I’ve been to hundreds of trade shows, worked thousands of days, entertained millions of people, qualified boatloads of leads, and have helped close countless deals. Over the years, I’ve become a bit of an expert drawing crowds, personalizing connections, launching products, generating buzz, engaging an audience, enlivening giveaways, reinforcing brands, and making your message magical. Below are some tips to help you succeed.
THE SIMPLE STUFF
Eat healthy, stay hydrated, sleep well, and have mints for everyone at the booth.
Stay on your feet and wear super comfortable shoes. Don’t sit in the back corner and hide; if you have to sit, get a high director’s chair so that you are sitting at eye level to the foot traffic in the aisles.
Stay off your mobile devices! People walking by should feel special and want to stop. Hide your personal belongings out of sight.
Carry business cards everywhere you go! That way, you can catch every opportunity. For each business card you receive, write a note so you have something specific to follow up on. Be sure to customize your follow-up (i.e. I hope your kid enjoys his first year at Stanford … ). Every business card you hand out, write something personal on it like your cell number. Statistically, they are more likely to keep what you’ve given them and return your call when you hand write something on it.
Appearance is unbelievably important. Look clean and sharp and have outfits tucked in and ironed. Also, you want to look inviting instead of imposing, so dress appropriately for each show.
Matching outfits are great because then you look like you’re on a team. Try to wear the company colors and wear matching ties. Make sure it’s comfortable and memorable.
Silly can be a great conversation starter if you can pull it off confidently. For example, a huge blinking light sign that says ‘Ask me about saving money!’ You could wear Mardi Gras beads and say show us your badge and we will give you beads. Or, you could have a jumbo Magic Eight Ball and say, ‘Have you ever seen one of these?’ and have them ask a yes or no question; even better if you customize the Magic Eight Ball to have answers that include information about your product.
Keep your booth clean (cleaning gives you something to do and it also makes things look good). Keep the area around your booth clean, too, even if it’s someone else’s responsibility. I have had people from other booths hire me because they noticed that I kept the aisles around the booth clean in addition to my booth. People notice the small things too.
Carpet and pad your booth and keep it the same color as the aisle carpet. A different color feels like a threshold that needs to be crossed and a commitment needs to be made to enter.
Make your booth as comfortable as possible with an inviting design. Plants can really soften and warm up the environment. Have good lighting and spot lights that highlight certain parts of the booth. A small sound system in your booth is important for growing an audience.
If you give a guest a compliment or a giveaway, then that guest is more invested in staying- so customized giveaways are important. They should be something everyone is interested in. No one wants a brochure anymore. Thumb drives are great and can be preloaded with your brochures.
There are many kinds of giveaways: the giveaway to start the conversation, the giveaway to do the presentation, the big giveaway at the end of the day, and the really big giveaway at the end of the conference. You hand out some good giveaways such as pens, chip clips, or thumb drives, and then at the end of the day, you give away some kind of trendy expensive item which you must be present to win. Then at the end of the conference, you give away a major gift, which you must also be present to win. You make a big spectacle and go over your sales points again and again to really brand your product.
Your giveaways should direct people toward your marketing (website, etc.). I love giving away magic tricks. Then people can do the trick, and printed on the trick is your website.
Bring extra people to work in the booth and give everybody two extra jobs- everyone should be a wing-person and a cheerleader. A wing-person talks about his or her teammates in glowing terms, giving extremely positive introductions, and saying good things since it’s better to have someone else say something great about you instead of saying it yourself. And when someone does a demonstration, all the cheerleaders cheer and applaud even if they’ve already seen it 30 times that day.
Keep working as a team. It’s very powerful if people feel like you’re a close-knit group of people who really like each other. That kind of attitude really reflects well on your brand.
AND NOW FOR THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION YOU CAN GET FROM MY EXPERIENCE …
It’s all about what I call “the economics of social interaction.”
Keep your messages in simple, clear, and plain English; avoid fancy/difficult jargon. For example, instead of some long phrase about meeting your needs on all platforms and listing them in acronyms, it’s better to just say, “It is flexible.”
Only say good stuff about the conference, your competition, and especially your customers. Bad things only reflect on the speaker. Talk about the competition and be positive, ‘They have a great booth!’ or ‘They had a great ad in the conference magazine!’ You don’t have to say their product is good … Compliment everyone! And if you don’t have anything good to say, just say you’re unfamiliar with the product or person. Stay positive.
Be memorable. Make the brand, product, and booth memorable.
Instead of talking about the product, demonstrate it. Let people be hands-on as much as possible.
Ask lots of questions, clients love talking about their needs. Be sure to ask who does the buying. Everyone likes to be asked their opinion. They feel listened to. So ask people’s opinions and then take notes on their opinions. It makes people feel important. “Which is better, red wine or white wine?” “Where is your favorite place to vacation?” Etc.
Keep trying something different when you’re trying to hook people in. Then pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Share with your booth-mates what you learn. For example, if you try saying, “Can I tell you about my product?” and they say, “No,” then try saying, “Have you ever had a problem with storage?” I find opinion openers work the best. I start with, “May I get your opinion on something?” Then I will say something like, “What is the first word you think of when I say digital security?” or “What is the best restaurant within walking distance?” or “Do these bunny ears make me taller?” Etc.
Keep your pitch fresh by constantly using different words. You will eventually discover the perfect way to say your message for each audience. I use different words to engage different ages, races, cultures, genders, religions, nationalities, ethnicites, economic classes, etc.
If you approach too directly, then people get ready to reject. Instead, have an indirect approach. Come in at a 45-degree angle. When people are walking down the aisle, don’t have your back to them and don’t face them, just kind of angle them right on in to your booth. And have your booth-mates stand at different corners so wherever people are coming from, you can angle them into your booth. Voila!
Find the sweet spot to start the conversation. If you start too late, they’ll already be by you; and if you start too early, they’ll ignore you. Leading people around the booth and going on a small adventure makes your booth more memorable and makes the people feel like they were there longer and they’re more invested in you.
People want to talk to someone who has really good social skills and who they feel they can connect with. You need to be able to synchronize with people. You want to talk at the right speed, with the right vocal pitch, and the right amount of eye contact. So, find the other person’s body language and then you match it or mirror it. Touch is really great if you can do it comfortably and not awkwardly. It makes a super connection and makes people want to stay longer.
Always use the concept of “endowing.” If you want success, then label the person what you want them to be. For example, if you wanted to dance, you would call the person a “dancer.” So if you want a “smart buyer” or an “informed shopper” then designate the person that. That way, if they reject you, then they’re rejecting the idea that they are that thing. You want to do this in a way that’s tactful, not too sales-y.
It’s okay to emote. In fact, emoting is terrific!!! Using tons of hyperbole is a terrific way to safely have a fun and memorable conversation. “Wonderful!” “Stupendous!” “Can you believe it!?!?” So be excited and show your excitement because it helps people connect with you. As an old English poet said, “Exuberance is beauty.”
Stay positive. (Have I said that before? Well! Stay positive!!!) A cruise line (which shall remain nameless) had the employees on half of their ships say “no problem” and the other half say “my pleasure,” and at the end of the experiment, the reviews and feedback were overwhelmingly more positive on the ships where the employees said “my pleasure” as opposed to the employees who were constantly saying “NO” and “PROBLEM.” Frame things positively, for example, instead of saying “clients will NEVER FORGET the show,” say that “clients will always remember the show!”
If you think the answer to your question might be “no,” then don’t ask the question. Instead, create a sequence of questions to which the answer is “yes” and you habituate the listener (we magicians call it a “yes sequence”), and then you ask your question. You can actually guide a person to a sale.
If you give a gift like a pen, then people feel more obliged to give back their time, a business card, a swipe of their badge, referral to the buyer, etc., because you’ve invested in them.
Work on your openers. “Let me show you something cool.” Or “Let me give you something.” Or “Can I get your opinion on something?” It’s also good to name exactly what’s going on at that moment and then go from there. For example, “I know you’re in a rush … ” And then you don’t say “But” because “But” is negative. Instead you say, “I know you’re in a rush so let me quickly show you something that is life changing “I know you are looking for the best giveaways. Take a look at these fine planners.” “Welcome to New York; here is a free stress ball.”
When people reject your first line, be prepared with a second line. If people are walking by really fast, I’ll say, “Would you like to see the world’s fastest card trick?” And if they say “Yes,” then I show them a really fast card trick that hooks them in so I can show them more. And if they say “No,” then I say, “Would you like to see it again?” This usually gets a laugh and makes people circle back around. Your second line can be as simple as “Feel free to come back later. We have free giveaways and a guest speaker at 3pm.” That way, you turn their rejection into something like “Come back later.”
You want to embed in your conversation that you’re qualified. So, talk about the other companies that use you or the awards that you’ve won. And remember that this is always better if it can come from your wing-person instead of you saying it yourself.
Whoever has the contact is the leader and everyone else in your booth should follow. It’s not helpful if someone else comes in and usurps the power and out-alphas the leader. So keep deferring alpha to whoever has the contact.
If you don’t know the answer to something, say “I don’t know,” and hand them over to someone who does, or promise to follow up with them later. People respect that a lot more than if you B.S. them. If you’re new, it’s okay to say “This is my first trade show.”
Be authentic, honest, and internally happy, people really respond well to that. Read something from the Dalai Lama!!
AND LASTLY, AND MOST IMPORTANT
Have a magician in your trade show booth. That way you’ll be different from everyone else. Your magician will be able to confidently draw crowds, keep them in a good mood, qualify the leads, and hand people over to a salesperson.
This is the first list of many to help you learn what I’ve learned. So stay tuned for more! Soon I’ll be making instructional videos of what to do and what not to do at trade shows. In the meantime, here is a short demo reel of me performing at the Moscone center in San Francisco for HP at VMWorld.
This list is always growing. Please add a helpful tip or two from your own experiences to the comments below. Thank you for reading!