, there's a little bit of lights, there's action, as opposed to a wall of photos," according to Krisko, who has been involved in various aspects of the trade show industry for 35 years. "Something like that is static; it's not going to attract people. What attracts people is noise and light," he explains, likening a trade show booth to a movie experience.

Krisko, who was involved in last year's International Manufacturing Technology Show, also notes the surging trend of social media in booths, such as Twitter and blog areas. "The exhibitors that I feel have the best success [provide] action in booth demonstrations, whether it be visuals, active screens and some action with a hands-on approach," he tells IMT.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize While "action" in the booth is important, so is a healthy dose of moderation. It's crucial not to bombard guests with too many sights and sounds at once.

"Don't ever allow an audio-visual component to drown out your event's true meaning, impede the exchange of ideas or flow of conversation, or be such the starring part of the event that people forget the company or cause that brought them there," Joe LoCicero, a marketing consultant, advises in his book Streetwise Meeting and Event Planning.

Stick with proven practices, such as branded visuals — but don't overdo it. Ultimately, you don't want flashiness to hurt your networking and selling.

Be Inviting and Engaging One of the goals of your exhibit is to generate traffic, so don't make attendees do extra work to get to your booth. Confusing walls or barriers can create the "moat and castle" effect, which Krisko says detracts from attendees' experience. If your booth set-up is inviting enough, then there should be a constant stream of traffic in your exhibit.

Engagement often determines whether a client stays or leaves, sometimes in a matter of seconds, so always have an eager and well-prepared person at your booth. In Canada-based executive coach Natashia Halikowski's tips to avoid, based on her 15 years of trade show and event experience, among the major faux pas she highlights: "Not having enough energy to meet and greet a few hundred people" and "forgetting to be friendly."

Engagement doesn't stop at acknowledging a client with a smile. Pique visitors' interest by asking on-ended questions, Krisko advises. Instead of posing "yes" or "no" questions — such as "Are you looking to buy?" — ask specific questions about their intentions — e.g., "What kinds of equipment are you looking to buy?" or "What kinds of products do you manufacture?" — Krisko recommends.

Stay on the Minds of Your Guests In a question posed to business networking site LinkedIn's forum inquiring about trade show vendor advice, respondents wrote that following up in a timely and personable manner is mandatory for business.

To avoid losing names or contacts after the show, MarketingProfs (free subscription required) recommends renting a badge scanner to manage lead information and to disperse collateral for those who aren't into gimmicks, a tactic that can actually be more memorable than branded gadgets that — let's face it — may just get lost between the trade show and the airport.

Resources

Are Trade Shows a Waste of Time? by Jay Goltz The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2010

Is Tradeshow Marketing Dead? 12 Tips to Resuscitate a Classic Lead-Gen Tactic (free subscription required) by Bob Hebeisen MarketingProfs, June 23, 2011

Presenting a Presence: Benefitting From Trade Shows by Natashia Halikowski Intuition Works

Streetwise Meeting and Event Planning: From Trade Shows to Conventions... by Joe LoCicero Adams Media, October 2007

What Advice Would You Give Trade Show Vendors? LinkedIn.com

How to Make the Most of Trade Shows Inc.com, Nov. 1, 2009

Make the Most of Trade Shows by Anne Field Small Business Review

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