Lessons Learnt From A Trade Show Stand

I spent the weekend helping out the bro-in-law at a trade show. “Sounds like a bit of fun”, I thought. “How hard could it be?”

Yeah. About that. 


1 – Know Your Product. It’s very easy to pitch in and say you’ll help out, but customers will focus in with laser-like precision on your weak points. If, like me, you have done no prep, you will look like a stuttering moron within moments of the show opening it’s gates. This is even more likely to happen when your collegues, who do know what they’re talking about, have gone for a coffee. On that subject…

1a – Be Clear About Your Product – if you’re spending at least a part of time with every contact explaining what it is that you do, then maybe a banner or standee making that clear might be worthwhile. Although it does give you ample opportunity to practice the patter. 

2 – Know Your Place. The venue and organisers will promise you a prime pitch with a guaranteed amount of foot-fall and through traffic. These promises will hold a vague and disappointing relationship to the truth. If there is building work going at the venue, expect big changes to the arrangements. 

3 – Know Your Customers. It’ll take a while, but you should be able to parse out the time-wasters from the people with a genuine interest in the product. Although in that learning period you will lose at least one potential client when you can’t get rid of the wingnut who thinks you’re there for a nice long chat on an unrelated subject. Always be polite, though. You never know. 

4 – Know Your Neighbours. Don’t ignore people running stands around you. They are invaluable founts of support and, in my role as embedded blogger for the weekend, a prime source of decent copy. If nothing else, you can commiserate with each other about the customers, the venue, the lousy coffee or the weather. 

5 – Know Your Freebies. People come to trade shows to accumulate free stuff. They arrive in an acquisitive frame of mind, and if you can grab their attention with a brochure, a pen or something that makes them feel like they’ve got something for nothing then so much the better. We had sweeties and Green Directories on the desk, and if you were nice to us and seemed like a genuine contact, there were bags and t-shirts to be had. Don’t be thinking we’re handing out the expensive ski jackets, though. Have some sense of perspective. You can try them on, but don’t try it on. 

6 – Know Your Limits. Working on a stand at an event is surprisingly tiring. You’re on your feet all day with your game face on. It’s not done to tell a member of the public to FOAD, however much they might deserve it, and the simple effort of staying courteous can take its toll. Take plenty of breaks, stay hydrated, and be aware that the big night out you’ve planned after work could look increasingly unattractive when compared to a quiet cocktail in the hotel bar and early to bed. 

7 – Know Why You’re There. Trade shows are about awareness and contact gathering more than anything else. A big order at a show would be nice, but you shouldn’t bank on it. Sometimes it’ll take six months to be able to see whether taking a weekend off has actually converted into sales that make the effort worthwhile. For me, it was an experience in focussed live-blogging, and I took a lot away from my time on the stand. Whether mine hosts did has yet to be figured out. 


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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