The Trade Show Was a Train Wreck. Now What?

You worked on this show for months. You shipped the tchotchkes, unrolled the graphics and set out the brochures. Your team waits with quiet anticipation as the show opens. Then the worst happens: nobody comes to your booth. You have no foot traffic, no visual interest, no gimmick and almost no visitors.

It’s happened to all of us. I had a particularly disappointing show at Interop some years ago. I had just joined the company and didn’t have time to rethink and redo the show. I went with “what we had.” A picture of our booth is below. It was a poor booth, with an abundance of confusing messaging in a poor location deep in the back of the Las Vegas Convention Center. On the positive side, we learned a TON. You should also learn from every less than 100% trade show.

Can you find all 11 messages?

Can you find all 11 messages?

What were some of the things we learned?

You must be seen to be heard. Our train wreck location was in the big hall at the Las Vegas convention center. Our booth was located right behind the 2-story office, bathroom and concession center. The thinking was that folks would see us as they were walking to the bathroom or to get food. It was an awful location. Our line of sight was nonexistent. Since the bathroom center had entrances on both sides, most people never went behind this. Only people in our sparsely-populated short end of the hall would pass us. We were completely hidden from the main part of the hall.

Use effective booth messaging. The message needs to answer ”the question” which is: “So what do you guys do?” In messaging trade shows, less is more. At the train wreck show, there were 11 messages visible from one angle. Not one of them said what we did. It was a message per square foot strategy, hoping one of them would catch on. None did.

Just because you’re talking, doesn’t mean they’re listening. It’s hard to fill 10-15 chairs for your presentation with very little booth traffic. Presentations with almost no audience look painful and uninviting. Sometimes even a free t-shirt is not enough to get weary trade show attendees to give you some time and brainpower. By the time people got to our end of the show, their energy and time were both running thin.

Your ability to “call an audible” is limited. Trade shows happen on time and move quickly. Once the show begins, your ability to recover from a mistake is very limited. Almost everything you need to make changes, has a lead time, is very expensive and will come too late to make a difference. Also, since most of the show floor traffic, excitement and buzz happens on day one, recovering and having a great day three is admirable, but unlikely to make the same impact as day one

If your booth location is bad, seek another. I can’t stress this enough. If you have poor location, start early and work to change it with your show rep every day for potential cancellations or floor movements. If you are forced in a bad spot, work with the show to find a way to make up for it; additional signage, an advertisement in the show guide, something! Ask them to help people find you on the show floor.

These are just a few of the things I learned from a lousy show. You should learn from every show.

What not-so-good trade shows have you been to? What needed to be improved?

You can connect with Eric on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/ericlundbohm/

Follow his updates on Twitter @lundbohm

2 thoughts on “The Trade Show Was a Train Wreck. Now What?

  1. “The message needs to answer ”the question” which is: “So what do you guys do?”” — This point is missed FAR too often. At the dozens of trade shows I have attended, well over half of the booths seem to miss this message. After a short amount of time on a trade show floor, all of the flashy graphics, and booth gimmicks lose their effect on an attendee that is now in sensory over load from a deluge of brightly colored messages. Now it comes down to the attendee finding that stuff that interests him or her. It is far easier to skip a booth, than to step in and inquire.

  2. Eric, I have no disagreement with your recommendations, yet I feel that you’re missing something major. A trade show is a lousy place to make first contact with prospects. They’re busy, they’re tired, they’re overwhelmed.

    Trade show success depends on how you interact with your prospects before the show. You want them to arrive at that show already aware of you and what you do, already motivated to visit and speak with you. And you need your people prepared, knowing who’s coming (perhaps even with some appointments made) and having the necessary information about them, The level of information you can have in advance varies with the situation, yet there are always ways to prepare.

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