For exhibit and event professionals  

6 Trade Show Tips for Exhibitors and Associations

August 10, 2015 By Editor

by Patrick Wilson, Chief Growth Strategist and Special Project Consultant for The Profitable Association


Exhibiting at a trade show isn't something a company or association should take lightly. Below are tips we give to all of our exhibitors. Not only do we want a trade show to be successful for our client organization, but we also want the exhibitors and sponsors to have a positive experience so everyone wins and wants to come back.

  1. Shop before you buy

Investigate the show before you buy your space, especially if the cost is high. If you can, take the “long view.”

Can you walk the show this year then, if it's a fit, exhibit next year? Many trade shows will allow you to have a day pass to explore the floor — that way, you can walk and talk to current participants and do some first-hand networking.

Some organizers will share the audience list with you, a spreadsheet complete with titles, companies and geography. Do homework on the demographic of the attendees to assure the audience falls within your target scope.

  1. Technology is our friend

It is important to stay abreast of the technology trends of shows. Many have a printed QR code on attendees' badges, and you can download a free scanner on your phone instead of renting a lead retrieval machine.

Most shows are also using mobile apps for attendees. As an exhibitor, you need to download the app before the event and build your plan and, if available, your profile. Some events will have a “community” component to begin the engagements pre-event (if so, don't forget to send a clear headshot).

Next, look at the attendees and do some pre-appointment setting. Help your booth team prep on who they will be meeting and guarantee vetted, “envisioned” target leads so it's not left to chance, guesswork and randomness.

  1. Expect the unexpected

Make sure you plan for everything — including your booth supplies not arriving on time. Be in control of knowing where your display is, and have a tracking number and a copy of the shipping label.

Can your booth items travel with you? Travel lightly and be prepared for something not to “show up.” At a minimum, pack business cards, logo table cloth and flyers in your carry-on. Many booths now fold or roll small enough to pack into a checked suitcase, which in many cases is cheaper than shipping to a booth at a convention center or hotel.

Have your flyers on a USB and, if your shipment doesn't arrive, run to a local FedEx or UPS shop and print. Also, you can have a backdrop or poster printed in an hour at many Staples locations.

Having a Plan B will prevent you and your team from sitting in an empty booth at the beginning of the show, looking and feeling like you missed your invitation to the party.

  1. Dress for success

Know the attire of the attendees, or make one phone call to make sure. (Hint: Look under the FAQs or general information section of the event website). Look at the photos from last year's event. Are attendees wearing suits or jeans? Or somewhere in between?

Make sure you are not overdressed, or worse, underdressed. You want attendees comfortable talking to you, and if they are casual, you don't want them to think of you as a corporate “suit.” Or if they are a straight-arrow, buttoned-down crowd, you'll want them to take you seriously. If you are too casual, they might not.

  1. Be open for business

Don't just sit in the booth behind a table, checking your phone. Make eye contact and have open body language. Open the booth and don't close yourself in behind your furniture.

Be inviting. Put yourself partway (one foot, one shoulder) into the aisle so you can anticipate someone as they approach. It is a delicate balance to make sure attendees don't avoid you without appearing too pushy or over anxious.

You have to be on your “A” game — assertive, accessible and attentive.

  1. Don't be a hoarder

Clutter is bad. Don't put all your information out on the table. Less is better.

Have one quality piece to hand out to attendees as well as fun or creative giveaways. Better to replenish often then to give a disheveled and disorganized appearance. Keep your drinks and personal items out of sight and remove any trash.

Practice what you preach — we do. These tips are not only for your exhibitor and prospective exhibitor community, but can also be used by your association when you exhibit at shows to gain new members and promote your programs.


patrick_wilson-150x150Patrick Wilson is Chief Growth Strategist and Special Project Consultant for The Profitable Association which specializes in association sales programs. He uses over 20 years of experience as a top-flight business development and consultative sales executive, entrepreneur, business owner, and strategic partner to associations to deliver multiple start-up, turnaround and revenue growth success stories for association programs and events.


  • Hello Patrick, and thank you for the great tips!
    I’m glad you mention technology in your article, because I strongly believe trade shows & exhibitions should use more of it. If I take the example of notes taking and following on leads, the pen & paper solution is still broadly used while more efficient solutions such as myfairtool exist. People should not waste countless hours after fairs to read their hand written notes and try to follow up – it should all be done digitally.

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