Secret of Success at Tradeshows: Plan a Winning Strategy and Stick to It

Ready to succeed at tradeshows? Having a clear plan can amp up the return you get on the time and money you invest.

Understanding how to win as an exhibitor and as an attendee is critical to getting the most out of any tradeshow. And, both roles are ultimately about making and collecting contacts.

First and most important—planning and preparation. Before hitting the show floor, find out who will be there and decide who you are going to meet. Don’t overlook social gatherings and speaker presentations. Both are great venues for making new contacts. Meeting other exhibitors, including your com- petition, can eventually yield benefits.

Tradeshows can be chaotic. You must have a plan of action so you make the most, and the most important, contacts.

If you do plan to exhibit, you’ll incur some costs to create a booth and to rent floor space. Some companies may be inclined to try to cut corners here. This is generally not advisable. You need to break through tradeshow noise and make your booth inviting to most people. You also want to frame your business and message in high-impact, memorable style.

You’ll want people to come into your booth and engage. So running a table across the front of your show space, for ex- ample, probably isn’t the best idea. Give them a reason to step inside and meet you. A video or interactive display can be effective. Be warm, welcoming, and friendly.

Behaviour in the booth also makes a difference. Here are a few tips.

  • Prepare three to six engaging questions before the show •Ask open-ended questions beginning with who, what, where, when, why, or how
  • Relate questions to your industry, product/service, and its benefits, or to a specific situation
  • Avoid trite questions, such as: “Can I help you?”; “How are you doing today?”; “Are you enjoying the show?” • Smile
  • Always stand facing the aisle
  • No food or drink in the booth
  • Avoid standing in groups; this can discourage visitors

Positioning can also contribute to success. Main aisles, en- trances (without being too close to the entrance), ends of rows, and corner spaces to attract traffic from intersecting aisles are all highly-desirable locations. Also, seek out loca- tions two or three booths up the main entrance aisle. Being close to seminar locations and food services works, too.

If possible, get on the speaker list. Being a presenter at a seminar reinforces your expertise and can stimulate booth visits and introductions.

As an exhibitor/attendee or simply as an attendee, your main goal should be to make friends. You’ve done your preparation and targeted the people you want to meet; now is the time to put your best foot forward and meet them.

According to Scott Ginsberg, author, speaker, and the creator of, an online training network that teaches approachability, you “should see other people as an opportunity to make friends, to deliver value, to learn something. If they are an opportunity to sell, to get a referral, or to give a business card to, that’s not the right attitude. I think you need to position yourself as a resource. I’m a firm believer in physically bringing something to give to people.”

It’s not about logo-bearing erasers and water bottles. Gins- berg is talking about a copy of an article you wrote or clipped out, a list of your favourite books, or something that’s relevant to the event—something of real value.

Be social. Attending social functions, receptions, dinners, and the like can be one of the best ways to make new friends. These days, being social also means using social media. Post to your social media accounts from the show floor, or even live stream Facebook video if you can, using the show’s official hashtags.

Follow Up Follow Up Follow Up
Why spend the time and money at a tradeshow if you don’t have a plan to follow up with your contacts? Ginsberg has a few tips to make follow up more productive.

He points out that follow-up is not about saying, “Hey, it was nice to meet you; now we can do business together.” The key is to give value and not expect anything in return. Demonstrate you listened to the person you’re following up with. Send them an email saying it was nice to meet them and reference the conversation you had at the event. Then, offer a link or a resource, as opposed to saying, “Hey, now you can refer me,” he says.

The point of networking is to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships, Ginsberg says, so be patient. Don’t expect results right away. “We live in such a fast-paced, ADD, instant gratification, hyper-speed culture that we think ‘if I went to a networking event on Monday I’m going to get a referral on Tuesday.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Find out if the people you’ve met would be interested in receiving your newsletter or if they’d like to check out your blog. You could do this at the event or in follow-up. Providing the link to your blog from your email signature is one way to subtly let them know you have one.

Or you could email a reference to a blog post that is relevant to the person you’re sending it to. But, instead of saying, “I think you might be interested in,” try using them in an actual blog post. For example, after a speaking gig in South Dakota, Ginsberg went to a Mexican restaurant with a client and some friends. He blogged about the restaurant and included his client in the blog. Then he emailed the post to his client. “Because she was part of the story, she ended up emailing it to people she knows,” Ginsberg says.

Follow-up efforts can be leveraged. Take advantage of any of the great contact management applications available to help organize and keep in touch with your contacts.

If you’re well-organized, make new friends, and follow up after the show, your efforts will be rewarded in the end.