A Tale of Two Trade Shows

Graphic: DigitalJuice

Graphic: DigitalJuice

It was the best of exhibiting, it was the worst of exhibiting. It was the showcase of creative design, it was the lack of any creativity at all. It was the best of booth staffs, it was the epitome of rudeness.

After spending three days covering two shows in Las Vegas this week, I feel like I’ve seen just about everything when it comes to exhibit design and staffing. Because the EXHIBITOR Show is the expo for everyone within the trade show industry, you’d expect to see the best of the best and some very creative ideas, and it doesn’t disappoint in that way. But surprisingly you also see booths where you wonder “What were they thinking?” and whether they’ve spent any time in the trade show world at all because they are so amateur and unprofessional. The second show I covered was GlobalShop, which is the gathering place for the world of retail and offers more eye candy than one person can readily absorb.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing highlights and videos of some of the great booths from both shows. But as for today, I’d like to share some stories with you about the booth staff behavior I experienced.

Some booth staffs were amazingly friendly. I met people who welcomed me into their booth and offered assistance (or food) with barely a glance in their direction. Sometimes it almost seemed like they were reading my mind. A few even remembered me when I passed their booth again, asking how I was enjoying the show and what else I’d seen that was interesting. But other booth staffers seemed to have missed their daily allotment of kindness and courtesy.

At one booth, I was essentially banned from part of the space because I had the wrong color badge. Yes, even though I’m a consultant to exhibitors across the country and write a blog that’s read around the world, I don’t rank a peek at their “super-secret” area because they don’t find me worthy. No problem! I won’t be recommending them to anyone. (Guess the fact that their booth was enclosed on three sides should have been a sign that they weren’t too welcoming.)

In other booths, the staff simply stared at me as I stood in the aisle, obviously studying their display, trying to understand what they do. Many never bothered to acknowledge me at all. (If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be the Invisible Man or Woman, try walking a show with a non-buyer or press badge.)

But perhaps the most glaring example of how not to work a show was shared by one of the exhibitors I spoke with on the last day. She pointed out that the booth a couple of spaces down was empty. “See that space?” she asked. “They left at the end of yesterday, but it really didn’t matter because they sat behind a table reading the paper most of the time anyway.” Oh, boy … now THAT was a worthwhile investment, huh?

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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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