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Home / Tradeshows / It's Show Time
It's Show Time

Entire books have been written on making every minute and every contact count. Here is the condensed version, the best of the best on how to act, and what to say, and most important what not to do. You must have the attitude of "We are eager to do business." The trade show can plan a unique role in leading a prospective buyer from mild interest to the decisive act of placing an order. It can make a significant contribution to shorten the decision making process.

Make sure everyone on your exhibit team understands your objectives, goals, policies, procedures and the differences between field sales, public relations and exhibit sales. We all have five senses: touching, hearing, tasting, smelling and seeing. Ask yourself and your team to come up with specific objectives for each category. Then test individually for each sense. Here is a simple example: what could you put in your booth that would make everyone feel good because it smells pleasant? (Hint: try scented oil on light bulbs.)

Everybody who visits your exhibit will have a predominant submodality that governs how he/she relates to your exhibit. If your exhibit can trigger them in a positive way, you are way ahead of the competition in making an impression and establishing rapport.

There is a sixth sense I need to mention. It is the sense of intuition. How will people respond in their heart, and their gut when they experience your exhibits? And there is a seventh sense, it's your sense of humor. How you choose to look at things in life, your attitude and outlook at the moment, determines the response. People appreciate a good sense of humor and like to do business with people who make them feel good.

There is also an eighth sense that isn't mentioned enough - It's basic "common sense". Just do the right thing.

Take the time to get to know your exhibit neighbors well. Know their names, products and services. A little friendliness will go a long way. Introduce qualified prospects to the neighbors who will do the same for you.

In the first paragraph I stated "how to act." Can you remember a time when you were at a show and people in an exhibit were dressed oddly, talking loudly or acting inappropriately? Enough said. Many studies have proven that how you look and act will influence the first impression long before you say a word. Often people will approach your exhibit and form an opinion based on what they experience before you have verbal contact with them.

You can design the hottest exhibits and the most exciting product, but if you don't initiate interaction and establish rapport with attendees, then it is all for nothing.

Your team must take responsibility for breaking the ice. Many people attending shows have gotten ignored or approached aggressively by people working the show.

Here are some basic tips on how to read the prospect. I'll keep it simple and break them down into two types: 1) They talk to you, 2) You talk to them. Your opening statement should be non-threatening and non-business related. Say something polite to get their attention, and always be sincere. Here are three proven ideas that work: read their name badge, mention their organization, always say something positive. This is where it helps to do research by reading the Wall Street Journal, local papers and industry magazines.

Comment on the show or location always being positive. Asking "How are you today" is the question asked the most by non-pros working the show. Attendees get asked this question often and get tired of answering it. If they are having a fair day, you'll get a fair to poor response; or worse, if they are having a bad day, you could get an earful. Asking about the weather is another loose statement that may leave you open to undesirable reactions.


Be different by saying, "Finding everything you are looking for?" Or "How do you like the show so far?" The best question to ask is "Thanks for visiting. What prompted your interest in our exhibit?"Your ability to anticipate the questions (all kinds of questions) plus train your trade show team on the proper answers, will increase your ROI for the show dramatically! Go back and read this statement again, this is fact. These answers need to be written and rehearsed and included as part of the pre-show planning and training phase. Too often I have had people at shows admit to me "By the end of the show I was getting the pitch down."
Your answer to the first question is the most critical. It will determine if you qualify the customer, make a good impression and inspire more interaction with the attendee. For many years I have tested this fact. Here are my findings: When I ask an exhibitor upon approaching his/her booth, "What do you do?" The responses are usually weak, and sometimes pathetic. Answers such as "I work here". "I sell this stuff." "I'm supposed to stand here and look good." "We knock your socks off." "I am the sales rep for this company, but I'm looking for a move up so I don't have to work these shows. Do you know anybody hiring?" The list goes on and on. The answer to the first question needs to be what I describe as the "Aha" answer.

This is a complete statement that defines what you and your organization do for clients/customers. It could be a features, benefit and solution statement. It could be the mission statement. It could be a third party testimonial from a satisfied client/customer. Example: "Our clients/customers say we offer the finest service, and value in our (industry, vertical market, location) and we guarantee (results, solutions, happiness). That's why over 90 percent of our business is repeat business." The sole purpose of the opening question and answer is to get the "Aha" response from the attendee. You can tell if it works by watching if eyes widen, the head shakes, the jaw drops, and you see a smile that says "Aha" or "Wow how do you do that?"

Phase Two, the qualifying process:

The average show encounter lasts 30 seconds to 5 minutes. If your goal is to find and define qualified prospects (who have purchasing authority) then your team will need to develop a series of questions to carry the conversation and determine the needs and wants of the attendee. You have five objectives here:

  1. establish rapport quickly
  2. qualify the prospect, get the correct information (write it down)
  3. do it in a timely manner
  4. agree on the next action step
  5. disengage politely and move on to the next attendee
If you, or your team members, are discussing matters beyond the purpose for exhibiting at the show, remember that qualified attendees are walking right by your exhibit on their way to your competition.

Here are some more tips for keeping the conversation flowing.

Ask questions like a media reporter. Commit to having great listening skills. Maintain enough eye contact to be comfortable. Ask open-ended questions. Here is a sample of good, time proven questions.

  • What is important to you about that?
  • I would like to know more about that?
  • Does that work well?
  • Does that work to your satisfaction?
  • Does it get your job done?
  • That's interesting, could you tell me more?
  • How does that work?
  • Why does that happen?
  • That's fascinating. Does it work all the time?
  • (I love this one, it's magic). If you could wave a magic wand over the (project, object, product) what would make it work for you?
Demonstrating great communication skills and being prepared with outstanding listening skills, superb questions and definitive answers is important. Plus, you must be prepared for any and all objections that come your way.

Speaking of magic, people are fascinated with magic. It is great for drawing people into your booth, and making them intrigued about your organization.

One of the masters of tradeshows, asked me to share this with you. "In your pre-show preparation, you should define your goals objectives and time lines to create, develop, rehearse and refine your entire show. Make sure your theme fits the event, make sure the choice of clothing is comfortable, functional, and unique. Wear good shoes. And make it fun."

Here is a great suggestion. "A great way to stay focused and keep your team organized is to create a lead form that is small, and right to the point."


A special note here, if your organization's goals are to generate sales leads and you are measuring the degree of qualification of a client/customer, use a lead sheet that has a list of specific questions with a follow-up action plan to capitalize on this interest. It works best if team members fill out the questionnaires. However, if you are really busy, be sure the questionnaire is customer friendly, simple, clear and easy to fill out on their own. It is a big time saver if you attach the business card to the questionnaire/lead sheet.

Here are several suggestions that you will find useful to qualify the attendee.

  • What products are they using now?
  • Are they satisfied?
  • Do they have a need?
  • How important is it?
  • Do they agree they have a need?
  • Do they have buying authority?
  • What is their buying time frame?
  • Do they have problems? What are they?
  • Is your product a solution for them?
Be a professional: Do it right and treat all attendees like they will give you business, or refer business to you. Be sure not to overlook this fact. Virtually everyone knows somebody who may want or need your service or product.

List of things not to do:

  • Party too much in the evenings
  • Eat in the booth or chew gum
  • Use too much perfume or wear bad shoes
  • Spend too much time with people who will not contribute to your goal (non-qualified buyers)
Never blow an attendee off because he/she doesn't qualify, the person may get a position in the future and need you and/or become an incredible referral source for you.

In summary, demonstrating at a show is very challenging. People do business with people they like and trust! Open the conversation, establish rapport, qualify the prospect and close to the next action step. Remember to get enough rest, be in a good mood, (fake it till you make it if you have to), take breaks and treat your exhibit neighbors well.

Always convey the right impression both verbally and non-verbally throughout your interaction. If you are doing demonstrations, know your equipment and practice your demo so you can do it perfectly every single time. Leverage what you accomplish during the demo and/or Q & A interaction and stimulate interest in your organization using all seven senses. Good first impressions and establishing trust and rapport with your prospects are the most important things to do.

[ budget | pre-production | it's show time | post show action plan ]


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