Recently updated on March 29th, 2023
Trade Show Booth Success Tips (You May Even Have Some Fun!)
Overseeing trade show logistics can feel like a juggling act. You worry about unions. Hope the drayage folks don’t toss around the crates that hold components for your new booth. And you lose a little sleep worrying that not all of the electronics are going to synch up as they did at your warehouse before you crated everything for transport. Avoid all these concerns by taking the time to go through this Pre-Trade Show Checklist, it will help you ensure everything rolls smoothly at your show.
It’s no joke that trade show professionals can be found trolling the headquarters hotel long after set-up with a clipboard in hand while everyone else hits the watering hole in preparation for opening day. The responsibility for a trade show is enormous. And if you only do one a year, you’ve got to maximize your presence by pulling out all stops.
But suppose you followed a pre-trade show checklist from the get-go that acted as a guide? While it won’t guarantee a glitch-free show, a solid checklist can keep you so organized and prepared, it could help you relax and even have fun despite the pressure.
The following pre-trade show checklist will put you in the driver’s seat, leave impressions on show attendees and generate all sorts of leads. Every one of these 12 tips has been tried and tested by trade show professionals. Best of all, you can do it your way, putting your personal or corporate spin on everything about the show that extols the glory of your brand. Ready to jump in and find out how it feels to play with the big boys?
Trade show tip #1: Personally invite your best customers to the show and reward them for showing up, too
Take a lesson from companies who seem to ignore their existing customers because they’re too busy chasing down new ones. Making your current clients feel special by sending them personal invites to the next show in which you take part pays dividends.
Next, honor them at the booth by designating them “special attendees.” Prepare special show bags filled with items attendees can use–e.g., a bottle of water, breath mints, tissues, lip balm, candy, aspirin, and other small items.
This extra touch can go a long way to secure loyalty, sends a strong message that you don’t take them for granted and says that you value their business and hope to keep it down the road.
Trade show tip #2: Don’t wait until the last minute to sort out details
Waiting until the deadline day to make your reservation for booth space means you won’t get prime space because everyone else eager to make an impression has already been there and done that.
Ditto checking the integrity of your booth components, securing a hospitality suite if that’s part of your game plan, making sure you’ve secured drayage services and snagging hotel reservations at the headquarters hotel(s), so staffers aren’t sleeping on the Kentucky side of the border while the show is held across the bridge in Ohio.
And do remember to distribute and bring along your pre-trade show checklist so everyone’s on the same page from start to finish.
Trade show tip #3: Hold a pre-opening onsite meeting at the venue to get everyone motivated
Coaches do it before players take the field. Entertainers perform rituals that heighten their performances. It takes very little to pump everyone contributing to a trade show effort up before the doors of the exhibition venue are opened to admit attendees.
Once the last crate has been taken away and the vacuums come out to clean up the aisles, recognizing everyone who has already played a roll in setting things up as well as team members who will staff the booth for the duration of the show can pay big dividends.
Feed everyone snacks, pizza or treats as you give them the pep talk some may need to get motivated for what lies ahead. After all, it’s not uncommon for folks setting up trade shows to stay so busy, they forget to eat!
Trade show tip #4: Make the first impression that counts
You don’t have to be a mathematics whiz to realize that first impressions count. Behavioral scientists say that it takes 1/5th of a second for a person to get an impression of your booth presence and guess what stuck in their minds? How the booth is designed and laid out.
Ever wonder a show and see a booth in such disarray, the last thing you want to do is enter to find you what they’re selling? It happens more often than you may imagine.
You can’t do a thing about landing next to an exhibitor with a booth that stops traffic, either, but you can make sure that your space is neat, inviting, brand-representative and a gateway to staffers who have obviously put out a welcome mat.
Trade show tip#5: Rely upon signage and graphics to be a silent salesman on your behalf
Most trade show signage regulations give exhibitors leeway to staff their booths with as many signs as they can cram into space.
But too many signs in a too small a space—-even if those signs are beautifully designed—-could confuse attendees or turn off people strolling the aisles because their visceral response to clutter is to avoid it.
On the other hand, there are myriad ways to use signage to your advantage by making sure your installs are visible from all directions, send clear and compelling messages, match the booth’s design and employ graphics that are as eye-catching as they are appropriate.
Trade show tip #6: Liven up the show in your booth
Is there anything you can do to make your product “interactive?” This trendy buzzword has a simple meaning: Creating an experience on the show floor that is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “mutually or reciprocally active.”
Translation: Get people into your booth by engaging them intellectually or physically so they spend more time there because they’re having fun. Your reward? People will want to know what’s going on in your booth that’s getting so much interest and they may even be willing to stand in line to find out.
If you’ve got the wherewithal to bring touch-screen kiosks and have them programmed to challenge visitors to take the product- or service-related quizzes or games, you’re could find yourself with a curious queue of attendees that attract even more people.
Trade show tip #7: Give away trade show premiums people want
In 2018, these items were the most coveted, according to Business.com: Magnification reading glasses, cell phone fans, solar phone chargers, reusable, folding water bottles, rainbow sun catchers, lip balm, fidget spinners and branded food.
According to a “New York Times” business section article, “including promotional products when conducting outreach to prospective customers can increase response rate by up to 17-percent.”
By 2019, these were the must-haves for any trade-show attendee: Personalized notebooks, portable chargers, pop sockets, phone wallets, bottle and can sleeves, audio devices, and custom t-shirts. What do all of these have in common? The answer is: Every item on your list should have your logo splashed all over it!
Trade show tip #8: Discover the magic of lead sharing
If the very idea of giving away your marketing hit list makes you break out in hives, think about “the good old days” when co-op advertising was not only a good deal, but partners saved money by sharing the cost of media buys.
Fast forward to 2019. Can you look across the aisle and find at least one company that’s not in competition with yours? There’s a good chance you will spot more than one.
They’re at the show selling and promoting something that you’re not, so what can you lose if you trade leads and contact information? Not only can you boost your lead numbers, but by the time the show ends, you’ll have made valuable professional contacts, too.
Trade show tip #9: It doesn’t have to be all about you
If your company is already altruistic and you show it by promoting charitable giving and sponsorships, why not take your philanthropy on the road? Showing trade show attendees that you care about more than the company bottom line makes your company look generous and caring.
If your company already supports a charitable cause (one that would be recognized by show attendees), you can arrange a modest fund-raising effort or just promote the cause itself. Get as creative as you like.
A good example of this was described in a recent “Huffington Post” article in which show visitors could try lugging “two 40 pound jugs of water across a 50-yard platform” to experience what third-world villagers go through to retrieve river water located miles away.
Trade show tip #10: Follow up on the leads you generated promptly
Having worked hard to showcase your company’s products and services, found creative ways to attract people to your booth and being as hospitable as space, time and budget allow, your job isn’t over until you return from the show and contact those leads.
While the show is still fresh in the minds of attendees (and while they’re busy placing those premiums on shelves in their cubs and offices), strike while the iron is hot and reach out. This is particularly critical if part of your mission was testing out a new concept and you are returning with valuable feedback that can make or break the test.
You’ll be busy figuring out your ROI based on projections you made before you left about what you hoped to achieve, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out. Put it off, and as one savvy marketer noted, if you wait too long you can dilute the connection you worked so hard to make.
Trade show tip #11: Don’t be afraid to steal everything that isn’t nailed down!
Ideas are like butterflies: they land on everyone’s shoulders but the possibilities they bring with them are ultimately determined by the beholder. Before the show closes down for the season, take a good hard look at what’s been going on everywhere in the exhibit hall.
Check out furnishings, layout, and electronics to get ideas for your company’s future trade show participation. Borrow clever ideas—whether they come from your competitors or from a company that has nothing to do with your industry. Use your electronic device to snap photos of things and ideas you’d like to explore down the road.
Some of the best ideas can be gleaned from companies who know how to treat their sales force like royalty by holding competitions, contests, and games that add an element of fun that pays off with incentives. Trade shows are great venues for snagging ideas.
Trade show tip #12: Always hold a post-mortem as soon as you return to home base
Also, following up on leads to quickly, you need to sit down with everyone on the team who was involved in the trade show. Go around the room and ask about the good, the bad and the ugly and log in all comments so you have a road map for the following year and upcoming trade shows.
If the booth proved too small to conduct business, the headquarters hotel won’t win any prizes for service, and traffic walking past your booth was heavier than usual, this is no time to be shy about perceived flaws in everything from your game plan to your promotions, signage, and outcomes.
One of the best ways to wrap your post mortem is to take out that pre-trade show checklist to figure out what you left off, what you did that was a waste of time, money and energy and how you’ll apply lessons learned next time around. As long as you follow the process in your pre-trade show checklist, you will be able to ensure that your event runs smoothly. Make sure to integrate your pre-trade show checklist for every event you attend, this will help with building good habits and create better conversions.