What are the Worst “Seemingly Trivial” Trade Show Booth Mistakes?

You’ve planned for this trade show all year. You got an awesome trade show booth prepared, lots of brochures and business cards to hand out, and promoters are promising a stellar turnout for the event. What could stand in your way of banking tons of new business? As it turns out, some simple mistakes can cost you tremendously when it comes to the success of your business.

1. Blocking Your Workers and Booth With a Table

It may seem to only make sense that you’d offer your booth workers a table and chairs to sit comfortably, where visitors can pick through your brochures, grab some freebies, and put their business cards in a fish bowl.blocking your workers and booth with a table. image via flicr by thinkgeoenergy

As it turns out, this is the least effective trade show booth setup you can possibly configure. A table is a physical barrier between you and your visitors. Furthermore, workers seated at a table become lazy, not even bothering to stand up and engage prospective customers in conversation.

Instead, move the table to the side or back of the exhibition stand to display your goodies, and have workers standing, actively ready to greet passers-by. This is an open configuration, welcoming to people who are curious to see what you are about, and interesting to people who don’t even know they’re interested yet. Why put up barriers when you can clear the way and welcome people in? Leave the front of your trade show booth open and have workers standing ready for action.

Also, your displays might be communicating the wrong message, so keep an eye on the things you don’t want to see in your displays.

2. Lacking a Clear Goal

Too many businesses set up booths in a trade show with no clear-cut, well-defined reason for being there. “We want more customers,” is not a clear-cut goal. Define your goals for this showin a concrete way, such as:

  • We’re seeking to connect with at least 50 new people interested in our products or services.
  • We’re going to present our offerings to at least 100 prospective clients.
  • We need to collect 100 new leads for our sales force to contact.
  • We want to present our interesting new products or services to 75 new people.

It’s simple to figure out whether you’ve met these goals, and you have something to strive for in the process of getting there. Also, a goal helps you develop a purpose for everything else you do, including your trade show booth design, information acquisition, the people you send to work the booth, and how you develop your presentation. Defining your goal comes first, developing your other plans should follow your defined goal.

3. Ignoring Light Traffic

nimlok hybrid island trade show booth and hanging banner

Nimlok island trade show booth and hanging banner system featuring open traffic flow and private conference areas.

Trade show booth attendants often become disappointed and bored during light crowds. Then they become complacent and quit even trying to engage people in conversation or offer them the presentation. Instead, look at lulls in the crowd as golden opportunities to reach out to people one on one when there are fewer distractions.

If you’re swamped by 15 or 20 visitors to your trade show booth, it’s hard to concentrate on conversations with any one person. But discussing your products or services is much simpler with fewer folks around.

Stay fresh between the morning and afternoon crowds, even if it means sending in reinforcement workers for your tired staff. Greet latecomers and dwindlers with as much enthusiasm and welcoming cheer as the first people who came in.

Lots of managers and high-level decision makers come to shows later in the afternoon or evening, after taking care of the day’s meetings and phone calls. Don’t assume the later visitors to your exhibition stand are less important or any less interested than the early morning traffic – in fact, often it is quite the opposite, with early morning visitors on a tight schedule, while afternoon visitors aren’t usually in a rush to get to the airport.

4. Missing Out on Networking Opportunities

Trade shows aren’t just about meeting new prospective customers and promoting your products, they’re also about gathering industry professionals together. What products or services are the trade show booths next to you offering that might be of benefit to you or your customers?

Does your neighbor know industry news or information that could benefit your business? Perhaps she knows someone looking for a job with skills you desperately need. Socialize with your fellow trade show exhibitors. They’re not just the competition, they’re industry insiders.

HAI trade show with a broad range of unique trade show booth designs

5. Sending the Wrong Employees to Work the Booth

During the trade show, the workers at your trade show booth are the face and voice of your company. And everyone knows, first impressions are critical. What impression do you want to leave people with?

Energetic, motivated workers, who know your products in and out, will make excellent impressions on the show’s visitors, as well as your fellow industry professionals around the booth.

Employees who aren’t motivated, lack the interpersonal skills to explain your products or services, and aren’t interested in promoting the company are a poor fit. No matter how badly you need workers for your display stand, don’t sacrifice your image with a lazy choice.

6. Overwhelming Visitors With Papers

At the end of the show, everyone who attends is going home with a bag (or two, or three) of papers, brochures, business cards, and other assorted paperwork. They can’t remember how many trade show booths they visited, or how many information cards they filled out, let alone who took the information.

By then, they’ve already asked the questions they came to learn about, and likely have already decided which businesses they’re interested in and which they aren’t. Having a stack of your pretty, expensive brochures or one of your fancy color business cards isn’t going to change their minds.

Instead of arriving to the trade show armed with papers to hand out and papers to get visitors to fill out, come with a good presentation. Papers end up in the hotel room garbage, but a good presentation lives on with prospective clients and the new clients you accumulated through hard work and good communication.

If you need to make your presentation visual or offer them something to read to keep them lingering, put the money into a few laptops where they can view well designed, well written content. Offer them digital copies of your presentations.

Have them fill out a simple form on the laptop so the information is stored digitally instead of on paper, and then send them an email confirmation right then, from the laptop. At the very least, use a business card scanner to quickly store their information and stay focused on the conversation, not paperwork.


Are you making these trade show mistakes? Did I leave out any other bad ones? Any funny stories to share? Don’t be shy!

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