Don’t Be a #BadExhibitor – Worst Practices When Exhibiting At Shows


by Kelly Googe Lucas, client marketing director

Drunk at the trade show again

Drunk at the trade show again

As a professional, it’s probably a safe bet that you’ve had to man a booth at a trade show, conference, recruiting fair or networking event. I would also wager that you’ve brushed up on best practices for these events: dress the part, make sure you know your elevator pitch, hand out business cards and brochures and always smile and be inviting. These are all great places to start, but it’s not enough.

Just as important is making sure you are aware of and avoid exhibiting worst practices. What are these? To be honest, I imagine some of this subjective to the attendee and the overall atmosphere and culture of the event. However, these are things that have jumped out to the crew here at bbr marketing from a few of the more recent events we’ve attended, in no particular order:

  • Stay in your booth: Barring an emergency (and we’ve all had them), there should always be at least one person in the booth when there is an active event. Even when there is a session taking place at a conference and attendees aren’t technically supposed to be on the floor, you need to have a presence at your booth, as there is always a handful of folks who skip sessions so they can talk with vendors when there isn’t a crowd and they don’t feel rushed. If for some reason you have to jet for a sec (the bathroom waits for no one), have a prepared sign that let’s people know you are coming right back, or see if the vendor next to you would be willing to let people know you’ll return momentarily.
  • Don’t stick to the script: Every firm has an elevator pitch (or at least you should). These are great for ensuring everyone is speaking from the same message. However, that doesn’t mean you repeat it word-for-word and never deviate. In fact, you should always deviate. People want to speak to other people, not personified brochures. When someone asks who you are and what you do, give them a few seconds of the pitch, but then pay attention to cues and branch out from there. Ask them about their line of work and what problems they need solved. If you discover you have something in common, either professionally or personally, let the conversation naturally move in that direction. Don’t make everything about a scripted sales pitch. Give them enough to understand your services and then talk like a normal person.
  • Get off the computer/mobile device: These are working events, and no one expects you to stop doing your job, but doing the Blackberry Prayer (showing my age) when a potential client steps into your booth is a massive no-no. Working or playing on a device should be relegated to when there is no traffic on the vendor floor or when you steal away to a separate space to conduct some work. No matter if you are in the middle of writing the greatest sentence of copy in man’s history, the moment someone looks remotely interested in interacting, you stop what you’re doing. It’s that simple. If I’m not worth your time, you’re not worth my time, on to the next booth.
  • Do not get drunk: You would think this would be common sense at this point, but it’s not, oh no, it’s not. Often, events will set up the open bar in the exhibitor hall. These spots have considerably more room to mingle, but also it’s giving vendors a captive audience, which helps justify their exhibitor costs. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a couple of drinks and chatting with the attendees in a more casual atmosphere. However, if you’re so lit that you can’t explain to me the basics of your product without having to refer to your brochure, you’ve gone a bit too far my friend. I find this to be more amusing than annoying, but it’s still bad show. I’m somewhat forgiving of this, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the crowd is. Rein in the drinking junior.
  • Do not make assumptions or alienate your booth visitors: Not everyone who steps into your booth will be a good fit for your firm right now. Either their current role isn’t senior enough to make decisions, their firm seems too small to afford your services, whatever. But do you know their aunt is a partner at a well-known firm? Are you aware of their neighbor who owns a multi-million dollar business? No, you don’t and now you won’t, because if you talk down to someone and belittle them because they aren’t who you want to talk to right at that point, you’ll never have access to their current network and you’ll never be invited to do a sales pitch when they move up the ranks. You just cost yourself and your firm some potentially great business.

I’d be willing to be we could build on this list easily. What have you witnessed or experienced when you’ve attended conferences or networking events? Let us know in the comments or Tweet us with #BadExhibitor. Don’t hold back!

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