How to stage successful exhibits

1. Quotable quote

Exhibitors should remember that the objective is to inveigle the footsore visitor:

  • to stop in front of the display;
  • to remain long enough to look at the material;
  • to be stimulated to immediate or future action'.

An exhibit to accomplish this must be something different that creates an action and promotes good humour while stimulating participation. The eye-catching, communicating exhibitor provides unusual, fresh ideas with a sense of showmanship.

Scott Cutlip & Allen Center, Effective Public Relations, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1971.

2. Here's an idea

'Here are some ‘quickie secrets of successful shows’:

Don’t sit. Don’t read. Don’t smoke. Don’t eat or drink in the exhibit. Don’t chew gum. Don’t ignore prospects. Don’t talk on the telephone. Don’t be a border guard. Don’t hand out literature to everyone. Don’t (over)talk to other booth personnel. Don’t cluster. Don’t underestimate prospects.

Be enthusiastic. Be carefully groomed. Use the prospect’s name. Know your competition. Keep moving in your booth. Be on time for your shift and be ready. Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t eat strange and exotic foods. Keep your exhibit clean.

Steve Miller, How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows, NTC Business Books, Lincolnwood, Illinois.

3. Don't forget

Select a good location:

  • Look for the traffic flow. It may be a good idea to be near an entrance or exit.
  • Don’t be afraid of your competitors at an exhibition. Good buyers will examine all of you and, if you have a tremendous advantage over your competitors, why not get close to them? It provides an opportunity to toot your own horn.
  • If you use gas or water, get near the source.
  • Get to know the show management. They’ll have a good feel for traffic flow and can help you select a location if you get in early.
  • Avoid dead ends; people just don’t like them.
  • Avoid food concession areas. The lines tend to back-up and you certainly don’t want them blocking your booth.
  • Watch for posts and columns located smack in the middle of your booth. Ask the show management for a floor plan.
  • Watch for level changes. You won’t want to work on a ramp during the whole show.
Steve Miller, How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows, NTC Business Books, Lincolnwood, Illinois.

4. Viewpoint

"Experienced exhibitors and attendees are aware that there is far more to trade show success than ‘just being there’."

William Mee, President, US Trade Show Bureau.

5. Staffing the stand

It's important for those people staffing an exhibit to be aware of the impact their behaviour can have on visitors to the stand. How many times, for example, have you been to an exhibit or trade show where the staff 'stand guard' on the edge of the stand almost daring you to enter? Equally off-putting are those who talk amongst themselves, all but ignoring any visitor. And then there are those who look bored - if they can't be interested on their company's products, then can they really expect anyone else to be?

6. The end is not the end.

It often happens. At the very time when companies should be able to reap the benefits of having staged a display or exhibit, far too many change down to a lower gear and turn their mind to other important things. There will undoubtedly be at least two or three important contacts and sales leads they should get in touch with after the exhibit, but they don't get around to it. Excuses vary but, according to Brian Salter and Naomi Langford-Wood in 'Successful Event Management', usually include variations on the following:

  • Lack of time - there is always a full in-tray awaiting you on your return and it is all too easy to find excuses for putting off the follow up.
  • Lack of resources - for some companies the number of leads acquired seems to come as a surprise; a lack of qualification of leads during the event itself only compounds the problem.
  • Lack of trust in the leads - usually as a direct result of the failure by stand staff to quality the leads.
  • Assuming that your leads will call you - and who do you think you are kidding? Meanwhile your competitors are chasing them up and leaving you way behind at the back of the queue.

The point that Salter and Langford-Wood make is always ensure that your leads are followed up quickly and tracked accurately. "The event does not stop when you strike the set and go home. It stops when you have followed up the leads, paid the bills, and had the post mortem."

7. How successful was your exhibit?

Although the criteria for evaluating success will be many and varied, it's important to assess if your display or exhibit was really worth the effort. Salter and Langford-Wood suggest that, among the questions you might ask would be these:

  • Were the objectives achieved in full or part?
  • Did the visitors leave feeling satisfied with the display?
  • Was the venue suitable?
  • Did the event end up within budget?
  • Was enough lead time allowed?
  • Were any deadlines missed? If so, why?
  • Was the administration effective and efficient?
  • Did you get your core message put across?

File your responses. They'll come in handy in preparing for the next event.

8. The old and the new

William Mee, President of the US Trade Show Bureau appreciates that experienced exhibitors and attendees are aware that there is far more to trade show success than 'just being there'. "But there are many 'old hands' still working the circuit who remember when trade show participants were more concerned with having a good time than they were with recognizing the opportunity for focused marketing and a chance to learn more about their business."

"Trade show marketing," he says, "has changed noticeably in the last twenty-five years as a result of the rising cost of business-to-business selling, the remarkable increase in the number of expositions being held, and the expansion of exhibition facilities, which has led to a new appreciation of the medium as an effective marketing tool."