Universal Exhibit Truths

Frequently exhibitors give excuses for why the methods I teach don’t apply to them: “We’re just a 10×10′ exhibit,” “We don’t have a lot of staff,” or “We only do local shows, not the big mega-shows in Chicago or Vegas.”

Well, the truth is that most basic techniques can be adapted to fit any situation. And I understand all of the above issues: I’ve been a single-person staff in a 10×10′ booth at a local expo. In fact, that’s how I got started in the trade show world!

So let’s break down what’s required for success in exhibiting:

  • Pre-show promotions that create anticipation
  • A booth that attracts attention
  • A staff that interacts with attendees

I always teach exhibitors that not doing pre-show promos is like having a party and neglecting to send out the invitations! Yet somehow companies seem to think that they are the center of attention and everyone on the show floor will be coming to see them. It doesn’t take a ton of money or work to get attention before the show, either. At one of my early booths, I sent out 25 postcards to leads I’d been trying to meet with, inviting them to stop by my booth at a local show. A dozen of them did show up, and many thanked me for inviting them. Some even said they hadn’t been aware of the show until they got my invitation.

Once they get to the show, let’s face it — they’re on stimulus overload with all those exhibits! People enter the show hall and feel overwhelmed. A majority of them also arrive with a pre-set list of who they want to see (based on pre-show promotions …) and may head straight for those specific exhibitors, as if with blinders on. Your job is to make your booth look appealing and capture attention from the aisle. There are a myriad of ways to accomplish this, from in-booth attractions to clever signage. Bottom line is that you need to be in touch with your audience and know what will get their attention, then make that the focal point of your booth.

And finally, you can do everything else right but still fall short if you have a bad staff. It’s always amazing when I see a great booth display that attracts my attention, but then I approach and am given the brush-off by staff. It happened again at a recent show. I had a booth on my “must-see” list because I was very interested in checking out their products and working with them. When I walked up to their 10×10 space, there were two staffers. One was already talking with someone else, and the other was standing by listening in on that conversation. She glanced my way and said hello, but that was it. I then walked in and picked up one of their products, but she still didn’t speak to me. I even had on the “right” color name badge! What more could an exhibitor ask for to indicate “potential buyer approaching”? So I turned around and left the booth without placing an order.

So there you go. Three examples of low-budget, no-brainer things you can do to increase your success. And you’ll notice they all take place in a 10×10′ space!


© 2010-12 Marlys K. Arnold  (Reprinted from the September 2010 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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About the Author:

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. She travels the country consulting and training both exhibitors and show managers, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image (2002), host of the Trade Show Insights podcast and creator of the ExhibitorEd training kit. She can be reached at www.imagespecialist.com.

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With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.

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