A presence at a trade show is a huge investment. Besides admission and booth rent, there are travel costs, freight, booth displays, marketing collateral, entertainment costs, and the cost of being out of the office for  several days.  Of course you expect a decent return on investment for this trade show. The best way to do that is to find ways of attracting visitors to your trade show booth.

What do you do?

  1. Give them a reason to stop at your booth
  2. Give them a reason to remember you
  3. Get contact information and follow up

In this article, we talk about your “reason to stop by.”  We recommend sending an invitation to as many target prospects as possible before (and during) the show using several different methods.  We also recommend contests, games, product demos, educational sessions,  entertainment, and promotional pricing or packaging. Finding the right mix of these activities dep

Attracting visitors to your trade show booth

If your trade show booth looks like this ghost town, you are probably missing one of these five things!

ends on your target market, product, and budget. But it’s worth spending the time to have a great strategy.

The worst thing that can happen, after making the investment in a trade show appearance, is nothing.   (A sagebrush rolls by your lonely booth, while crickets sound in the distance.)

A high-traffic placement of your booth will ensure that at least some people walk by, but without inciting some curiosity or providing some reason to interact with you, your investment has been wasted.

1. Invitations

Sending an invitation seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked. Visitors to trade shows often prepare a list of booths they want to drop by even before they arrive.  You need to be on their list!

Send invitations to arrive at least a week prior to the event. Any later and you’ll find that some people are already traveling, particularly if they’ll be exhibiting themselves.

Your invitation could be as simple as the message  “We look forward to meeting you in person!”    But could also include information about any contests, educational sessions, entertainment or special promotions you may be having.

Besides your mailed invitations, extend invitations on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.  Use the event’s hashtag if there is one. (#SDC13 is the hashtag for the NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference in San Antonio this month!)   Trade Show visitors often have access to social media sites and set up alerts to stay informed of what’s happening during the show.

2. Contests and Games

“Stop by our booth and enter a drawing to win an iPad!” has been the stock trade show contest for the last several years. Of course people keep doing contests because they work.  At a minimum, you get more traffic at your booth and collect more leads from a contest.  But salespeople we’ve talked to that do the follow up after such contests find that people have little interest in the product or service other than to find out if they won the iPad or not.

It’s far better to have contests and games that are more tightly connected to your product or service. This helps prequalify leads and reduces the waste of time and expense of irrelevant prizes.  The following items make relevant prizes:

  • A free product or service.
  • Copies of a book on a topic closely related to your product or service (Especially if someone in your company has written one!)
  • A related accessory or similar product.
  • Training on an in-demand topic
  • A technology device pre-loaded with your specialized content. (We gave away a Nook preloaded with some of our Aviation Master Class materials. )

How should you give them away?

There are many options from simple raffles to scratch-off cards to random number generators.  Ideally, the mechanism you use generates interest and is transparent and fair.  Ideally, you can have live drawings on-site at your trade show booth to draw even more traffic and generate more interest.

3. Product Demos, Educational Sessions, and On-Site Consultations

Product demos, educational sessions and on-site consultations are ideal, because these events will only attract people who have a genuine interest in your product or service. And more educated prospects are more likely to make a purchase.

If you have a physical product that can be visually demonstrated, do it in the most visually dramatic way you can given the limitations of time, space and noise.   Limit product demos to five minutes or less, and do them on a regular schedule (perhaps every half hour) so that if people happen to walk by and catch the tail end, they’ll make plans to come back and see your demo in its entirety.

Lee Iacocca famously dropped raw eggs from a balcony to demonstrate safety padding on the dashboards of Chrysler cars.  You’ve undoubtedly seen demonstrations of kitchen gadgets on late-night TV.   While these can be obnoxious,  they are usually financially very successful and the principles they use are good to study.

If you sell a service, you may wish to create mini-seminars on topics of great interest to clients and perspective clients.   Provide handouts and a five to ten minute presentation with a couple of minutes for questions.  Schedule these sessions at regular intervals as well.

4. Entertainment

We all love to be entertained. We’ll stop to see a magician doing card tricks, to listen to a stand-up comedian, or  a quick-sketch artist drawing on a large easel.  An interesting, colorful video may also capture our interest from across the aisle.

Entertainment should be tightly linked to your product or service.   For example – the comedian could integrate key concepts of the benefit of your product or service into his routine.  The video should illustrate key concepts as well.

5. Special Promotions

In aviation, we have a notoriously slow sales cycle.  This makes return on investment for trade shows really difficult to calculate, since we may establish a relationship at a trade show that doesn’t result in a sale until months or years later.

One way to make your trade show appearance pay off more quickly and in a more measurable way is to provide a “trade show only” promotional package.  Create and distribute materials that offer a special price, or an added benefit for people who make a purchase within 30 days of the trade show, for example.  Be sure you include contact information, a special landing page on your website, and other supporting materials to make it easy for people to place an order and receive the promotional offer.


We see far too many boring trade show booths with far too few visitors.  If you’ve invested in presenting at a trade show, consider all of these steps and include several of them in your trade show strategy.

Download our free Trade Show Checklist!