MannersLast year, I wrote about the 5 rules for trade show etiquette. Several clients and non-clients have told me they share this with their teams just before they attend a trade show.  However, the last couple of trade shows I attended were still brimming with exhibitor faux pas. As we enter the heart of trade show fall mania, with two of our industry’s biggest ones on the horizon – MBA Annual next week in Boston and NAR in a couple of weeks in Orlando – hopefully, even more people will realize that trade show manners matter.

The RESO Conference in Nashville is up next. There, I’m hopeful that these rules will be followed because large or small, every trade show offers unique opportunities for belly-to-belly engagement that’s become highly prized in our increasingly digitized universe. Trade shows offer remarkable convenience. You can get on a plane, travel to a half dozen cities, and go through 10-grand or more to see a few dozen people. Or you can go to a trade show and reach a few hundred, with an opportunity to engage with some who would never be able to pencil you in on their calendars. The upcoming RESO Conference is that kind of place, and so being strategic in how you manage your trade show appearance is vital to achieving the best outcome for you firm.

Let’s do two things: First, let’s revisit an abbreviated version of the 5 rules for trade show manners, and second, look at 3 ways you can improve your team’s effectiveness at your booth.

5 Trade Show Rules Redux

  1. Don’t drink the water (unless you do it discretely). Food and beverages are best consumed elsewhere, and not at your booth. Remember, your goal is to get people to approach you when you are at your booth, not leave you alone. If you’re eating or drinking at your booth, they’ll keep walking by.
  2. Stand, don’t sit. Over 90% of communication is non-verbal. When you are standing at a booth, you are signaling that you’re approachable. When you are sitting, you’re signaling that you are either tired or not engaged. If you have to sit, take a break somewhere away from your booth. Booths with barstools signal laziness. Is that the message you want to convey? Buy comfortable shoes instead.
  3. Eyes forward, please. And don’t forget to smile often. This is not a time to surf the web, text or check email. Do that on your break. When you are at your booth, you have a job to do. If you were in a meeting talking to a client, would you be looking at your phone and stopping to text? I would hope not. Same rule applies at your booth. When you smile, you are more approachable and set the tone for positive engagement. We want to talk to people who are smiling.
  4. Double-check your own booth often. Walk around the corner, and then walk up to your booth. That’s how you’ll see what a potential customer might see: a frozen video or graphic on your flat screen, trash on the floor, or a sign off kilter. I am amazed at how many booths have something that’s easily fixable if the booth staff just looked behind them.
  5. Talk to others, not among yourselves. This may be the most common mistake made at trade shows. Well-staffed booths are worthless when the staff is talking to each other all the time. It signals that people shouldn’t stop, that you’re too busy to talk. Everyone is there to do one job: talk to prospects and customer.

All of these rules come down to practicing the Golden Rule: do these five things, and you are treating others they way that you would like to be treated.

3 Ways to Improve Your Booth Effectiveness

But beyond these rules of trade show etiquette, there are many other ways to improve one’s effectiveness at a trade show. Having staffed and attended more than 20 Realtor conventions, a dozen Home Builder Shows, and more than two-dozen major technology conventions, from the old Comdex to CES, here are my top 3 ways to improve your booth’s effectiveness and increase your return on investment.

  1. Staff well, train well: Don’t make the mistake of assigning booth personnel based on seniority or rank. People with personality who can engage others in a conversation are who you should be looking for to staff your trade show booth. Knowledge is vital, so find people who have both. Remember that staffing a booth is a job and people need to be trained for it, even your most seasoned pros benefit from a refresher.
  2. Talk less, listen more: As the saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Focus on asking questions and listening to your customer or prospect. They will tell you what they need and give you the opportunity to tell and sell. With this approach, your success rate will be significantly higher.
  3. Follow up: You would be amazed at how many folks at trade shows collect business cards with a giveaway and don’t follow up with everyone afterwards. Or how many follow up exactly once – with a generic email that has no relevance to a large number of the people they are contacting. Proper follow up means organizing your leads and customizing your communications. Post-show marketing, done properly, will yield far more deals than all the time spent at the show.

Do you have a trade show tip or two you’d like to share? I’d love to add them to a future story and give you credit. Just email me at