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


Breaking the Ice – How to Engage Tradeshow Visitors

With all of the moving parts in your tradeshow marketing program, there is one area that stands out above all the rest as being critical to your success – how to break the ice and engage tradeshow visitors.

engage tradeshow visitors

And since this is a compelling question that needs concrete answers, I thought it worthwhile to bring in one of the pros at tradeshow engagement, Andy Saks of Spark Presentations. Andy has been training company booth staff in the art and science of engagement for years. I thought it would be an easy thing to have him share a few questions that he teaches his clients about how to engage, but it’s much more complicated than that! Of course it is.

As Andy describes it, booth staffers often walk into a booth shortly before the show begins, seeing it for the first time, and it’s a beautiful piece of branding that the company obviously spent a lot of time and money on. The booth is MUY IMPORTANTE, which immediately makes the staffers feel like they’re there to support this awesome booth and company. But it’s not necessarily the way it should be.

“The booth is there to support you, not the other way around,” said Andy. Without training, a booth staffer often feels like they are there to field questions and direct traffic. But a properly trained staffer who understands the situation – fully understands the entire scope of appearing at a tradeshow to gather leads and convert them into a customer – has a better understanding of how to approach engagement. Which will result in more leads and more business.


When you’re standing in a tradeshow booth, everything you do or do not do is reflecting your company back to the attendee. You’re representing them in everything you do. Something that’s minor and innocuous in any other situation is seen in a much different light at a tradeshow. If you’re eating food, for instance, in that moment a potential client sees that act of you gulping down a hotdog, the underlying message is ‘it appears they are not ready for me to engage with them; they’re not ready for me to be their customer.’

Everything you do in a booth, from eating, talking on a cell phone, standing with your arms folded, sitting in the back of the booth is sending a message to prospective clients that you’re trying to reach, and the message is: we’re not ready for you, please go somewhere else. So all that money spent on the booth and on staff travel and lodging is then wasted on that prospect.

DOs and DON’Ts

  • DO Stand around the edge of the booth, within a couple of feet of the edge of the booth.
  • DO Stand alone, not in a group of people (which is intimidating).
  • DON’T be holding anything that the attendee might consider a potential distraction.
  • DON’T be drinking coffee, which sends a message that you’re not at 100%.
  • DO be smiling, and really making a concerted effort to smile and put on your best face.
  • DO wear your badge high on your chest, preferably on your right shoulder, so that it’s easy to see and read and sends a signal that ‘it’s important to me that you know my name.’


Now that you’ve made yourself the most appealing thing at that moment, you move to the QUALIFYING stage. The goal is to ask smart, qualifying questions to build a personal rapport of trust and also reveals their pain.

Some of the questions that Andy recommends revolve around the idea of connecting with somebody, including this one:

“How’d you get started in your job or this industry?” The attendee will regard this question as a sign of your interest in them. Most people, as adults, are not doing what they thought they’d like to do as a kid. By asking this question, it recognizes that somewhere along the way, they took a left turn from their intended or desired career to get where they are now. People like to talk about themselves, and a question like this will reveal a lot of things that may be important.  Other staffers in other booths tend to focus on product benefits, company marketing bullet points – in other words, it’s all ME ME ME, and if you ask about THEM you have made an impact. You have made yourself memorable.

engaging with visitors
engaging with visitors

As you get a couple of minutes into the conversation and you’ve uncovered that they may be using a competiting product, ask a COLLECTION question, such as, “What would you change about your current product if you could?”  The tradeshow floor is a tremendous opportunity for market research, and if you’re in the midst of a one on one engagement, you can uncover elements of how they use that product. In fact, they might list the top three or four things about that product that they’d like to change – stuff they don’t like.

In this instant, you have someone who is a user of your competitor’s products, telling you specific things that they don’t like about that product. Can you imagine having that conversation 10, 15, 20 times a day and what market research would come from that?

That’s when you can say, “Well, just so you know, our product does such and such and solves those problems, so if you’re ever in the position to switch, we’d be glad to talk to you.” You’ve planted a seed that may help them grow into a client.


Now it’s time to wrap up the qualifying stage of the conversation. Take the information they’ve given you and feed it back to them: “Let me see if I have this correct: you’re looking for a product or service that has this feature and this feature, so that you can reach this goal of doing this and as a result you get this benefit and this benefit. Do I have that right?”

As Andy put it, when you’re saying this to the attendee, you’ll hear your voice and all of the noise of the tradeshow floor, but the attendee will hear angels. Because somebody on a tradeshow floor listened to them!

The sale is nearly 90% complete in this moment. All other details, like size, delivery options and so on can be worked out.

Your tradeshow booth staff is the front line. They represent your company from sunup to sundown in every moment on the tradeshow floor. How they represent you may be the difference between winning that big client or distributor for your product. If they don’t know how to engage attendees properly, you may not even know what you missed.

Andy Saks, Spark Presentations, excels in tradeshow presentations and tradeshow training for booth staff. Check out his page and the fun video. You’ll no doubt learn something very worthwhile!

Click here to grab my Tradeshow Follow-up Checklist

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest

“…Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.”

That’s a line from a Paul Simon song, The Boxer, recorded by Simon and Garfunkel.

And it happens all the time. “Selective hearing,” according to my wife, and perhaps many other spouses.

But does that sort of thing happen on the tradeshow floor? Do people see what they want to see and disregard the rest?

Do people see that cool, shiny new product and disregard the great support that your team offers for every purchase?

Do your visitors see the famous author in your booth, wait in line for a free autographed copy of her new book, and yet fail to see the great products that you’re selling?

Do attendees see the giant spinning logo above your booth but fail to see how your company’s story relates to them?

Of course, there’s no way that everybody at a show will see every aspect of your (or other) booths.

So what are they missing that you might do a better job at communicating to them?

People’s Choice Awards: Vote Today and Again Tomorrow!


One of our recent booth projects over the summer was a custom portable modular booth for the Toronto-based company SoYoung. The project turned out so great and people loved the look, that the design and fabrication team at Classic Exhibits thought it should be entered in the Exhibitor Portable/Modular, which recognizes design excellence. So it was. And it made the finals round where you, the public, get to vote!

Classic Exhibits also had two other projects make it to the finals round: Philadelphia Commercial and Nationwide.

The rules for the voting are simple: you can vote only once a day, but you can vote every day.

To vote, simply go here. To learn more about the awards, check this page.

Thanks to SoYoung for letting us design and fabricate their exhibit, and for letting us enter it in the design excellence contest.

And to see a full gallery of photos of the SoYoung booth, check it out here.

Tradeshow Exhibit Design and Fabrication Timeline

You want a successful tradeshow exhibit design and fabrication process, naturally. A number of factors come into play in the process, including (but not limited to) the timeline. When do you start the process?


It depends upon your current status: do you already have a booth and simply want to upgrade, or are you starting from scratch? Do you want to move up from a small 10×10 or 10×20 inline booth to a larger island? While you intuitively know where you are, the first step of the process is to take a few moments and write it all down. Share it with all team members. You may want to do a full Request for Proposal from potential new exhibit houses, or you may be comfortable with your current vendor and simply want to communicate the desire to upgrade to them.

In any event, make and share the assessment with those that will be involved.

One Year Prior to the Show

If you’re essential starting from scratch, you should probably look at the entire project from the 30,000 foot level about 9 months to a year out from the show date when you’ll want the new exhibit. This gives you a chance to determine a comprehensive and detailed budget. Having this budget document that includes all related costs such as storage, potential shipping, set-up costs and so forth will reduce the element of surprise for you and management once the project is officially under way.

This early discussion should also look at the main shows that you’ll be using the new booth at. Some companies have large booths that are used only once or twice a year, while they use smaller inline or popup booths at smaller shows. Look at things such as show goals and objectives, audience, traffic flow, etc.

Provide your exhibit house with a design brief detailing all of the elements of your new exhibit: size of booth, show goals, meeting spaces, storage, demo areas, branding elements, etc.

Six Months Out

Bu now you should be starting regular conversations with your exhibit house in earnest and their designer should be working from your design brief.

Your booth builder will want to have as much information as you can provide about the show such as dates, location, and other details. You may even want to provide them with your show marketing strategy and details so that they are aware of how you will promote your show appearance.

Four Months Out

You should have reviewed at least one or two designs and walked through any revisions with your 3D booth designer. You’re in the stage of finalizing all of the details prior to fabrication.

Graphic designers will have received graphic placement details and graphic dimensions from the booth designer and should be developing graphics in conjunction with the marketing team.

Reach out to I&D companies for early estimates and availabilities for set-up of the new booth, if it’s a larger booth that requires a set-up team.

Sometime in the next few weeks, depending on your exhibit house’s capabilities, the booth will go through fabrication.

One Month Prior to the Show


A walk-through with a booth set-up will be arranged and all graphics will be completed and placed. Any final items that need to be changed will result in a punch list that will need to complete by the exhibit house prior to crating and shipping.

This is when you’ll make final arrangements for shipping, I&D and storage if they haven’t been made yet.

Small Booths

Smaller booths, such as modular, kit or pop-ups don’t follow the longer timeline that custom island booths demand. Many can be chosen from a catalog and ordered quickly once graphic files are completed and are often capable of being shipped in less than a month, and depending on the complexity of the booth, in just a week or two.

At the Show

You have a great booth! Set-up was flawless because your exhibit house furnished thorough and easy-to-follow instructions for the I&D team. Your job is to work the show, talk with visitors and generate new business!




“Tradeshow Success” Book Released

This week is the launch of my new book “Tradeshow Success: 14 Proven Steps to Take Your Tradeshow Marketing to the Next Level.” I’m doing a lot of the normal launch things an author would do: sending copies to industry media and bloggers, along with industry colleagues. Creating a list of clients and potential clients that I’d like to get the book into. And much more!

Beyond that, I’ve created a series of 14 videos, with each one relating to one of the chapters in the book. Those videos are appearing, about one a day, at my YouTube Tradeshow Marketing channel. Check ’em out!

So what can you do? If you want to purchase the paperback, here’s the page. You can also buy the Kindle version for about half the list price of the paperback.

You can also read the book for free here at You’ll be asked to opt-in to a mailing list (which, if you gotta, you can always unsubscribe from).

Book cover 3DV3 325 pix

What do you get in the book? As mentioned in the subtitle, I’ve detailed 14 steps that are critical to tradeshow success. Not every successful tradeshow marketer uses all of these steps with utmost efficiency, but most of them make very good use of many of the steps.
So what are the steps?

Let’s take a look at the 14 Steps:

  • Step One: Going with or without a Map? Are you doing enough planning and organizing around your tradeshows?
  • Step Two: Dollars, Pounds, Euros: How Much Do You Really Need to Make This Work? A breakdown of the budgeting process for tradeshows and what it takes to budget for a new exhibit.
  • Step Three: Getting Ready for the Big Dance: Pre-show planning and marketing.
  • Step Four: Did You Come to the Right Dance? Just make sure that your target market is at the show you’re going to dump all of that money into.
  • Step Five: Home is Where the Booth Is: Booth design essentials, including function, traffic flow, graphics and more.
  • Step Six: Is Your Frontline Team Up to Snuff? Booth staff training!
  • Step Seven: What Do I Do With All of These People in the Booth? Now that you’ve drawn a crowd, what do you do with them?
  • Step Eight: Tweeting, Posting and Instagramming Like a King or Queen: Putting social media to work for you in a creative way.
  • Step Nine: Who’s Keeping Track of Those Damn Tweets? Someone needs to create videos, blog posts, tweets, etc. Here’s a great look at some online content ideas.
  • Step Ten: Got a Stack of Leads: Now What? Lead generation and follow up.
  • Step Eleven: Becoming the Zen Master of Stats and Records: Record-keeping is the secret sauce to tracking your success.
  • Step Twelve: Stirring the Public Relations and Media Pot: Working with industry media.
  • Step Thirteen: Do QR Codes Still Kill Kittens? And Other Tech Questions: A quick examination of technology in tradeshows.
  • Step Fourteen: Out Of Your Nest: Time to Fly! Your call to action!

Want to grab your own copy? Use the links above to own your own. Or if you want the digital version (PDF download), try this:

Click Here to Get Your Digital Copy of My New Book

SoYoung Custom Booth Makes Debut at Expo East

One of our newest clients, SoYoung from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unveiled their new custom 10×10 booth to the public earlier this month at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, MD to great reviews.

“The show has been hopping and the booth is fantastic!” was the text I got from company owner Catherine Choi on day two of the show. She had a photographer come by to document the booth and products. Check out the gallery. And thanks to SoYoung – glad to have you as a new client!


Booth Babes: Again, Why?

Looking for booth babes? Hmmm...let's try another booth!
Looking for booth babes? Hmmm…let’s try another booth!

I’ve seen several writers and new sources chime in recently on the controversy of hiring models, aka ‘booth babes’ at tradeshows to attract attention.

Here the CBC looks at the continuing controversy.

Fortune Magazine covers a story where the RSA Conference, a top tech conference in San Francisco, has banned those scantily clad girls.

The Geek Feminism Wiki describes what exactly is a ‘booth babe.’

The Infotainer, Anders Boulanger goes into it in a couple of places on his blog, and nails it.

I don’t have much add, except for a few questions for the marketing geniuses who think that hiring an attractive scantily-clad model is going to bring in more leads and close more business.

First, do the models represent the essence of what your company is all about? Do they really show off what your company is all about? Unless you’re a company that rents dancing girls, probably not. Instead, the girls tell attendees that you really don’t have a specific product or service that is more important than, well, scantily clad girls. How do you explain that to clients?

Do the scantily-clad women attract potential buyers? Doubtful. More likely they’re an eye-candy distraction that will probably repel (read: embarrass) true buyers and draw in only those who are there for a quick gander, who will then also be embarrassed and quickly retreat because they’re intimidated.

Do your ‘booth babes’ help convert prospects to buyers? Again, in most cases: NO. Spencer Chen has done the math in detail here, which is a brilliant takedown of the idea that booth babes will help bring you more customers, but suffice it to say that someone hired strictly for their ability to draw in a specific type of male attendee probably won’t do you any good in getting a potential buyer to convert to a client.

Finally, in today’s world where ‘booth babes’ are already a controversy, why in the world would you court controversy when you’re trying to increase leads and close more accounts?


Are You Ready For A New Exhibit?

How do you know when it’s time for your company to invest in a new exhibit? While the answer will vary from company to company, there are a number of common factors that can help answer that question.

Is your current exhibit old? In the exhibit world, a tradeshow booth is old somewhere between 5-7 years. Now, that doesn’t mean you should automatically replace your booth as soon as it hits that age, or if it’s older. But an older exhibit is a sign that it might be time to consider upgrading. Of course, some companies use the same exhibit for decades. Yup, seen it happen.


What do your main competitors’ booths look like? If your company has stayed put while most of your main competitors have invested in new booth properties, it can make you look a little old and out of touch. In some industries, that’s the touch of death. In others, not so much.

Has your company’s exhibit needs changed significantly? One client I worked with found that their target market had matured to the point they were no longer needing to display so many products, but instead needed to assist those distributors with other things. That meant downsizing the booth to accommodate those needs. If you have new products or services that are not getting the notice they deserve, that may mean an upgrade is needed.

Has your company grown significantly? Some companies need a booth to match their market presence, which means a larger booth. It also means keeping up with the Joneses.

Is your current exhibit stretching your shipping budget because it’s very heavy to ship? Shipping and drayage for wooden crates and booths can eat up a significant portion of your tradeshow marketing budget. Unless heavier materials such as wood and metal define your company’s looks, it’s worth considering a lighter approach. Fabric graphics, aluminum frames and structures and the like can significantly cut your shipping costs for years to come. With fabric graphics that are easily changed for different exhibiting needs, a new lightweight booth may be just what the doctor ordered.

Beyond these items, you may have another reason to put a new company tradeshow booth into place in the near future. I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment!


Why Get a Charging Station for Your Booth?

Mel and Kevin of Classic Exhibits take some time to answer questions about the very popular charging stations. There are a lot of reasons to consider adding a charging station – and maybe you’ve thought of a few. But what about customization, set-up, packing and shipping and more? Check out this interview and then take a look at our online catalog selection of charging stations here.

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