1. Chairs in Presentation Theaters

Providing seating for your booth visitors may seem like a good idea, but there are times when this really doesn't serve you. Chairs can take up valuable booth space. In the same square footage that 8 chairs occupy, you can have 15 people standing.

Secondly, chairs tend to attract low energy individuals who are only interested in resting their aching feet. If your presentation is used to educate and filter prospective clients, you will not get very far with this crew. A tired body means a tired mind. You want to attract attendees who want to be at your booth during your presentation.

Empty chairs signify failure. Typically the bigger a booth, the emptier it looks. If you fill the space with chairs, it looks even worse.

I was working at the National Auto Dealers Association show in Orlando, and I walked into a 30’x50’ booth that was basically comprised or steel trusses and a small stage surrounded by 40 folding director’s chairs. The “booth host” was talking on the microphone, making his presentation to absolutely no one. It was such a sad sight because it looked so desperate. Nobody wants to be in an audience where there is nothing of perceived value being offered. Bottom line, empty chairs look like failure.

Empty chairs can also tempt your staff. It’s poor booth etiquette to be sitting while you are on booth duty. It gives the impression that your staff can’t be bothered to stand and talk to the booth visitors on their level. At the same time attendees look for the tiniest excuse not to talk to your staff. If someone is sitting they may feel that they “don’t want to disturb them.” Your staff’s feet ache just as much as the attendees. When they see an empty chair nearby, they can’t help but sit in it if only for a few seconds. The next thing you know you have your entire staff sitting and talking amongst themselves. This is not the image you want to portray to your potential clients.

2. High Concept/ Low Response

Over the last few years I have seen some very creative booth activities that may have seemed like a great idea in the planning stages, but on the trade show floor it’s a different story. One of the first sayings in marketing I ever learned was, “It’s more important to be clear than clever.” These companies forgot the K.I.S.S. principle, and in the end they experienced little to no results.

Let me explain some of the interesting attempts at generating interest and traffic at the booth:

Full-Body Suit Robot Dancers

I don’t even know if this one was a good idea in the boardroom. I saw this recently at a tech show. A couple times an hour four people would don full-body suits (like those in green screen filming) and dance like robots to loud music. There was absolutely no tie-in to the company or the product. With all that noise and energy being expended, the result was people looking for a second and then moving on. It didn’t engage them or even make them want to come closer to the booth.

Gradually Completed Art

I’ve seen this a number of times, and every time I can’t help but think that the person who signed off on this idea must be a real art enthusiast. The concept is that over the course of the trade show, the piece of art (on the booth or on the floor like chalk art) will be completed. It’s a neat idea, but the problem is that only the people who visit at the end of the last day can actually appreciate the end product. Through the majority of the show what you see is nothing but a work in progress. Watching someone paint is far from compelling. In fact it’s only slightly better than watching paint dry.

Skateboard Half Pipe

I saw this at a tech show a few years back. The entire 20’x20’ booth was comprised of a skateboard half pipe and a couple of banner stands. A few times a day hired skateboarders would take to the half pipe and perform some tricks. They tried to tie-in the half pipe by saying, “Drop into XYZ Company.” Some people watched, but it didn’t hold a crowd for very long. In fact some people didn’t want to get too close, especially after a skateboard flew out of the booth. From an R.O.I. standpoint, I know that this was a disaster—especially after hearing that the company hired Tony Hawk’s company to build the half pipe to the tune of $20,000!

Keeping to tried and true lead generation activities is recommended. To keep things fresh, try putting a new spin on a proven concept.

3. Neglecting the Sound

If you use presenters or entertainment, you can’t afford to have bad sound. If booth visitors can’t hear you, or the sound is so distorted that it’s annoying, then they will just move on. Poor quality sound can also result in complaints from your booth neighbors.

From my experience I find that the sound system is always an afterthought. Audio is one of the main senses we use to communicate with the world. Don’t neglect this mission critical detail. Provide a quality sound system that will allow you to communicate your company’s message in a clear and effective way. It’s not an area where you want to cheap out. Consult a professional and communicate your needs. The professional should be able to provide you with some suitable options.

4. Psychological Barriers

Trade show attendees are a fickle bunch. It doesn’t take much to prevent them from entering your booth. Eliminating all potential barriers between your prospects and your booth is critical. Many professionals in the industry are familiar with common barriers such as tables, chairs, large brochure racks, etc. One often overlooked barrier is far more subtle. This barrier works on the subconscious level.

Where the aisle meets the booth, carpet becomes a psychological barrier. When one sees the color change, an unconscious signal is sent out and people tend to line up right along the border of the booth.

Why does this happen? Maybe people don’t know they are doing it, or maybe they don’t want to get roped into something. Either way trade show attendees feel safer and more comfortable in the aisle.

The solution is to match the aisle color in your booth. Talk to show management and find out what color the aisles will be. Typically you see black or grey, and sometimes red. The black and grey are neutral colors and will match almost any booth. The red booth carpet may not work for your company, depending on the colors of your brand.

Once you have matched the aisle color, the lines blurs between what is your booth and what is the aisle. If you watch closely, you will find more people waltzing into your booth. You might witness people cutting across the booth corner. This all happens because people are now completely unaware of the boundaries.

Another side benefit is that your booth staff can now encroach on the aisle. Trade show management hates when you do this, but with the matching carpet it’s extremely difficult to tell if you are doing it. The perimeter of your booth is subtly expanded, and you are able to maximize your presence at the show.

5. Eye Level is Buy Level

Department stores know this. They strategically place the higher profit items at eye level. This is called merchandising. I’m surprised that this concept is not considered a best practice in the trade show marketing industry. I see it time and time again where presenters, monitors, and signage are not high enough to be seen by more than one person.

Trade shows enable companies to go where the prospects are. It’s integral that you capitalize on this situation and leverage your message to the best of your ability. Making your products, signage, and people as accessible and easy to spot is integral to maximum exposure.

The stages used for most trade show presenters are typically only 6-10 inches high. I’m only 5’9” so even with a 6-inch stage, there are probably still audience members who are taller than I. Put your people on display and get them up in the air. We tend to respect things that are above us (judges, parents, preachers). Tap into this principle and give your company representative more built-in respect.

6. Not Training Your Booth Staff

Your company’s booth staff has worked a lot of trade shows and they know what they are doing, right? Or so you think. I’m always amazed at how quickly people either forget, ignore, or are oblivious to exhibiting best practices that were just reviewed one hour before in the pre-show booth meeting.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that you can’t over train a salesperson. Though a lot of people would agree with me, very few companies train their booth staff. The world of trade shows offers a different kind of business environment. One has to be cognizant of the differences between your normal work day, and a day in your company’s booth. Every second the show floor is open, a dollar figure is attached to it. Your staff must be accountable to the sizable investment that you are making. That person your booth staffer just ignored could have been a million dollar sale.

Do your company a favor and train and re-train your booth staff. They are your boots on the ground, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be on their game when you are on the floor.