10 Ways To Improve Your Trade Show Results

Last October, we exhibited at the NACS show in Atlanta. This show covered over 400,000 square feet, had 1,200 exhibitors, and 22,000 visitors. I supervised our team, and while I had previously done hundreds of shows, they were always direct to the consumer. I’d never worked a  B2B, and never this big. I’m not sure I’ve ever attended a show this big. Holy cow, I was terrified. I was responsible for the trade show results. 

So, I developed a plan with trade show goals. I developed scripts for greeters and consultants. We role-played the scripts and discussed how to ask open-ended questions. We offered a sweepstakes with TKO product as the prize. And then we made pre-show and post-show marketing plans. We discussed attire, comfy shoes, breaks, leads per hour, pre and post show meetings, and more. We designed, manufactured, and practiced installing our display. I was still terrified.

The Trade Show Results? 200 Leads In 3 Days

The show was a success beyond our expectations. We secured contact information from over 200 companies. More than 60 visitors shared their specific needs and asked us to contact them, and we gave three bids at the show. We had a great team of prepared booth staffers who wanted to be there, and it showed. Thank you team TKO!

On the second day of the event, our VP of Operations and I walked the show. It was sad. It was worse than sad, it was pitiful. We saw expensive booths and costly displays that were not being worked. The majority of the NACS exhibitors displays looked great. The exhibitor staff — the personnel working in the booths (or not working) — were ineffective.

So… why do companies spend all this time and money, yet the booths are not properly staffed? Okay, design people, do not take offense, because an eye-catching, appealing, inviting, and professional display is a must. BUT, TOO MANY EXHIBITORS MUST THINK THE DISPLAY IS ALL THAT IS NEEDED! You may have the biggest, most beautiful display, but if it is poorly staffed, it will not matter. It will not be successful. You will not get the trade show results you desire. For some reason, it seems organizations believe the display, alone, will bring in visitors, determine their needs, and sign them up. Ain’t gonna happen. A bad display will lose prospects. However, even a great display will not sign them up. The following are ten points I observed not being implemented at the NACS show:

10. Hold a contest or give away

You don’t have to hold a contest to be successful. The purpose of the contest is to draw people into your booth. There are other methods. If you offer a prize, make it your product. Anyone might sign up for a trip to Florida. But only those interested in your product or service will sign up for a product prize. Also, it allows you to ask easy, open-ended questions about their need for your product or service.

9. Network with other exhibitors

You never know who they know or what they need. The best way to have someone be an advocate for you is to be an advocate for them. Send visitors to other booths.

8. Set goals and give expectations to the booth staff

Have a plan. Do not run this by the seat of your pants. Share the plan. Train your staff. Set specific expectations.

7. Train, train, and train some more

Write and role-play scripts. Review how to ask open-ended questions. Talk about attire. Where to stand. How to greet visitors. When to smile (always). And how to have productive fun.

6. Teach your staff how to ask open-ended questions

The few staffers I saw engaging visitors at the show talked about how great their product or service was. How selfish, boring, and common is that? Ask about the visitor’s needs and show interest in them. Find out how you may assist them by asking:

  • How can we help you?
  • What are your needs?
  • How would you use this?
  • When do you need it?
  • Where will you use it?
  • What questions do you have for us?

5. Promote interactivity

No shy staffers. Do not bring them to the show. Now that you have outgoing people working your booth, let them be outgoing. Let them have fun talking to visitors. Check out Brittany at the 36th mark of this video. This was not scripted or staged. She asked me, “Can I play like I’m Oprah?” It was fun, productive interaction.

4. Don’t allow staffers to congregate at the back of the booth

Over and over again, as I walked the show, I was not greeted. I was ignored. Staffers sat at the back of their booth talking, texting, reading or gaming. Staff your booth with people who want to role-play, plan, and help with the marketing. And if a staffer hesitates about going to the show, leave them home.

3. Don’t sit down

Our VP of Operations and I disagreed about having chairs. “I do not want them,” I said. We ordered two. They were in the way. I sure as heck wasn’t about to let our staff sit. Take breaks? You bet. Sitting in the booth and waiting for someone to come to you, does not work. You could be waiting until you were blue.

2. Don’t make it hard for visitors to visit

Here’s a great idea — block your booth with tables. Who needs to invite visitors into a booth? Besides it’s a good place to put the chairs.

1. And the number one rule is… SMILE

OMG, I cannot tell you how many bored, unhappy, and mean-looking staffers I encountered. They chased me away.

How hard is it?

I was asked to observe and consult for a regional electrical company exhibiting at a large home remodeling show. They had a beautiful display. They were well-branded in the region, and the booth was staffed with knowledgeable, friendly employees. The business offered a sweepstakes prize consisting of a discounted service package. I observed the booth on day seven of the eleven-day show. In those seven days, only eight visitors had signed up to enter the sweepstakes drawing. The staff did not engage people. They waited at the back of the booth for someone to come to them. They expected the company’s name and the display’s imagery to do the work.

After about forty minutes of observation, I stood at the front of their booth and said to passers by, “Hello, I know one thing for sure — everyone will need an electrician sometime; you might as well sign up for the savings.” Ten people signed up in ten minutes. After asking open-ended questions, four of them were in conversations with staffers about their electrical needs.


Fast-forward to the recent NACS show, where I greeted a gentleman who had three followers in tow. He stopped at our booth, looked around, and said, “Thank you, I was teaching my team a lesson. They are not allowed to talk to anyone unless they are greeted first.” He continued, “We have been walking for over 40 minutes and you were the first to say ‘hello.’ If you visit my booth, I’ll give you $100 if someone doesn’t say hello.” He went on to tell us he does the same thing at every show with the same results. And then he also shared with me about a $600,000 purchase he made because someone at an event said, “Can I show you how this works?”

If you have an appealing, eye-catching, display and you follow these 10 staffing points, you can’t go wrong.