First time going to a trade show

First Time Going to a Trade Show? Here’s What You Should Know

It’s no small thing to represent your company on a show floor that is full of potential clients looking for their next big partnership. Being nervous and curious about what to expect is perfectly normal.

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Is your company sending you to a trade show for the first time?  

Are you curious about what you should expect?  

Are you at all nervous about how you might perform as a booth staff member?  

First, let me say congratulations. It’s no small thing to represent your company on a show floor that is full of potential clients looking for their next big partnership. Being nervous and curious about what to expect is perfectly normal.

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Second, keep in mind that it is not uncommon for companies to send employees who are not in sales to trade shows. Plenty of engineers and experts attend shows precisely because of their knowledge of the products, not because of their sales ability. In some cases, not being in sales can help.  

Here are a few reasons (other than selling) that your company might be sending you to a trade show: 

  • You might be there to perform demos  
  • Explain product specs or processes in depth 
  • Expand your knowledge by attending education sessions  
  • Research possible vendors to partner with  
  • Network with other professionals to find new ideas

Of course, you could also be going to sell. But the point is to ask your supervisor about what they expect from you at the show.  

Here are a few things you should know to prepare in becoming a booth staff.  

Not All Trade Shows Are the Same

Trade shows can be exciting. If you’re an extrovert, traveling to a new city for the purpose of meeting strangers might sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, it’s not always the case that a trade show is going to be outside your city or as simple as waiting for people to walk up to your booth for a talk. 

Every industry show has its own unique style. For example, at Saas (Software as a Service) conferences like SaaStr, a lot of the real networking happens at sponsored post-show parties and events. At defense trade shows, generals are the superstars, and hierarchy matters, especially when approaching attendees on the show floor.   

The first thing to do is to research the industry show where your company is exhibiting. Not all trade shows are the same.  

Be Professional, But Also Have Fun


Believe it or not, but some people use trade shows as an excuse to travel. Don’t be that guy. Yes, it can be exciting to hop on a plane, travel, and network—especially for your first time. But always remember that sightseeing and partying are not the primary reasons you are there.

At the same time, a lot of networking and teambuilding happens over drinks after the event. Having fun is important, too. If you are selling at a show—and if you’re selling high-priced items that require a continued partnership—it’s key to remember that people buy from people they like or with people they share a connection.  

Having fun can be essential for building rapport.  

Know Your Stuff

Seriously. Knowing your company’s product in and out is a necessity. If it’s your first time attending a show, don’t be surprised when you see other companies selling products similar to yours. Knowing your stuff is critical for demonstrating your company’s Unique Value Proposition (UVP) and showing how you’re different.  

Before going to a show, it might be a good idea to look at the floor plan to see who is in the booth spaces across from you, next to you, and do some research on them.

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Know Thyself

It’s a good idea to know a few things about yourself and how you interact with strangers before going. Do you come across as intense? Nervous? Goofy? Approachable? 

If you’re an introvert, expect to be outside your comfort zone. Let other team members know so they can support you and offer advice. Ask coworkers how you come across and what you can do to improve the first impression.  

Most of the time, first impressions come down to smiling, eye contact, good posture, and a killer icebreaker.  

Be Ready with Good Questions

The key to being a good booth staff member (and getting invited back) is standing on the booth’s outer edge. Don’t sit behind the counter on your phone. Don’t stand inside the booth talking with other staff members. Be proactive.

As attendees walk by, be ready to step out and ask them questions like “What are you looking for at this year’s show?” The answer to this question usually lets you know if the attendee is part of your target audience or not. If they are, having another set of questions at the ready is very handy.  

Listening is an underrated skill. In general, it’s best to let the attendees do most of the talking while you direct the conversation with questions.  

Bring Comfy Shoes

In the last newsletter we talked about what you should wear at trade shows. For most shows, business casual is acceptable. At other shows, more formal attire is required. Still others, a T-shirt will suffice. But one thing remains constant: Wear. Comfy. Shoes.  

Please, Please, PLEASE Remember to Follow Up

After a couple of days of meeting strangers, starting relationships, and team building, it’s easy to have the mentality of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But this should not be the case. The most productive work starts once the show has ended with following up with emails, calls, and notecards. 

Know that the most critical work you do will occur after the show.   

Thank the Trade Show Coordinator or Marketing Director

Coordinating a company’s trade show program can be a headache. There are so many moving pieces over a long period of time, from reserving strategic booth space, designing an eye-catching exhibit, ensuring the exhibit arrives and everything is in place, booking all the flights, hotels, and dinner reservations, and doing all of this within a limited budget.

Managing a trade show is too often a thankless job. Be sure to find the director and express your gratitude for their hard work.  

What Would You Add to the List?

If you’re an experienced trade show veteran, what advice would you give to someone going to work a trade show booth for the first time?

The Trade Group is a full-service trade show and event marketing company. We will work with you to create an exhibit or an event that brings in leads and helps you achieve your business goals. Contact us here or give us a call at 972-734-8585.

Photo credit: Unsplash

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