Time to Tune-up Your Trade Show Toolkit

Time to Tune-up Your Trade Show Toolkit

Spruce up your exhibit booth with these 7 essential tips from The Exhibit Expert, Susan Ratliff

By Susan Ratliff, Business Development Manager, Exhibit Experts, Speaker

I guess I am getting crabby in my old age, but some of the poor habits and mistakes I consistently see at trade shows make me want to scream! The more errors I witness the more I’m convinced that even the most seasoned exhibitors need a refresher course in booth design and etiquette. Unfortunately, not everyone is open to it. They say they’ve been exhibiting for years and know what works, but the truth is most have never had formal training from an exhibit marketing expert, so they’ve been doing many of the same things wrong all those years.

Why train exhibitors?

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research found that 75% of booth staffers respond more favorably to professional trainers from outside of their companies. In addition, 68% of exhibit managers believe a properly trained booth staff converts a higher percentage of booth visitors into qualified leads. Despite the potential benefits of pre-show training, 73% of companies have no plans to invest in training. I will save my two-cents about improving booth selling skills for a later post, but for now, do you recognize any of these clues that might indicate your trade show team needs some training?

  • A badge swipe serves as your method of attendee engagement
  • A magnifying glass is required to read the extensive list of features on your booth graphics
  • Cleavage appears to be part of the company dress code
  • The entire 20’ exhibit is stuffed into the 10 x 10 booth space
  • The front counter doubles as the dinner table
  • The booth décor includes an assortment of empty cardboard storage boxes in the back corner

There is a fine line between what makes one exhibit good and another exhibit great. Either something is missing, or something is added that takes away from your booth’s professionalism and effectiveness to engage attendees. A lack of attention to detail can really mess up a good company image. Here are some of the common mistakes that drive me crazy.

Take down that ugly ID Sign! That cheap black and white cardboard sign with your company name on it that hangs from S hooks on the backwall inside your booth is not your company sign. Yuck! Get rid of it. It is only there to let you know what space is yours. Leaving it peeking out over your expensive exhibit completely detracts from your beautiful presentation and is a tell-tale sign of inexperience.

Get rid of the candy bowl. What is the purpose of having candy at your booth if you are not selling candy or using the candy to reinforce your theme or marketing message? You might think that it draws prospects in. It does, but only to grab a handful of chocolate and rush off. What good is that? No exhibitor I have ever encountered used that bowl of candy to engage me when I stopped by for a piece. Save the candy for Halloween.

Do you need all those chairs? Are you really going to let your employees sit down in the booth? Do you want your exhibit to be a rest stop for attendees encouraging them to sit for twenty minutes and chat with your team while qualified prospects are passing by? Chairs take up valuable space and block your graphics from the customer’s view. If you are not hosting a lounge, giving a demonstration or consulting at your booth, get rid of them.

Why is your literature so messy? Stacks of flyers and brochures spread across your counter look sloppy and unprofessional. Spend a few bucks on a couple of acrylic tiered literature holders or a collapsible literature rack. They will elevate important information, keep your display counter tidy and eliminate the need for staff to spend valuable time straightening papers.

Your graphics are giving me eye-strain.  Excessive amounts of text and small photos on your graphics do not attract attendees. Less is more when it comes to your marketing messages. There is no need to announce everything you do or show everything you sell.  With only seconds to get your message read focus on benefits that resonate with their needs and goals or they will not stop to talk to you. Keep your statements short and powerful. Use large pictures and relevant colors to evoke emotion and draw them in.

What’s with all the free stuff? Yes, clever giveaways can effectively drive traffic to your booth and the best choices can make your company buzz worthy but be sure you are getting something in return for your investment. Don’t leave those pyramids of post-it notes, rows of water bottles, mounds of mouse pads or the latest tchotchke strewn across the table.  Use them as rewards for playing the game, taking the survey or providing you with contact information.

If you are tired, find a place to rest.  Sitting down at a tradeshow is not advisable unless you are having a consultation with clients.  Scheduling the staff for short shifts will reduce fatigue and keep them looking refreshed and approachable. If someone is tired and needs a break, let them leave the booth for a short rest.

I’d love to hear your feedback on these observations.

Susan Ratliff is The Exhibit Expert. An award-winning business owner, author, speaker and event producer, Susan is a respected authority on tradeshow, consumer show and event marketing. Opinions are her own. Reach her at Susan@SusanRatliff.com 


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