10 Awful Trade Show Activities to Avoid

October 22, 2019

Samuel J. Smith

Samuel J. Smith, the founder of SocialPoint, is a thought leader, researcher, speaker and award winning innovator on event technology.

Doing trade shows right requires that you make hundreds of correct decisions and actions over the several months before, during and after your event. It means choosing trade show activities that will boost your presence and advance your goals. It also means avoiding certain trade show activities that will ruin all your hard work. These activities are common pitfalls that too many previous exhibitors have fallen into. Do too many of them, and you will waste your marketing investment.  

Here are 10 trade show activities to avoid:

1. Booth staffers looking at smartphones

Few things will make potential booth visitors recoil from entering your space than seeing your booth staffer engrossed in their smartphone. It’s not even that this staffer had to take an urgent call from their customer – which attendees can tell by the bored look on their face and how they scroll their phone.

2. Talking with other booth staffers while attendees walk by the booth – or worse, while attendees stand in your booth

Some staffers forget they are there to talk with show attendees and end up talking instead with each other. Those costly conversations make your booth less welcoming. For those attendees who do brave the cold shoulder and enter the booth, insult gets added to injury when they are further ignored while they stand there waiting.

3. Letting messy clutter and trash accumulate in the booth

Your booth represents your company. When it’s a mess, that’s what show attendees will think about your organization. Sometimes your booth can be overstuffed with clutter right from the beginning of the show because you simply brought too much stuff for your booth space size or you have no storage. Other times, through the hustle and bustle of the show, trash like drinking bottles, cups, cans and papers like notes and brochures can accumulate.

4. Offering crappy giveaways

In an effort to save some money on your trade show budget, someone decided to buy the least expensive giveaway they could find. Now your booth staffers are handing out crappy giveaways with your logo on them. That poor-quality giveaway will henceforth be associated with your brand in the minds of all those who received it when it fails or breaks in the inevitable future.

5. Spending too much time on one visitor

There may be that one attendee that if you close the deal, will pay for your entire show – so your booth staffer takes more than an hour talking with them. But that’s not usually the case. More likely, you have a booth staffer who would rather talk for 60 minutes with an existing customer they golf with than have to engage with unknown attendees in the aisle. As a result, they let tons of potential business walk right on by.

6. Scanning badges and calling them leads

In the search for quantity over quality, misguided booth staffers will immediately scan the badges of every booth visitor and then quickly end the conversation so they can go out into the aisle for the next one. But these hyperactive staffers haven’t qualified those leads in any way, making them only one step up from a glorified business card. Without notes, comments and ratings, the field salespeople will have more difficulty (and thus motivation) in following them up.

7. Taking too long a break – or none at all

Your booth staffers need a break at trade shows, especially shows that keep exhibit hours open for six, eight or more hours per day. Yet some booth staffers leave during the busiest times and are gone for an hour or more. That long lunch could cost you thousands of dollars in lost potential business. On the other hand, a staffer who never takes any breaks during a long day will lose their edge and make bad impressions on many of the attendees they do talk to.

8. Being overly aggressive with attendees in the aisle

Trade show attendees are going to walk by hundreds, even thousands of booths during the show. While most booth staffers are so complacent that they will never try to start a conversation with an attendee walking by, some staffers are so aggressive that they call out to attendees by name (by reading their badge) from 15 feet away, even before the attendee has made eye contact. Try it once – just once – yourself, and you’ll see how negatively attendees react.

9. Bringing the wrong booth staffer

As you gathered from most of these points, much of these trade show activities to avoid happen with untrained or inappropriate booth staffers. While you can train some of these under-performing staffers to improve, there are many who are simply ill-suited to engaging face-to-face with your clients and best prospects. The potential loss of marketing effectiveness and sales results is too important.

10. Missing lead follow up

When the show is over your staff will want to get back to their day job, whatever that is for them. But if no one’s day job also includes lead follow up, then you’ve ultimately truly failed. Imagine your booth visitors not receiving the marketing materials, price quotes and meeting requests they asked for, or your field sales force not quickly receiving the trade show lead details they need to make informed follow up calls. As the last of our 10 trade show activities to avoid, this is arguably the most important.

Trade shows aren’t easy, but they aren’t brain surgery, either. Success relies upon you and your team following best practices, and avoiding activities like the ten we just discussed.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.