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Tradeshow Horrors! (And how to avoid them)

Hello, students! Well, it’s officially fall. The air is getting crisp and cool, the leaves are falling from the trees and we’re all counting the days until my favorite holiday – Halloween! With today’s lesson plan, let’s start the festivities a bit early and discuss something really frightening – things that can go terribly wrong while exhibiting at a tradeshow.

Now, mind you … I’m the TradeShow Teacher, not Stephen King. So my point is not to scare but rather to prepare. It’s my job to let you know what potential apparitions could be out there lurking, waiting to pounce and turn your show into a horror scene.

Horror Show # 1
You’re exhibiting at a show and plan to offer attendees promotional bottled waters that you purchased at a great price from an outside vendor. Things are going great and lots of qualified attendees are approaching your booth when, suddenly, the show manager/producer approaches informing you that the small print in the exhibitor packet you signed stated that bottled water only can be purchased from the show’s contracted caterer. The only options are to immediately cease the distribution of the bottled water, pack them away (for future use) and to perhaps, replace them by purchasing bottled waters from the show’s catering provider at a much higher cost than you paid for the original “promo” bottles.

Avoid this scary mistake: Be sure to always read the fine print in your exhibitor packet carefully and thoroughly review every page for each event, since every show’s rules and regulations are unique. This scenario also offers another Halloween “trick” reminding us when purchasing promotional giveaways to avoid show- and time-sensitive specifics by only including your company logo, phone number and website, thus saving money and maximizing your investment with widespread use.

Horror Show # 2
You decide, prior to your show, that if one layer of floor padding in your booth is a good idea, then paying for two or more layers would be even better cosmetically and aesthetically. That’s all fine until your booth staff and the attendees all start feeling like they’re walking on quicksand or through a wet, muddy graveyard.

Avoid this scary mistake: Get some nice padding for your booth space, but don’t go overboard. Typically, one layer is sufficient. Another Halloween “trick” to keep in mind is just because upgrades frequently are offered and sometimes even pushed, upgrades don’t always have an upside.

Horror Show # 3
The show has begun, the floor is open and attendees are flooding toward your booth. It’s exciting and encouraging until you look up and see your booth staffers look like something out of the “Night of the Living Dead.” They are on their cell phones, eating at the booth, chewing gum or schmoozing amongst themselves rather than engaging the well-qualified attendees seeking information. This is a tradeshow ROI-killer and must be avoided like open candy on Halloween! I can’t stress this enough.

Avoid this scary mistake: Train or provide professional training for your booth staff before the show begins. Make sure they are prepared and understand what’s expected of them, and even more importantly, what’s not expected of them. Nothing sends chills down my spine worse than seeing great opportunities wasted by booth staffers who haven’t been given ample training. For a refresher on “Do’s and Don’ts of Exhibiting,” please visit my prior lesson on the topic at http://tinyurl.com/9l4pl3m

Horror Show # 4
You decide the best way to attract lots of traffic and generate “booth buzz” is to give away a great raffle prize. You make a big noise about it through social media, at-show advertising and/or QR codes and are thrilled when you have the busiest booth on the show floor. Your booth staff collects nearly 200 leads in one day and everything points to show success until your sales team later reports that the majority of the leads were a giant waste of time. They were unqualified and uninterested prospects. Yes, you appeared busy at the show, but it was merely an “illusion.”

Avoid this scary mistake: Don’t confuse a crowded booth with a successful booth. If you’re going to give away things, I recommend you stick with small, inexpensive promotional items that are useful “treats” serving as “good-will” builders and brand reinforcers for actual qualified leads and/or decision makers. The Halloween “trick” here is to strike a balance between generating booth buzz and actually doing business Make sure your company, its products and services are prevalent in your booth design, messaging and materials.

Don’t fall prey to the “sleeper” syndrome when your gimmicks, giveaways and goodies upstage and obscure your business’ bread and butter.

Okay, class – I think you get the idea. Just remember, as we get into this scary yet exhilarating exhibiting season, these and other nightmare scenarios all can be avoided with some advance planning, forethought and attention to detail. Until next time, Happy Halloween! Class dismissed.

1. Read the fine print of the exhibitor packet for each and every show.
2. Beware of all upgrades offered by show services.
3. Be sure booth staff is adequately trained and prepared.
4. Focus on doing business; don’t get lost in the “buzz.”

Linda Musgrove is founder and president of Trade Show Teacher, an award-winning tradeshow management and marketing firm. Linda, along with her team of specialists, focuses on assisting companies increase tradeshow ROI through a comprehensive results driven formula. As the author of “The Complete Idiots Guide to Trade Shows,” published by Alpha Books/Penguin Publishing, Linda is also a regular, expert contributor to several industry publications and sites. Learn more at http://www.tsteacher.com and sign up for the FREE monthly Trade Show Tactics newsletter. Follow on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/tsteacher or e-mail: info@tsteacher.com.

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