Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.


7 Tradeshow Exhibit “Must-Haves”

Time for another list – this one is called 7 tradeshow exhibit “must-haves” and it’s pretty simple. What 7 things (items, people, plans) are essential to making your next tradeshow appearance a whopping success? Let’s count them:

  1. Branding that is clear as an angel’s giggle. A visitor should know at a glance what you sell and what kind of a company you are. She should be able to intuit so much with that glance: how you approach the marketplace, how the company culture works, how you view the environment, wha

    t kind of company you are. A good 3D exhibit designer working with a knowledgeable and responsive marketing team can work magic with the right design.

  2. Professionalism that is as obvious as, well, Captain Obvious. Your fully-trained staff will know how to approach visitors in a friendly and engaging way, and how to either answer their questions or get them to the right person. Staff training goes a long way and is worth more than you’ll ever spend on it.
  3. Lead capture system as effective and smooth as a glass of fifty-dollar bourbon. Once you have a prospect in your sights, make the transition from visitor to prospect so easy when gathering contact and follow-up information that they’ll barely know it’s happening.
  4. Interactivity that engages and draws a crowd. Okay, not every activity can draw a crowd at all times. But what if you had something in your booth that was interesting and engaging enough that once a few people got going, it attracted other people? And if that activity was directly related to your product or service, wouldn’t that be about the best you could do? Well, you could top that by making sure you were gathering contact and follow-up information from as many of those people as you could, once you qualified them.
  5. A comprehensive tradeshow marketing plan that covers months leading up to the show, through the show, and through the follow-up period. This would mean pre-show marketing, show execution and immediate follow-up with the hottest prospects.
  6. Enough STUFF: business cards, lead sheets, sell sheets, samples, demos – all of the stuff you need to hand out to visitors, show they what you do and so on. Take more than you think you’ll need. Unless its dated, you can always repack it and use it next time.
  7. Comfortable shoes. Ha! You saw this one coming, didn’t you?

Free Report: “7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House”

State of the TradeshowGuy Blog, 2017

The Beginning

What is the state of the TradeshowGuy Blog in 2017?

This blog started in December of 2008 with a podcast interview with Magic Seth. Since then, there have been 600+ posts that discuss and explore the tradeshow world and what it takes to succeed as a tradeshow marketer. The aim has always been to give useful information to small and medium-sized business tradeshow managers. In many ways, it’s succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. In some ways, I feel there’s much more work to do.

I started the blog when I was VP of Sales and Marketing for Interpretive Exhibits in Salem, Oregon. I picked the name TradeshowGuy mostly at random, but it wasn’t without some spurring by an old radio colleague who, when asking about my new job, I said I was no longer a radio guy, I was a tradeshow guy.

“Tradeshow Guy!” he exclaimed. So for lack of anything better, I named the blog TradeshowGuy Blog and it’s stuck. Hell, it’s copyrighted now and my company is named TradeshowGuy Exhibits, so it must have been a good pick.

Over the years I’ve followed some of the metrics associated with the blog, but I can’t say I obsess on them. In about the fourth or fifth year of the blog, shortly after I started tracking traffic using Google Analytics, I discovered there were about 3000 visitors a month. Not a ton, but certainly nothing to sneeze at. That was when I was posting as often as I could manage something substantial. Two or three years later I was too busy to post much and I noticed that traffic had dropped to about a tenth of than, around 300 a month.

Since then I’ve endeavored to post 2 – 3 times a week. Something. Anything: photo albums, tips, lists, videos, you name it. Traffic is now at its highest. According to Sitelock, human visitors add up to over 6000 visitors a month – about 210 a day over the past three months.

Buuuuut, when you look at Google Analytics, it shows 938 page views in 716 sessions with 632 users in the past month.

So who to believe?

Sitelock tracks both human and bot traffic and separates them out. Bot traffic is usually 10 – 15 times more than human traffic.

Any way you look at it, traffic is there and it’s consistent.

According to Google, 63% of visitors are there from organic search, and 26% comes from direct links (such as a newsletter). 8% comes from social media links.

Blog Content

I could ramble on and on about what it takes to come up with content for the blog for hours. In fact, I have taught courses about blogging, and done webinars about blogging and creating content. But that doesn’t make it easier. In fact, I don’t even know if I have a process. But I do have a goal: create at least 2 – 3 posts per week. If I do that, I know that traffic comes and people find me more often.

Content can come in many forms. Articles, video posts, podcasts, photographs, lists, guest articles, web travels and so much more. I still get a kick out of creating a great posts and clicking ‘publish.’

And I know it works. Our company TradeshowGuy Exhibits, see business as a direct result of people finding the blog and reaching out to make contact because they have questions about tradeshow marketing. Last year, in fact, over half of the business we did in dollars came as a direct result of people finding us online and either sending an email or filling out a quote request form. The year before, I know we acquired at least three clients as a direct result of the blog – so I know it gets attention in the tradeshow marketing industry space. But there’s no direct push-button response. There’s no way to predict these things! I can’t write eighteen blog posts and put up three videos to get a client. It just doesn’t work that way – if only it did! But when I started the blog eight years ago, I figured it couldn’t hurt. But as I said, it’s not predictable, so I don’t count on it – it’s just an additional benefit. I still do sales calls, attend tradeshows, network and prospect as any good sales person should.

Blogs are not the platform that they were six or eight years ago. Popular blogs back then got a lot of comments. Now most comments end up on Facebook and comments on blogs, even really popular ones, tend to be much less than just a few years ago. Facebook is the giant gorilla in the online space, and yes, you can find our TradeshowGuy Blog page here on Facebook, where all of the posts show up.

The WrapUp

And finally, it’s worth mentioning that I’m ramping up my online visibility with the TradeshowGuy Webinars training portion. For all of 2016 I did a webinar a month, usually with a guest but sometimes not (you can find them here), and as the year wound down I decided to change it up a bit. I still use the WebinarJam/Google Hangout platform which seems to work relatively bugfree, but instead of monthly webinars, I’m doing live weekly Monday Morning Coffee gatherings and posting the video shortly thereafter on the blog. I’ve thought that I should probably podcast the audio as well, but as of today that hasn’t happened yet. I’m still trying to convince myself that the extra step is worthwhile!

Download a free digital copy of the “Tradeshow Success” book.

6 Unforgettable Tradeshow Tips

Here are six random but unforgettable tradeshow tips to take you to a successful tradeshow experience.

  1. Standing out. Your tradeshow exhibit should stand out from others in any way it can. Of course, with hundreds or even thousands of booths trying to attract eyeballs, that may be difficult. But if you realize that every other booth is trying to do the same, you can stand out by being different. That may mean a dynamic color, a hanging sign, bright colors, bold statements and compelling questions in your marketing message.
  2. Freebies. There are right and wrong ways to approach giving away trinkets and tchotchkes. Don’t give something away just for the sake of giving something away. Having a pen with your logo on it may mean something to you, but to a visitor, it’s like every other pen they got that day. If the giveaway is usable and memorable, it may get noticed longer. For instance, a premium giveaway for a special visitor that you’re really trying to sell may mean a metal coffee cup with your logo or something similar. Work with your promotional products company to find the appropriate freebie.
  3. Business cards. When was the last time you went to a networking event or tradeshow and realized you didn’t have enou

    gh business cards? It happens. In fact, it happened to me last week! Plan ahead and don’t forget to take more than you think you’ll need.

  4. 30-second pitch. Most standard sales pitches will be packed with features and benefits, but that is a good way to become very forgettable. Instead, come up with an engaging question, or an introductory question that gets a visitor to stop. Then you can go into a pitch that focuses on how you work with clients: “we help frustrated marketers that can’t find a good graphic designer, or they’re embarrassed by poor printing, or they don’t have an overall program to get their brand image out online – I don’t suppose any of these concerns or challenges affect you?”
  5. Traffic Flow. If your booth is blocked off from the aisle by tables and chairs, people won’t come inside your booth. If they don’t come inside your booth, you can’t have a comfortable conversation with them about what their challenges are and how your product or service may help them. No matter what size your booth, the traffic flow should be a prime consideration of your booth design.
  6. Have fun! Tradeshows are a short-term, high energy commitment. The more fun it looks like you and your staff are having, the more people you’ll attract. And tradeshow are all about attracting people and knowing what to do with them!

Take these 6 unforgettable tradeshow tips and use them to make your next tradeshow appearance a successful one!

Tradeshow Exhibits: Rogue One

Or: How to Build Anticipation for Your Tradeshow Appearance

When I was just a mere 22 years old, the very first Star Wars movie came out. This was back when we would watch it, go buy another ticket and watch it again. And again. Star Wars, or as it’s now called, Episode 4: A New Hope, was a unique entry into movie-making. George Lucas says he was inspired by the Saturday afternoon movies he used to watch as a kid. He wanted to create a movie that was a rollicking, fun adventure for all ages, as well as a saga that tapped various historical points for inspiration.

Bottom Line: Star Wars was big, and each impending release caused more anticipation.

Which brings us to Rogue One. It’s the latest movie in the Star Wars canon, and is set to be released before Christmas this year.


The anticipation is YUUUGE. My 16-year old son, who was introduced to the movies by his old man before he was 7 or 8, knows more about the Star Wars universe than I’ll ever know. And every time there is a new tidbit about the new Rogue One, such as a new trailer or story bit, he’ll let me know in no uncertain terms that he can’t wait until the movie comes out.

Now that’s product anticipation!

How can you build anticipation into your tradeshow appearance? Well, certainly, it’s hard to match the pent-up anticipation of Rogue One, but you can build anticipation.

First, have something that will whet people’s appetites. Maybe it’s a new product or a new service that you haven’t offered before. Or maybe you have grown to the point where you have a brand new tradeshow exhibit that will knock peoples’ eyes out.

Next, let people know about it. Send out press releases, talk to media outlets about what you’re unveiling at the big show, tweet about it, tease your audience with glimpses online. Make a big deal out of it: send out an email to your customer and potential client list. If you are unveiling a new product or perhaps a new and bigger booth, include a photo that only partially reveals the entire scope of the project. Build a contest around your product, service or even booth.

Finally, advertise at the show. Figure out how you might incorporate some methods at the show of building even more anticipation by using guerrilla marketing, putting footprints from the front door to your booth (with show organizers help, of course), buying ads around the show floor entrance, and so on.

No, you’ll probably never quite develop the full-blooded anticipation of a 16-year old Star Wars geek awaiting Rogue One, but with some work and planning, you can build up a healthy anticipation for your next tradeshow appearance.

The Five Stages of Tradeshow Management

Stage One: Don’t we have a show coming up in, oh, a few months?

This is the stage where you KNOW you have a show coming up, but you haven’t confirmed dates, haven’t confirmed who’s going, don’t yet know what products or services you’ll be promoting and, well, basically, anything to do with the show. There’s still plenty of time, right?

Stage Two: Have you signed up for the booth space yet?

The dates in the calendar are definitely getting closer. Should we confirm the space? Who’s going to do that? What about travel – should we book that yet?

Stage Three: When are we going to look at the booth to see if it still has what we need?

Just a few weeks left. Maybe time to update the booth. Let’s get someone to set it up and see what shape it’s in. Does it need new graphics? Is anything broken? You know the drill.


Stage Four: Panic!

Frantically shipping the booth, confirming lodging and travel with just a week or two left. Samples have shipped, right? What about the company branded shirts and promotional products? Isn’t Larry handling most of this? The PANIC stage moves from the brief pre-show panic into nearly full panic during the show, and finally subsides when you hit the airport.

Stage Five: It’s over, thank God! We don’t have to deal with it until this time next year!

Want a free digital copy of my “Tradeshow Success” book? Click here.

Music-Inspired Tradeshow Blog Posts

It must be because I was a rock-and-roller from about the age of eight. Or maybe it was the first time I sat down at a drumset when I was 11 and knew I had to have one of my own. Or maybe it was when I finally figured out at the age of 16 what a bar chord on a guitar was, and how I could move it up and down the neck of the guitar for different chords.

Tim playing guitar
How many decades ago was this? What’s up with the goofy hat?

Or maybe it’s just because I gotta have music in my life as much as possible. I listen all day long, and grab my guitar to work on chord progressions, play an old favorite or sit down at the drums often to bash out something.

So you can imagine as my iTunes library’s some 47,412 selections (and counting) is set on shuffle day after day, I hear a lot of music. And that music inspires me in interesting directions.

Like the song I’m listening to now called “The Endless Night” by Return to Forever. I put “tradeshow endless night blog post” the Google box and on the first page was a link to “Ten Very Cool Examples of Experiential Marketing” by David Moth at Ecocunsultancy. Now that’s some inspiration!

Next comes “Red Rain” by Peter Gabriel. Let’s see what happens when I search for “tradeshow blog red rain.” Up came “Running a Live Lab at a Tradeshow” by Redgate on their blog. What an inspired idea for a tradeshow!

Next: “Hidden Treasure” by Traffic. A search for “hidden treasure tradeshow blog” gave me “The 4 Most Annoying Hidden Tradeshow Costs” on the Expo Marketing blog. Hey, saving money on shipping, drayage, deadlines and labor is definitely inspiring!

How about one more? One of my favorite Sixties bands, The Troggs, came along on my computer and played “Girl in Black.” So when I searched for “tradeshow blog girl in black,” on page one was an article from Classic Exhibits’ blog titled “What Not to Wear at a Tradeshow,” which is definitely a good read.

Now that you’re found out the wide diversity of music that inspires me, I want to know – what inspires you?

Let’s roll the Troggs here, just for fun:

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Tradeshows’ Long History

It is always fascinating to peer down history’s deep hole sometimes and uncover the past. Trade fairs have been around for a long time, although the modern form of B2B tradeshows for marketing didn’t appear until the late 19th century, per Wikipedia’s roundup of trade fairs. But from the beginning, tradeshows have been utilized by individuals (small Saturday markets) and companies to expand their businesses and reach markets they would not otherwise easily tap into.

Exhibitor Magazine detailed 10 ideas that changed the tradeshow industry, including moving spectacles inside, counting things (metrics), increasing regulations, portable exhibits and tension fabric. Oh, and don’t forget the donkey doo-doo.

1982 Consumer Electronics Show, Photo by Alan Light
1982 Consumer Electronics Show, Photo by Alan Light

In the olden days, trade fairs were popular as ancient bazaars in old Egypt, and were also used extensively throughout Europe and America starting in the 1700s.

World’s Fairs started over a century and a half ago with what is considered the first large-scale world’s fair, known as the Great Exhibition in the Works of Industry of All Nations. Since that time, the world’s fair expositions have gone through a number of phases, including industrialization, cultural exchange and nation building.

Here in the northwest, we remember two very large world expos, including the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial American Pacific Exposition held in Portland (okay – before my time, but I heard about it when I was growing up!), and the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 which was the unveiling of the Space Needle. The Lewis and Clark Expo saw 1.6 million visitors in just over four months. Ten million people visited the 1962 World’s Fair, which included my older brother (I was too young, I guess).

Thought it might be fun to shed a little light on where this industry started. Now what’s your next step to bring more people to your booth?

What if the Beatles had attended tradeshows?

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, it’s a crazy idea. Why in the world would the Beatles in their heyday, ever consider exhibiting at tradeshows? They already owned the music world. What could be gained from setting up a booth?

But let’s consider. Say their manager, Brian Epstein, convinced them they should show up at a booth pushing their products in 1965 at NAMM (I have no idea if NAMM actually had a show in 1965).

Brian: All right, boys. I’ve got you booked at NAMM.

Ringo: What’s NAMM?

John: Must be a bird with the gift of gob.

Paul: A Winglish man from the motor trade?

George: I humbly withdraw from this conversation.

Library of Congress, Public Domain. 1964, NYC, Kennedy Airport.

RIngo: But George, you’ve only just begun. (aside: Hey, that’s not a bad song title).

George: I must tune my sitar, which will take me until October.

Brian: Boys, boys! The NAMM is a great historical foundation called National Association of Music Merchants, founded in 1901.

John: Righto! Before the history of music began. Except for me grand-father, singing on the canoes of Greenland (that’s where we turned left to find America). O, solo mio… (singing off mic)

Brian: In any case, if we appear we can help promote our albums.

Ringo: But we’re too busy making albums to promote them.

Paul: True, true. Just yesterday you told me you needed me to write 14 songs by Tuesday.

John: We’ve only written thirty-eight, so we have to throw out a couple of dozen to get anything good.

Brian: If you were to attend the show, you could not only play all of the latest and greatest musical gear –

George: Gear…

Ringo: Gear.

John: Gear!

Paul: McGear…

Brian: – you could have a jam session with some of the best musicians in the world. They all attend NAMM.

Silence. They all look around. No one says a thing.

Finally, John breaks the silence.

John: You seem to have unnerved us, Brian. Perhaps we can groan a bit at your suggestion and in your direction.

(all groan:) Oh, oh, oh, oh….

Brian: But if you have your own tradeshow booth, imagine what it might look like.

Paul: Lots of colors: black white green red pink brown yellow orange and blue…

Ringo: Let’s put a submarine in it!

John: Cap’n, cap’n!

George: Or we could hand out samples of truffles.

Paul: I’m hungry.

John: I want you.

Ringo: That’s so heavy.

Brian: So, it’s settled. A submarine with truffle samples, with all the colors of the rainbow.

John: That is heavy.

Brian: I’ll call the accountant and have the agency book our tickets.

How Little Richard Can Improve Your Tradeshow Marketing

I’ve been sitting here (and moving around a lot, actually) listening to Little Richard, and realized that a steady diet of Little Richard can help you with your tradeshow marketing. How, you say?

Let me count the ways.

  • Energy! Little Richard has more energy in a two-minute recording than virtually any other recording artist. You need energy for tradeshow marketing. Little Richard gives it to you.
  • Ready Teddy! Preparation is at the heart and soul of tradeshow excellence. Are you ready?
  • Rip it Up! Gonna rock it up, gonna rip it up, gonna shake it up. Try something different and put your heart and soul into it.
  • Jenny Jenny! Do you remember people’s names? Read their name tag, shake a hand, and say their name. It’s a great way to remember it.
  • I Got It! Take responsibility. When you see something that needs attending to – more samples, carpet sweeping, taking out the trash, greeting a visitor – simply say (and do it): I Got It!
  • Keep a Knockin’! When a visitor comes to your booth, have your questions ready. If they don’t unveil their problems or pain associated with the solution your product or service can provide, keep un-peeling the onion, as it were. Keep asking questions – keep a knockin’!
  • Kansas City / Hey-hey-hey-hey! So you’re a travelin’ guy or gal. That means many stops throughout the country (or internationally) to grab more leads and raise your brand awareness. It might mean a stop in Kansas City!

Now that you’ve picked up some tips from one of the greats, let’s take a moment and listen and watch, shall we?

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What’s the World Domination Summit? Nothing Short of a World-Class Event

So how do they do it? How do the volunteer organizers of World Domination Summit pull off a top-notch, world-class event – including tripling the attendance in the past year?

Perhaps we should start with what in the world IS the World Domination Summit? While you’re likely to get a few thousand answers when you ask the attendees, to my mind the event is a gathering of creative, innovative, entrepreneurial-minded folks from dozens of countries that takes place over a long weekend in Portland, Oregon every July. It just wrapped up its third year. Yup, its third year.

Author Don Miller onstage at World Domination Summit (photo credit: Armosa Studios)
Author Don Miller onstage at World Domination Summit (photo credit: Armosa Studios)
Bob Moore of Bob's Red Mill

Year one – 2011 – saw almost 500 people gather for two days of speakers, workshops and casual networking meet-ups. 2012 that number doubled to about 1000. This year, the attendance was 2800, filling the historic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland for two days of presentations along with several other smaller workshops and meet-ups where attendees got to listen to and interact with authors, speakers, literary agents, entrepreneurs and other creative folks.

And every one of them seemed to be in a damn good mood all weekend long!

The event was started a few years ago by author and blogger and world traveler Chris Guillebeau, who had been mulling over the idea of gathering some of his blog readers together for a couple of days of listening to interesting speakers, exchanging information and learning. He hoped he’d get 50 people – and ended up selling out almost 500 tickets, with demand for much more.

After the first year – in which he admits he lost around $20K – he realized he needed to get a little more organized on how to actually run a successful event. Well, the event was successful from the attendee’s standpoint, but when the organizers lose twenty grand, something has to change.


As the preparation and organization for year two of WDS wound down, they realized they’d have about $100,000 left over. What to do with the money? After all, the idea was not to make a profit (although they didn’t want to lose any), but to help people out in their endeavors. It was decided to give the money back to the attendees, and at the end of the event each person got an envelope with a $100 bill and a note urging them to put the ‘funds to good use. Start a project, surprise someone, or do something entirely different – it’s up to you.’

Of course, there’s a large social media component to the event, with an online searchable database so you can connect with and learn about other attendees, as well as overt promotion of the event hashtag #wds2013. Loads of tweets and events, packed with thousands of photos, showed up continuously throughout the weekend. As I’ve observed many times before, events and social media fit together like hand and glove – they’re made for each other.

Many attendees have posted photos on their Flickr accounts, including this cool collection from Mike Rohde, which gives a good representation of the event through his creative note-taking.

Now that the third year of WDS is over, what made it such a successful event?


From my vantage point as a twice-attendee (2012 and 2013), I think there are two keys: first, it’s absolutely non-corporate in any way shape or form. There are no logos anywhere (except WDS), and no mentions of any underwriters. I admit I really appreciate that aspect. Second, it comes off as a genuinely helpful gathering of like-minded people who simply love getting together.

At the Saturday morning keynote from presentation expert Nancy Duarte, I sat next to a woman named Vicki and asked her why she came. “I’m addicted to inspiration,” was her response. I’ve been reflecting on that ever since. Addicted to inspiration. We all want and need inspiration – and the World Domination Summit gives it – in spades.

The speaker line-up ranges from well-known authors, writers and radio host to not-so-well known people who simply have a great story to tell. In between there are interesting highlights of attendee stories, the Unconventional Race, lunch meet-ups, indie-movie screenings, yoga breaks, wide-ranging workshops and much more – all topped off by a private party in downtown Portland at Pioneer Square, which got passers-by wondering just what the hell was going on behind the fences!

At one of the gatherings, entrepreneurial expert Andrew Warner interviewed Chris and they spent time discussing the money aspect of the event. Surprisingly (or not), there are no secrets. As Chris said, there are 2800 people attending, most of whom paid about $500 – do the math (it’s around $1.3M gross). But as he said, renting the halls, producing the various pieces of swag, offering catering for mid-morning snacks, renting Pioneer Courthouse Square et al – it all adds up. The event was expensive to produce – and all of the speakers are non-paid volunteers (what wasn’t clear is if their travel and lodging were paid for; I’d be curious to know that).

In other words – the World Domination Summit is unique in a true sense of the word: there’s nothing quite like it in the world. Attendees feel like they’re ‘in’ on something that no one else is.



  • Be unique – do something that is unlike anything else.
  • Don’t taint it with corporate sponsorships, which ultimately take away from the uniqueness.
  • Offer a wide variety of speakers.
  • Surround the event with mini-gatherings to spur more networking.
  • Have a great sense of humor about how everything works – and be ready for things to go sideways.
  • Be open about all aspects of the event.

Check out the complete set of #WDS2013 photos provided by event organizers here.

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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