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Optimize Your Trade Show Investment

It’s time to get ready for one of your annual trade show events. Before you pull out the same banner, handouts and freebies, take out a blank sheet of paper and begin to craft a new approach.

Create an iPod Booth, Not a Clutter Bin

In 1978, when my brother was 22, he bought a stereo system with a turntable, receiver and two huge loud speakers. He had several hundred albums all stacked in a variety of milk crates that went to the ceiling. He probably had close to 5,000 songs in his apartment.

In 2005 he bought his daughter an iPod. The iPod took up 6 square inches and held 15,000 songs.

The iPod was elegance in action.

When you put together your next trade show booth, think of the iPod: clean, smooth, lots of white space and powerful. Don’t fill your booth with tons of handouts and products and giveaways. Focus on the power of simplicity, and leave lots of white space. Place the one thing you want people to look at in the middle of the booth and leave the rest of the space clear and clean.

The 2 BBQs

To find the one thing you want to highlight in your booth, answer the 2 BBQs (Business-Building Questions):

1. What’s the most important business objective for the attendees that your organization can help to improve?

2. How can your organization improve that outcome in a profitable manner?

Keep answering these two questions until you land on a crystal clear solution that your organization can provide to improve a high priority outcome for the attendees. Then convert that solution into the singular focus of your trade show booth.

The whole purpose of the booth is to attract meaningful attention. It’s far better to be remembered for one thing than to be forgotten because you had too many things in your booth. You want the attendees to remember one thing about you that really matters to them. The elegant booth, the one with the single, simple, powerful, relevant display, is the one that is remembered.

Build Relationships, Not Your Rolodex

Ever been to a booth where the person inside kept looking right past you to see who else was coming to visit? Not exactly a warm feeling, is it?

There’s a proper etiquette at trade shows, and it has to do with personal attention. You’re way better off building five relationships than gathering 500 business cards. Relationships lead to opportunities, and opportunities lead to cash flow. Business cards often lead only to cash output in the form of mass marketing.

When someone visits your booth, focus your eyes on that person. Even if someone you know pops up in the background, don’t wave a hello. Make sure the person you’re talking to feels like the most important person alive. Listen to his situation so well that you can write an e-mail the next day that summarizes what you learned from or about him. Now you’re in a position to add value to the individual.

After the conversation, don’t rush off to meet the next person. Instead, write down a few notes about the person so you can remember the details the next day. And if the next person is in a rush to see you, politely ask him for just a moment so that you can write down the notes about the previous person.

One Shining Message

Eloquence means “powerful and effective language.” After you’ve answered the 2 BBQs, hone your final answer to a single memorable statement that stands out. You don’t need 10-syllable words to be powerful and effective. You do need one clear, conversational message that people can remember you by. Each attendee may meet over 40 people during a two-day trade show. When you follow up a few days after the show you want the other person to easily recall your face and what you want to be associated with.

Practice your message over and over so it flows naturally and conversationally. Even if you only meet a person for a minute or two work the statement into the conversation, exchange business cards, and jot down whatever you learned about the person. When you follow-up with the person, work your key message into the conversation in a natural and relevant manner.

Leave BBV Behind

When everyone else is handing out their company brochures and freebies that get stuffed into the bottom of the trade-show bag, I encourage you to hand out BBV: business-building value. One of the best tools I’ve ever seen was a simple, elegant two-color, eight-page document called “Problems, Solutions and Results.”

You would have a front cover with “Problems, Solutions and Results” and your company name on it, and a back cover with your company name and contact information. On the inside, you would have six pages of problems your clients have encountered, the solution you developed for those clients and the result that occurred after implementing the solution. Then you would end each story with a brief testimonial from the client. This makes the situation appear much more real.

The first key here is that the trade show attendees need to relate to the problems. They need to say, “I’ve faced that problem many times.” The second key is that the solutions have to be clear enough that the person could implement them without having to call you.

“What?” (I can hear you now.) “Why should I give them an answer, a solution, and give it so freely?”

“Value-Added Marketing” occurs when you give away the solutions people can use without having to contact you. However, you potential customers may think to themselves, “If I received this much value for free, then what will I get if I pay for it?”

That’s a very powerful way to get the attendees to call you after the trade show is over. And a warm call is a much better prospect than a cold call.

About the Author

As a keynote speaker, Dan Coughlin provides practical advice to accelerate your key business outcomes. As an executive coach, he has spent more than 3,000 hours on-site working with executives in more than 20 industries. His clients include Toyota, McDonald’s, Marriott, Coca-Cola, St. Louis Cardinals, GSD&M, Boeing and AT&T. His new book, Accelerate: Practical Management Advice to Boost Business Momentum, arrives in bookstores May 2007.

For More Information

To reach Coughlin, e-mail [email protected], or visit

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