In my 25 years in the branding and advertising business, I’ve attended a ton of trade shows across North America. Sadly, most of them are time consuming, boring as hell and of dubious value.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are proven approaches that work to reduce the numbing brain ache of working a trade show. More important, these tactics will increase leads, boost sales and build a more engaged community around your brand.


PLAN WHO YOU’LL CONNECT WITH: Getting ready for the show begins by mapping out who you’ll want to connect with to build your network, scope out your competitors or explore partnering opportunities.

Before the show, the producers will provide a list of exhibitors that’s close to final. Scan this list to pick exhibitors you’ll visit during the show in order to expand your understanding of your marketplace and of how other companies present their brand messaging and imagery.

BOOTH BASICS—GO BIG OR GO HOME: Trade shows are like a flash mob of retail outlets packed into a tight space. Your “storefront” must grab people’s attention and draw them into your space.

It pays to invest in an easy-to-assemble display panel to fill whatever standard-sized exhibit space you’ve rented. Approach your display as if you were creating a killer billboard. Ensure that your logo is prominent. And support it with a key message of six or seven words that’s at least three feet off the floor so people can actually see it.

Above all, include graphics that are big and colourful—even shocking. People’s faces work really well in a trade-show booth because people like to look at other people and striking images help spark conversations.

Lastly, design your space to include interactive displays, so visitors will be more likely to enter your booth, allowing you to engage them in conversations.

Things to avoid include printing your entire product/service brochure on the panels and relying on the crappy tabletop, grimy carpet and mango-coloured murder scene blanket that is provided free.

This is show biz. So you should go as big as you can afford—or why even bother?

LEARN WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A STAR SPEAKER: Trade shows are a participation sport, so get out there and see what thought leaders are saying about your industry.

Most shows feature keynote speakers and/or seminars. Schedule time to attend some of these value-added segments. Down the road, you may become one of these keynote speakers. So it’s good to understand the kind of topics and quality of presentations that the show organizers are offering.

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