I’ve worked thousands of trade shows, and it only took me about half of them to figure out the mistakes I was making. So, please allow me to share the traps and pitfalls I fell into, so you don’t have to. Here are ten things I wish I’d known about working a trade show.

My Top Ten Trade Show Mistakes

Dress Business Comfortable

Okay, so I made up a new term, business comfortable, but it works. When working a trade show, you want to look professional and business-like, but you need to be comfortable. One of the keys is shoes. You’ll be on your feet for hours at a time. Uncomfortable shoes can take the smile right off your face. When you’re working a trade show it’s hard to attract prospects with a frown. Here’s more on trade show clothing, Trade Show Dress What to Wear and What to Leave at Home.

Don’t be a Cheapskate

A trade show isn’t the place to go cheap. Don’t buy “budget” displays, banners from your local shipping company, or flyers printed on your office copier. Not that there’s anything wrong with the shipper banners or your copier when they’re used for what they do. But there are professionals that do a heck of a lot better. So, when working a trade show, if you want to look professional hire professionals. If you’d like to read more try these posts, Keys to Trade Show Booth Design Part I and Keys to Trade Show Booth Design Part II.

Greet Everyone

If you don’t at least attempt to acknowledge everyone who passes your booth, you’ll never know who you missed. Waiting for attendees to engage you, is a terrible plan. And yes, I’ve heard the theory that if you wait for folks to reach out to you then you’ll have qualified leads. That’s just wrong on so many levels. First, just because someone says hi doesn’t mean they want or even qualify for you’re your product, it could be they’re collecting branded pens. And many, who walk by your booth don’t notice you, don’t know what you do, or don’t know they need it. Smile and say hello to everyone you can get to. Or sit in the back of your booth on your phone waiting for customers to come to you. How’s that plan worked so far? Here’s more,  How to Greet Prospects at a Trade Show.

Bring the Right People

Having the proper staff at your booth is the most important consideration for any trade show, and yet many don’t stop to consider who should be on the team. Why do I say it’s the top concern? Because you can have a great booth in a great spot at a great show and if you don’t have the right staff it will not matter, you’re sunk. On the other hand, a dynamic staff can overcome an inferior display, poor location, and slow show. It’s best to have all the above, but staff comes first. So,  Who Should Work Trade Shows?

Train Your Staff and then Train Them Some More    

I’ve ranted before about the lack of training and accountability I see when I walk a trade show. Finding a staffer that engages folks, smiles, and knows what they’re talking about is rare. The majority of trade show staffers I encounter are too busy, talking to each other, staring into the distance, or checking Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat to be bothered by a prospective customer. Is it me? Am I stuck in the old days with my old ways? I don’t think so because booth after booth that I stroll past are losing leads, and if you don’t want leads why be in the show? Here’s one way to train your trade show staff, Using Greeters and Consultants at a Trade show.

Don’t Forget to Bring …

I’ve found myself at a trade show without business cards. Once I left half the booth display at the office. Another time I forgot the banners and tablecloth. I’ve forgotten cleaning supplies, vacuum, spare clothing, and branded promotional products to give away. If only I’d had a trade show checklist. A Simple Marketing Trade Show Checklist. Here are more non-marketing reminders. Working a Trade Show Don’t Forget these Items.

Set Goals

“Is your trade show team focused? Do they know their purpose, and more importantly does your trade show staff have a plan to reach their goals? If your answer is no, or that you’re not sure, then why are you in the show? Okay, that might sound a little harsh but seriously, if your people don’t know why they’re there, why your organization is participating in the trade show, then they are rudderless. When you don’t set expectations, what can you expect?” — How to Set Trade Show Staff Goals.

Follow Up

A few years ago, when I worked shows on a regular basis, I was part of a team that staffed a TKO Graphix booth at a work truck show. The weekend show was open a total of 17 hours. In that time our team collected 194 qualified leads. But we didn’t stop there we followed up. 6 Tips for Trade Show Follow Up Success.

Choose the Best Team to Manage Your Show

“So, who should manage your trade show? That’s a great question because the answer to who should manage your trade show is that it’s highly unlikely that one person can manage all the aspects of a successful trade show. Here are four essential management categories to a successful trade show.” — Who Should Manage Your Trade Show?

Market Your Show

There are multiple methods to market your show pre-event as well as during. One is with an email blast to your customer database. A good email marketing strategy is to offer an enticement such as a show discount, product give away, sweepstakes, or special presentation.

Another successful way to advertise your show is with sponsoring events within and outside of the show such as an after-show dinner, seminar, or a cocktail hour. And don’t forget social media, every day more people rely on social media for their news and updates.  Maximize Your Trade Show Social Media.

Working a Trade Show Should Be Fun 

I hope this helps you avoid some of the many frustrating and costly trade show mistakes I’ve made. Believe me when I tell you, I’ve made every single one of these missteps more than once. Have a great show!