11 Blunt Tips for Maximising Tradeshows [from someone who’s attending over 500]

by | Jun 6, 2016 | Business Advice, Growth, Make More Sales, SMEs

One of my coolest, and arguably hardest, jobs ever is working trade shows. Planning events, exhibiting, working booths and “modelling” (let’s use that term very, very loosely) – I’ve paid my dues and learned a few [or eleven] tips for maximising tradeshows.

Thanks to it’s location it obviously ticks the boxes of getting your employees excited for your annual conference. OCCC doesn’t just host corporate events, though. The million square foot+ space holds thousands of meetings and events. Some are pretty cool (Surf Expo is essentially a collection of very tan and attractive people hanging out), some are really interesting (McDonalds global Expo for their store owners was way cooler than I expected), some are painfully boring (the annual truckers conference was surprisingly boring.)

Tradeshows shouldn’t shut your office down, download our Free Mobility Planner to learn how to use diverts to keep your business running smoothly. 

During my years as a concierge, I walked the floor at an average of 2.5 shows a day. To save up for moving to the UK to study at the London School of Marketing, I was a booth model at 50+ events. When Murray and I launched Sciam [now Red Meters] we spent a year travelling to mining and dredging conferences all over the world. Just trust me when I say I know about trade shows, okay.

Lord Sebastion Coe visiting our booth at a London 2012 promotional quarter of a retail expo at the NEC Birmingham.

I’m feeling friendly this morning, so here’s a condensed version of everything I’ve learned into 11 Tips for Maximising Tradeshows:


Want to make money off of a trade show? Don’t exhibit.

Instead of exhibiting at the same events as your competitors, find the events your target market will be exhibiting at and visit them there. They will be bored out of their minds and desperate for someone to talk to who isn’t just asking for a free USB stick.
deals are not done on the trade show floor. Deals are done over drinks at pre-event dinners and kick off parties. The cheapest and most effective way of making sales at a trade show is to host an unofficial event launch party at a nearby bar/restaurant with free drinks. You’ll close more deals that night than all of the fools that paid to exhibit combined.

Exhibiting is an exercise in branding, not sales. Exhibiting at a trade show will bring you brand awareness and some connections that could turn into sales. This is why sending a sales person is the wrong choice. They don’t want to meet and greet, they want to sell.

You need highly charismatic people on your booth who are prepared to smile at a million people and hear the same lame jokes over and over again. If that isn’t you or your sales team, hire someone. (Search Gumtree / Craigslist.) I can’t tell you how often I see people sitting in the back of their booth on their phone.

Instead of having them sit there, arrange for appointments before the show. If a prospect comes by the booth, you can book a slot with the sales person’s time. Believe me this is a much stronger first impression than coming by the booth and being bombarded by a sales person right away.

You don’t need a fancy meeting space for sales slots. There’s always coffee / breakout areas.

Drop your card to win an iPad still works.

Marketing should start MONTHS before the event. The objective is to book sales slots. Offering an assessment or evaluating will get a lot more mileage than “meet with our sales team.” Most even organisers will sell you the attendee list from last year. Exhibitors are posted on the site – make sure to check if there’s any sales or cross-selling opportunities there!

The most effective thing to get people to your booth? Coffee machine. Get some branded cups and plug in your Nespresso.

Most underrated marketing space? The back of toilet stall doors. Print off a couple dozen flyers with “free coffee at stand __” and stick them behind the door of each bathroom stall. Visitors guaranteed.


Your turn. What’s the best gimmick you’ve ever seen at a tradeshow?