3 Trade Show Secrets to Make Your Exhibit a Success

A Good-Looking Trade Show Exhibit Isn't Enough

••• Image (c) George Doyle / Getty Images

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. It's a saying so true that it has become cliché—a phrase used by suit salesmen and purveyors of shampoo—but it's a saying that should serve as a motto for your trade show booth staff.

A trade show is a non-stop series of beginnings. Every moment—from the second the doors open until they blink the lights signaling the end of the day—is a moment where you could be meeting customers for the very first time.

If all goes well, these crucial first moments will launch a mutually profitable relationship that will last for years. On the other hand, if the impression you create is not so positive, you've kissed a lifetime's worth of business goodbye.

Beginning well means you're half done. Once you've established a rapport with the client, once that positive foundation has been laid, the hard work of negotiating a deal and closing a sale becomes so much easier. Here's what you need to know to create a favorable first impression time and time again, over the long hours and days that you'll be at the trade show, three trade show secrets that will help make your exhibit a resounding success.

What's for Sale Here?

Your company might make computers or luxury automobiles. You might sell scrub brushes. You could retail the finest gems found on the Indian sub-continent. It doesn't really matter. When you're at a trade show, what you're selling is you.

Today's buyers are nervous. Some have been through the dot-com bubble. They've may have seen Enron blow up, the 2008 market crash, and corporate scandal follow corporate scandal. Yet they still have to do business. How do they know who they can trust?

There will always be a due-diligence component to business, but a surprising amount of decisions are made by people "trusting their guts". During those crucial first minutes where you're checking out the attendee, they're checking you out. They are, perhaps unconsciously, assessing what they perceive as your intentions and motivations. Few people believe that they can get a good deal from someone they do not believe to be a good person.

Trade Show Secret: People have to 'buy' you before they can buy your products.

Can You Hear What I'm Saying?

Non-verbal communication plays a huge role in creating first impressions. Attendees are constantly watching. If your body language conveys the fact that you don't want to be at the show, would prefer not to engage with attendees, or are just going through the motions, they'll pick up on that and go elsewhere. See Why "Blink" Matters: The Power of First Impressions.

Standing at the corner of your trade show exhibit with your arms folded tells attendees "Stay away! I'm on guard." Sitting down, flipping through a magazine, or chatting with colleagues says "I've got better things to do." All together, it means "You're not important to me," even if you ask the attendees what you can do for them today.

Trade Show Secret: People won't come in if your body language says "Go away!"

The Wall of Noise

You have to approach attendees, engage them, welcome them into your booths. Unfortunately, many staffers take this to mean that they must offer up a constant stream of conversation, from the welcoming hello to the assurances that "We'll be in touch!" as the attendee hurries to a calmer, quieter trade show exhibit.

Talking is important, but listening is more so. Shift the focus from your own sales spiel to actually listening to the customer and you'll find your results immediately improve. Ask attendees questions, and listen to their answers. Give them your full attention. Hear what they're saying and offer appropriate responses. (See The Art of Conversation Includes Listening.)

The fact that you're focused on the attendee, wholly engaged with them, and committed, however briefly, to solving their problems, is one of the easiest, most effective ways to create a positive first impression. It sets a good precedent, establishing how you will do business with this client further down the road. You're laying the foundation for that positive, profitable relationship.

Trade Show Secret: Focus on the attendee for maximum results.

3 Trade Show Secrets = 3 Keys to Success

These three secrets will stand you well in the trade show environment. Remember that to begin new relationships, you must first create a positive impression. Being mindful of the fact that people need to trust you before they do business with you, avoiding off-putting body language, and listening more than you talk will help you do exactly that. And then you'll be well begun—more than half done, well on the road to starting a new profitable relationship.

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