Trade shows, business shows, conventions, exhibitions.  Whatever you want to call them, hiring a stand at this kind of industry event can be a huge benefit to your company.

Over the years, I’ve attended many business shows, all laid on with the aim of gaining interest, customers, information or supporters.

photo of auto trade show

Why don't I get to go to this kind of trade show?

I’ve also been on the other side of the regulation-size table and 8×10 space, handing out brochures, chatting to prospective customers and selling wares.  You can win or lose a key opportunity at these shows, not by the size of your stand or how fancy your banners are, but how you present yourself, and your company, to the show attendees.

So, here’s my Top Ten of what not to do when you’re a stand-holder, see if any of them ring true for you.

1. I’m just too tired to stand up

Unless you have a disability or medical condition, don’t sit down.  You want to be on an equal footing with your potential customers and that means standing up.  Wear comfortable shoes!

2. I know, I’ll run a competition – what an easy way to build my contact list!

A business card competition is a great way to gain interest in your product or service and gain contacts, but don’t abuse that trust.  If I add my business card to your competition pot, let me know that you will be adding my details to a mailing list.  If you’re determined to build your contact list with a competition, then make sure your follow-up email offers something of value. Otherwise, you might as well hand out t-shirts that say ‘I entered …’s competition and all I got was stuck on a lousy spam list’.

3. Feel free to spam me

This is a Do rather than a Don’t.  Avoid the abuse of business cards entirely by having a separate mailing list sheet that attendees can actively sign up to.

4. Competition prizes that don’t appeal to everyone

I used to drink alcohol, I don’t anymore.  There are a lot of us out there.  Don’t ruin the fun of your competition by offering just a bottle of champagne (especially if it’s not a very good brand!).  Gift cards for the local department store, a free ‘mini-service’ from your company, a hamper with a selection of food and drink – all are better options than the solitary bottle of champagne.

5. Bad manners

When someone approaches your stand, smile, introduce yourself and shake their hand – common courtesy may gain you that customer, playing games on your iphone (while sitting down) will not.  Attendees want to be interested in your company so do them the courtesy of being interested in them.  Keep in mind that the attendees will be doing their best to follow good networking practice.  You should do likewise.

6. Stuffing your face

Eat your lunch somewhere else and take your break somewhere else.  We all know you’ve been standing around all day without anything to eat or drink and you’ve been flat out prepping for this show for six months – that doesn’t mean we want to hear about it or watch you cramming that egg sandwich in. This is your day to shine – we don’t need to see you at anything less than 100% on the day.  This doesn’t mean you have to be a smiley robot all day, just make sure there are two of you at the stand so you can take some time out for yourself.

7. Don’t judge a book…

Don’t restrict your customer base to those you think might buy from you/use your services.  Many years ago, I went to a media show.  There were about 200 stands, with most of them being technical stands (cameras, editing equipment, outside broadcast equipment, that kind of thing).  Nine times out of ten, I was ignored by the technical production stands.  Was this because I’m a short woman with glasses who might not look like a typical ‘TV techie’?  Who knows, but the stands that got my attention (and my future budget) were the ones that took an interest in me, regardless of what I looked like.

8. Intrusions

I go to business shows prepared.  I’ve done a bit of research on the stand-holders, I have a list of exactly who I want to talk to and I make sure I get through my list on the day.  If I look like I’m on a mission, and not simply browsing, you’re probably not going to gain my interest by jumping in front of me and starting your sales pitch atme.  Equally, and this is more because I’m not a particularly competitive person, I don’t take kindly to being approached by stand-holders who’ve seen me talking to their competitors and want to offer me a better deal – are your cameras spying on my every move here? Go away!  Randomly approaching attendees, unless you’re

photo of cupcakes
Free cupcakes will always get my attention

offering free cupcakes, can be seen as rude and even a bit desperate.  It’s also not necessarily a good use of your time.

9. No more freebies?

Bring enough freebies for the whole day.  I’m a major pen gatherer and your free pen may be the only bit of contact information I want to take away with me.  Keep back some freebies and put them out at regular intervals.  No freebies?  The same rule applies for business cards and any literature you’re handing out.

10. Too much information!

Don’t overload your table with literature.  Have three or four pieces of literature that attendees can peruse or pick up, for example:

  • an introductory leaflet to your services;
  • your last annual report;
  • postcards with contact information;
  • a newsletter or news magazine.

That’s it, that’s all you need.  Any more will make your stand look cluttered and could confuse attendees as to what it is you actually do – the literature is there as back-up, you’re there to be the main source of information.

11. And finally…

(So I lied about the Top Ten, here’s a freebie).  It bears repeating – smile, introduce yourself, shake hands.  In other words, you will get the most out of your stand by engaging with the attendees in person.

Of course, this is my own personal list of show bugbears – you may find the free bottle of champagne always works for you or you’re just too tired to stand up all day.  Just remember, you’ve paid good money to hire a stand, you want to get the best return out of it that you can.  Every attendee is a potential customer.

So, what one thing would really put you off talking to a stand holder at a show?  Comment and we’ll see if we can get the Top Twenty of what not to do.

Photo credits:
car trade show by http2007 with Creative Commons
cupcakes by The Shopping Sherpa with Creative Commons