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21 Things You Never Want To Hear In Your Trade Show Booth

things heard in trade showboothsIt’s great to hear visitors to your trade show booth say things like, “You’ve got just what I need!” or “We love working with your company!” or “Your booth really caught my eye!”

But because trade shows are so complicated, it’s possible that, no matter how much you prepare, something could go wrong.  And as the trade show manager, you’re probably the first one who’s going to hear about it.

How bad could it be?  Well, hearing any of these 21 things in your trade show exhibit will sound as bad as fingernails on a chalkboard:

During set up:                                           

  1. “Your shipper’s truck driver never arrived at the loading dock.”
  2. “We can’t find your shipping containers.”
  3. “Sorry, that early-bird discount has expired.  Now it costs 30% more.”
  4. “I don’t know how to set up your booth – and I can’t find the instructions.”
  5. “You’re not allowed to set that up by yourself.”
  6. “Our other booth staffer missed his flight last night.”
  7. “Our other booth staffer got violently sick last night.”
  8. “Our other booth staffer shaved his head and joined a cult last night.”
  9. “Your trade show booth breaks 3 trade show booth size regulations.”

During the show:

  1. “Is that a typo on your booth graphics?”
  2. “Our internet connection went down.”
  3.  “Actually, we just signed a deal with your competitor two aisles over.”
  4. “According to our lawyers, your new product infringes on our patent.”
  5. “Hi, my boss asked me to sub for him booth staffing.  It’s my first day of work for the company.”
  6.  “Wow, you’re still offering that technology?”
  7.  “I want to talk to your boss, right now!”
  8. “That’s not what your local office said.”
  9. “That’s not what your headquarters said.”
  10. “That’s an interesting product feature, but it really doesn’t solve my needs.”
  11. “So, what is it that your company does?”

After the show:

  1. “I thought you packed the leads!”

What can you do if you hear words like these in your booth?  Forewarned is forearmed.  Have a thick hide, but a soft touch.  Keep your calm, and be flexible to find unconventional solutions.  Handle the situation well, and then you might hear your boss say, “I’m sure glad you were there to save the day!”

What have you heard in your trade show booth that made you cringe?  Let us know in the comments box below.

Evolving Role of Exhibit Marketers: free white paperLearn how to combat these comments with this in depth look at exhibitors’ challenges and opportunities in The Evolving Role Of Exhibit Marketers white paper.  Click here to receive your free 36-page copy. 

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch was Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, for over 25 years. He is now retired and spends his time freelancing, traveling, and enjoying time with his family.

22 responses to “21 Things You Never Want To Hear In Your Trade Show Booth

  1. Mike,

    Great examples as always! As a former “Skyline Guy” I was pretty surprised at the lack of engagement at a recent show I attended. I witnessed everything from interns goofing off to owners or c levels who just didn’t know how to engage. In most cases I had to pry info out of “staffers.”

    As many resources as there are out there, there still a lot of companies missing the boat and losing valuable opportunities!

    1. Thanks, Reggie. Those reluctant booth staffers are only there because the exhibiting companies don’t realize how important it is to choose staffers who actually want to be there. Once you have staffers who are willing and comfortable, most problems vanish and the exhibitor will have far greater success.

      Great to hear from you!

  2. During the Show: “My boss was here earlier but you were eating a sandwich and he didn’t want to interrupt your lunch.”

  3. Great list. Glad you included by pet peeve “So,what does your company do”? There is no way we could have CRM in larger letters, but I think attendees concentrate much more on the booth staffers than on the graphics.

  4. It used to happen to us at every show, but one of the instances was VERY memorable. We are a software manufacturer for a specific industry.

    So I’m in the booth, there is a lull in traffic and my partner runs off to get a quick bite. I saw the attendee about 80 feet down the aisle and I knew I was in trouble. He was about 5′ 11″, just over 300Lbs, and wheeling a small oxygen tank in front of him. His bib overalls were hung by a single strap, the other dangling behind his thermal long-johns, which were once white, and now the most startling shade of a specific ‘natural’ yellow. I know that he was not wearing a thermal top – it was a union suit. I know this because of a rip in the bibs that exposed one side of the suit to an area below the crotch. Honest! I couldn’t make this up – his image is etched indelibly in my memory over a decade later.

    I know that the first rule of salesmanship is to never pre-judge a client. I broke that rule that day and turned my back as he approached, pretending to busy myself at the back of the display. It did me no good. He stopped at the table where our projector and computers stood and watched the automated demonstration for at least 2 minutes before it became impossible to pretend I hadn’t noticed his arrival. I turned and smiled, apologized for making him wait and heard him say the words I knew he would say in a long, slow drawl:

    ‘Them computers scare me, yup – they does. You ain’t never gonna find one of them things in my shop, no, no, no.’

    As he droned on for at least 20 minutes as roving hoards of more tech-savy attendees skirted my booth at the sight of this man who wanted to tell me all the evils of computers. They would never return, and all I could envision is the thought of money dropping through a crack in the floor as I remembered that we were paying roughly $300 an hour for our booth space.

    I have no moral or lesson I can teach from this experience. It happens to us all in some way, shape or form at every show. I can only tell others who have similar experiences that you are not alone.

    1. I have heard the story of a gentleman who would purposely dress and talk like this, arrive at a luxury auto dealership and see how he was received. If he was treated courteously, he would buy the top-of-the line vehicle – paying cash. If he was brushed off, he would stop by the sales manager’s office, reveal his charade, then head off to the next dealer. It was his annual trick-or-treat experiment.

  5. Our shift ends in five minutes. We can have staff stay longer to set up your booth, but we’ll have to bill your company overtime…

  6. Excellent blog post Mike. Any time someone can make me laugh, cry, and learn about trade show marketing, all at the same time, I’m impressed. Well done.

    This would be a terrific class at EXHIBITOR.

    My favorites:

    “Can you direct me to ABC’s booth?” (your competitor).

    “Are you showing anything new this year?” (from a distributor who has received at least a dozen new product updates from you)

    “Has anyone seen Bob since yesterday afternoon? He has the all the keys.”

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences! As we help English speaking clients with successfull PR in German trade shows, I can share some of mine as well:

    – How can you work for this company, serious?
    – Is this a car?(pointing at a new Aston Martin)
    – Are you trying to sell me something?
    – You’re just like everyone else, just worse…

  8. After paying for 24 hour power, and stocking two freezers with ice cream giveaways, one of the worst things I heard was, “Someone unplugged one of the freezers last night.”

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