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The Ten Commandments for
Trade Show Booth Staffing Success

Trade shows are all about the opportunity for concentrated face-to-face, human-interaction marketing, which means your trade show staff (the human-interaction element of your trade show booth) is arguably the most important element of your overall trade show exhibit. Having a well-trained, thoroughly prepared trade show booth staff is critical for whether your trade show experience will be a resounding success or a colossal failure. Whether you have a staff of one (yourself) or a staff of many, follow these 10 commandments for trade show booth staffing success.

I. UNDERSTAND YOUR JOB.  Your trade show display and your trade show staff are both vital for your exhibiting success, and it is crucial you understand that your display and your staff have very different jobs! Your trade show display design needs to catch the attention of nearby attendees, it needs to quickly communicate why attendees should visit your booth, and it need to draw prospects in. Your display's job in a nutshell is to bring prospects to your booth. Then your staff takes over. Your trade show staff then need to engage and interact with prospects, learn what the prospect needs, and explain how your company can meet that need. Your display should not be overly wordy and should not try to explain everything you do (that's your staff's job). At the same time, your staff shouldn't be heckling people as they walk by, trying to pester and cajole them into stopping at your booth (your display's job is to make people want to visit your booth). Understand the critical difference between what your display should do, and what your staff then does.

II. KNOW WHY YOU'RE AT THE SHOW AND WHAT YOUR GOAL IS.  Before you prepare your staff, you have to determine why your company is exhibiting at the show. What are you trying to accomplish and what is your goal? Are you introducing a new product, and do you want to generate x number of leads? You also need to determine who your target audience is, and who your prospects are. Your staff needs to clearly know and understand what your trade show goal is and who your prospects are.

III. KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.  Your staff needs to be thoroughly trained and be able to competently answer and explain any standard questions about your company, product, or service. Nothing is worse than a prospect hearing "I don't know" to a question a knowledgeable staffer should and would know. And if a staffer does have to answer "I don't know", it should be "I'm not sure but I'm going to get you an answer right now" (and have a way of getting the answer). It's important to have friendly, outgoing people staffing your booth (another commandment coming up below), but your staff also must be completely knowledgeable about your product or service!

IV. LOOK AND BE PROFESSIONAL.  It's better to overdress than under dress. Looking professional trumps casual comfort. Prospects will form their first impression of you based on how you look and act. Tattoos and tongue-studs are a bad idea. Along with looking professional, don't forget to have any easy-to-read name tag with your name, position, and company. Greet people with a smile, a firm hand shake, and look them in the eye. Ask their name, repeat it by saying "Nice to meet you, Mr. Peterson", and then remember it and use it. People appreciate being addressed by their name. When you're done talking, thank them for their time, and again use their name.

V. ASK QUESTIONS, ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS, AND LISTEN.  After you greet potential prospects, you need to ask questions to determine what they need and how you can help them. Don't ask yes-or-no questions, but instead ask them to describe problems they may be having that they need to solve. Of course, you need to know why you're at the show and who you are targeting with what solution, so you can direct the conversation to issues you can help with. You also need to know who your potential prospects are so you can ask questions to qualify your visitor and determine if they are a prospect in the first place. If they clearly aren't a prospect, you need to thank them for stopping by and then move on so you're available for true prospects. Most of your time should be spent using your ears, not your mouth. Ask the right questions, and then listen. Establish familiarity and learn how you can help.

VI. STAND UP.  You should be standing up near the front of your booth, making eye contact and ready to shake hands. Don't sit slumped in the back of your booth, appearing bored and disinterested to attendees walking by. Being on your feet all day can be tough. It's a trade show cliché, but it's true... wear comfortable shoes! And consider ordering extra or thicker padding under your trade show carpet. Not only will you appreciate it, but your visitors will notice the extra cushioning as well when they step into your booth. If you have chairs in your booth, resist the temptation to sit. Stand. Stand. Stand.

VII. FOCUS.  A day at your trade show booth may seem like an eternity, but it's not. It is long. It is grueling. But you need to stay focused the ENTIRE time. You never know when the biggest-potential-prospect-in-your-company's-history-ever may be walking by your booth. You don't want this fabled Shangri-La prospect to see you and your buddy hunched over in the back of your booth comparing your Angry Birds abilities. You shouldn't be texting friends, checking your Twitter feed, or dealing with fighting fires back at the office (the people back at the office need to do that). While you're staffing the booth, you need to be focused on the show.

VIII. IGNORE.  Don't ignore your booth visitors, but do ignore the rest of the trade show booths and other trade show staffers. You need to man your booth, focus, and be ready for the next prospect. Ignore the temptation to go for a walk along the nearby exhibit aisles to conduct "competitive research". You need to be in your booth. And ignore your buddy when he wants to talk about the party he had last week, or he wants to talk about who the Packers should try to get in the upcoming draft (it's a good question, but now is not the time!). You need to ignore everything else (personal and work) and only focus on why you're at the show and accomplishing the goals you set for the show.

IX. TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY.  It's a cliché, but it's true. Trade shows can be grueling. Tiring. Exhausting. But they can also be well worth your time and effort. Get plenty of sleep the night before (don't stay up the night before drinking at the hotel bar). Eat a good, healthy breakfast. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated. Avoid junk food, candy, and sugar crashes. Remember to wear comfortable (but professional) shoes. Wear effective deodorant. Don't dowse yourself in cologne or perfume. Use breath mints if you need them.

X. FOLLOW UP AND DEBRIEF.  Although the trade show will eventually end and be over, your job isn't done yet. You need to follow up on the leads you generated at the show. Whatever promises you made to prospects and customers, you need to keep. You also should meet with all your staff after the show and do a post-show-debriefing. While it's still fresh in your mind, write down what worked, and what didn't work. If you have ideas to improve your trade show booth for your next show, write your ideas down before you forget. Then, after you've followed up on all your leads and promises, and after you've determined how you can make your next trade show even better, then, you can relax.


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