You’ve got a fantastic product or service, and you’re heading to a trade show to tell the world about it. How can you make sure attendees will listen? Or, even more importantly, engage with you after the show is over?

Trade show success requires efforts well beyond an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. There is an art to navigating a trade show successfully – before, during and after the event.

In the weeks leading up to the show, set measurable goals for the number of visitors, appointments and qualified leads you hope to attract. Then, develop your game plan for how to hit those numbers.

The trade show organizer should be promoting the show through print and/or online advertising and social media; leverage those efforts. Use your own organization’s website and social media accounts to promote the show as much as you can. And reach out personally to past trade show attendees and current, former and potential customers; explain to them why it’s worth their while to attend. (Note: Reaching out personally does not mean mass email, though promoting the event through an e-blast or e-newsletter as part of your overall promotional efforts is a good idea.)

When the big day arrives, wear comfortable shoes and focus on the following:


  • Hire for pep. It takes a lot more than a warm body to successfully staff a trade show booth. Your booth staff should be knowledgeable, of course, but they should also be extroverted and engaging. They are there to promote your organization, not to chat with each other, talk on cell phones or stare listlessly into space. Ask them to stay on their feet and to actively invite passersby (in a friendly, not pushy, manner) to explore the booth. Consider giving an incentive for the top lead-generator.


  • Serve food. It’s a simple truth: Nearly everyone likes a free snack. If you can offer some sort of interactive activity as well, you’ll keep your munching attendees around for even longer.


  • Be eye-catching. Your booth should catch attendees’ attention and peak their interest. Plenty of businesses specialize in trade show set-up. Make sure your booth design and features are related to what you do or sell.


  • Make it engaging. Product demonstrations will attract attendees. Look for ways to show what you do rather than just tell about it.


  • Capture information. Your job is to get leads, after all, so you’ll need to do more than pass out cookies and demo your product all day. Ideally, you’ll have two staff members so that one person is free during product demos, etc., to talk directly with visitors. A raffle is one way to vacuum up a bunch of leads, but those will be soft. The more you can talk with visitors, the more solid the leads will be.


  • Get to know your fellow vendors. Yes, even your competitors. Some of the other vendors could turn into leads; some might be willing to trade leads with you.


  • Schedule meetings at the show. Try to turn those visitors into appointments right at the show. If possible, make the appointments with company executives. Your booth might allow for such meetings; otherwise, find semi-private space elsewhere in the exhibit center. Once you’re one-on-one with a prospect, listen more than you speak, especially at first. Find out what your prospect’s needs are, and then share how you think you could help him or her.


Follow-up with all leads via personal email as soon as the show is over. Invite them to learn more about what you can offer. Remember, relationship building is the key to business success; trade shows can open the door to many relationship opportunities.