My small, woman-owned public relations/marketing firm, Advice Unlimited, has been serving the Federal government marketplace for nearly 30 years to help companies with innovative technology get their solutions to the government. Every month, I’ll offer unlimited advice on how to work with this unique market. Please email me with questions or comments.

Advice Unlimited

Advice Unlimited

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trade Show Success Tips: Don’t Forget the Basics

This month I had the pleasure of attending the AFCEA TechNet Land Forces East trade show in Baltimore, MD. This is one of three regional shows that used to be combined in one show; since this was the first year for this change, I was interested to see how exhibitors and attendees were adjusting to the change in scale.

Many of the key exhibitors were there, supporting this new approach. There were some booths at the show that had great displays and there were some that fell short. Following are my thoughts from some of my observations, and some gentle reminders of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for booth display and personal conduct at a trade show. We expect the trend to smaller exhibits and more regional and smaller shows will continue; with smaller exhibits, these basics become more important, as it becomes harder to stand out among a sea of 10 x 10s.


1. Use Large Font and focused, concise messaging in your display. The most effective background displays used only a few words that described the product or service represented. You should also WRITE YOUR KEY MESSAGES IN LARGE FONT SO PEOPLE CAN READ THEM. People at trade shows are walking around all day through what sometimes feels like a maze of booths. It is easy to get lost or overwhelmed by all the displays, so a potential customer could walk right by your booth without understanding a single thing about the company or the product. Using large font to highlight a few key words about the company and the product near the top of the display will help catch the eye of a passerby more than a paragraph-long mission statement or product description. You want the passerby to look and think, “Yes, I need that!” Once you’ve drawn them in, then you can review the details of your service, discussing your features and benefits that align to their needs.

2. Color choice matters – the most eye-catching displays were also really easy to read.

3. Interactive displays are always better than static displays. While not always possible, whenever you can bring in an interactive demo, that’s more appealing than static signs and ‘boxes.’ iPads seemed to be a big hit – this might be a relatively inexpensive way to make the demo and description of your products and services more engaging. Many attendees seemed to be drawn in by the ability to play with an iPad for a little while.

4. Giveaways still work, and they don’t have to be expensive. One of the biggest hits at the TechNet East show was the booth that was giving out free popcorn. Popcorn and candy are great ways to bring people into the booth where your representative can then interact with the customer. Fun toys also still have their place – there’s a little bit of a child in most of us. A giveaway that I have used in the past with great success is the Slinky - everyone loves a Slinky! And they come in lots of different colors, providing great eye candy for a clever display to help pull people into your booth.

While there were some interesting booths and sophisticated presentations, I was surprised to see some booths and representatives that evidently had skipped “trade show etiquette 101”. Following are some reminders that everyone attending a trade show should know – but some folks need reminding:


1. PUT THE SMART PHONES AWAY! There was no bigger turnoff than walking by a booth and seeing every single representative sitting around playing on their smart phones without a clue there was someone that might want to learn something from their booth. It is understandable that booth representatives need to check their phones, but step aside from the booth for a moment when you know that a colleague has you covered; don’t get into an absorbing email session or use your phone as a shield so you don’t have to interact with potential customers walking the aisles. There were more than a few booths where I saw all of the reps behind computers or in a deep gaze into their smart phones.

2. Don’t look so unhappy to be there. Not only were the people on their smart phones not being helpful, several of them looked so bored and unhappy to be there that no potential customers would ever want to bring themselves over to such a boring and dead environment. Booth representatives need to be at attention, happy and prepared to help any person with any question. Sometimes it is not the booth display that draws people in, but the positive environment and interaction with people that looks so welcoming and makes people think, “I wonder what is going on over there.”

3. Stay positive and on message. I really don’t want to hear how much your feet hurt; I do want you to make me feel like you really want to talk to me and hear about what kind of problems we’re dealing with, and I want to hear why you believe your solution will solve my problem. Basic etiquette is always important: don’t use bad language, don’t make potentially offensive comments, stay away from political opinion and no bashing the competitor. Focus on your company’s differentiators and strengths, and you’ll always come out ahead.

Trade shows may shrink or morph, but we strongly believe that these face-to-face gatherings that provide the ability for customers to test drive, demo and ‘touch and feel’ solutions will always matter. Take advantage of these opportunities to really impress and educate your audience, and leverage your trade show investment, by remembering the basics. For information on how Advice Unlimited can help you create and implement a successful trade show effort, or provide support for other public outreach and communication initiatives, please contact me at 301-924-0330 or