3 Essential No-Cost Tips for Your Next Trade Show

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and get a booth for the next big trade show in your industry. Congratulations! Statistics suggest that you’ve made a great move. Even with all of the virtual meeting opportunities available online, trade show attendance has kept growing in recent years. And with an estimated 82 percent of trade show attendees having buying power, this could be a great investment!

Of course, now you’ve got to plan your appearance.

Exhibiting at a trade show isn’t cheap. Some estimates have placed the average cost of renting booth space at $3500, while others suggest playing it safe and using an average exhibit cost of $22.32 per square foot to plan your expenses… which comes out to $6,696 for a 10-foot square booth. And that’s just for the space.

You want to get the most out of your trade show appearance, but you’ve got a budget to stick to. Not a problem. Below are three incredibly simple ideas to remember that’ll work no matter what industry you’re in and that (oh, happy days!) are totally free to use.

Spoiler alert: it all comes down to how you work with people.

Tip 1: Draw a Crowd (or Create Your Own)

Why do people love crowds? After a long day on the trade show floor, you might be asking yourself that very question. But it turns out there’s research to explain what draws people together: people love shared experiences (good or bad, interestingly enough) and want to be with others who are seeing and talking about the same things.

The idea goes as far as to affect how people look at their surroundings. As numerous experiments have shown, people will follow the gazes of other people standing with them in a crowd.

102915-Tradeshow-tips-internal-image-draw-a-crowdWhat does all that research mean for you and your trade show booth? Simple! It means that once you’ve got people looking at what your booth offers, the odds of even more potential customers stopping by skyrocket.

So how do you get people there in the first place?

“We call it the Penguin Principle,” says Steve Capoccia, Account Director for Warner Communications. “From nature, penguins are skittish about being the first to jump through a hole in the ice, so they often mingle around the hole and then finally one is brave enough to take the plunge.

“The same applies to trade booths,” he continues. “You’ve seen it: the people stand behind they tables and there is no one stopping by, so everyone keeps walking by.

“By seeding the front of your booth with a few friends or even your own staff facing toward the booth at the table, others will feel more comfortable in stopping to see what everyone else is stopping for. It’s as simple as that, and it works!”

Are there any disadvantages to putting the Penguin Principle into play? “Well, you might have to buy your friends some coffee or a beer!” Capoccia says. “But that’s not mandatory, so no costs.”

We’d say a good trade show lead is worth a flat white.

Tip 2: Take a Good Look at a Long-Lost Friend You’ve Just Met

Eye contact is an essential part of communication, no matter what the nature of the relationship is. In business or education, a person who maintains eye contact while speaking is regarded as credible and having plenty of authority; in personal relationships, mutual eye contact is seen as a sign of friendship and high regard.

102915-Tradeshow-tips-internal-image-eye-contactSo of course you want to make eye contact with the people passing by your trade show booth. Doing that is an invitation to open a dialogue.

But what if the attendees in your industry are wise to the idea and are walking down the aisle, doing their best to pretend they have blinders on? (Disclaimer: I have done this at comic book conventions because guys I’m so sorry but I seriously don’t have money to buy all of the cool comics I see in Artists Alley please forgive me okay?)

Well, you can take a suggestion from motivational speaker Barry Maher, which is based on a tip from body language expert Allan Pease. “When working a trade show,” says Maher, “if you make eye contact with someone passing by and raise your eyebrows in a quizzical look, as if you might know them, they will often approach and start talking to you, without you ever having to say a word.”

It makes sense; human beings, after all, are naturally curious primates. So of course a trade show guest would want to know why that person behind the table is waggling his or her brow. Wouldn’t you?

Tip 3: Let’s Get Social

You can totally do this in a way that’s not cringe-worthy.

But social media accounts are some of your best resources at a trade show. Assuming you’ve got a phone or tablet to bring with you and you’ve already set up social media accounts for your organization, you’ve got tools to use that can get people interested in visiting your booth, even before the show starts.

What kind of information can you share with your social media followers to pique their interest?

102915-Tradeshow-tips-internal-image-get-social• Your booth number, so that anyone attending the show will be able to find you with ease

• Pictures of your booth setup, which can also help people find you (and maybe even inspire other exhibitors at similar shows who are looking for creative display ideas)

• Shots of your promotional items, to tempt people into stopping by to pick them up

• Fun photos you take with any guests who stop by your booth, as long as they’re okay with the sharing—remember what was said above about people being drawn to crowds!

Kari DePhillips, owner of digital PR agency The Content Factory, enthusiastically supports the idea of using social media during trade shows – especially Twitter. “Fortunately, tweeting is free – it also has some of the biggest impact,” she says. “It sounds pretty basic, but strategically tweeting can make the difference between getting noticed or blending in with everyone else at the trade show. For instance, when we were at CES [the International Consumer Electronics Show] a tweet led to Wired magazine running a feature on our client.”

How did this happen? DePhillips and her team set up Hootsuite, their social media management tool of choice, to monitor keywords and hashtags related to the show, like “CES.” It was through that that they noticed a tweet from one of Wired’s senior writers saying that he was available for a pitch or a product demo at CES. A quick tweet back and an e-mail later, and DePhillips’ client was in!

Content Factory

“Similar tactics can get you on the radar of trade show attendees, speakers and other VIPs,” says DePhillips. Even just posting a social media shout-out to a guest at the show you’d love to work with can have great results!

* * *

Okay, so we can’t all afford to go all-out with our trade show exhibits and displays the way Hershey’s did when it set up a do-it-yourself S’mores booth at the BlogHer conference several years back. And yes, we’re a little sad about it. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some sweet techniques to get visitors to your booth that won’t drain your savings account. We look forward to hearing about how they work for you!

Have you ever been in charge of setting up a trade show booth? What are your favorite low-costs tips for trade show success? Attendees, what are the best ways for exhibitors at a trade show to get your attention? Let us know in the comments below!

expand your brand

Image Credit: The Content Factory

Sheila Johnson

Sheila Johnson is a member of the Content Team at Quality Logo Products. Prior to joining QLP, she worked freelance in a number of capacities, including writing, editing, digital art restoration, and sorting stuff in a warehouse, because money is money. She enjoys birdwatching, hiking, and reading, which doesn't make her sound old at all. Other likes: dark chocolate, comics, science, socks with bright patterns. Dislikes: how cold her toes are ALL THE TIME. You can connect with Sheila on


  1. Gina

    These are some great ideas, Sheila! In college I worked as a promo intern, and I can definitely say there is nothing more mind-numbing than working a convention the “sitting around and waiting” method. While offering promo products is DEFINITELY a surefire way to draw attention, having some backup plans (at no cost) is ideal. Social Media is a great suggestion, because the exposure is nearly assured. You already have a captive audience in the other vendors & attendees who are making posts and scrolling through hashtags. If you’re aiming your message correctly, you’re bound to generate some interest in that sea of people! I can’t count the number of times I’ve fallen victim to the hashtag vortex at an event while attempting to find shortcuts to the best stuff going on.
    “Mirroring” your audience also works very well. People like to interact with others who they perceive as being similar to them, so the more you can play the part of the chameleon and quickly engage the person the less it will feel desperate or forced. Tackling a convention can certainly be an undertaking, but with tips like these, you can maximize use of your funds and have amazing results!

  2. Brad H

    Awesome tips. I’ve never heard of the “penguin principle” before but think that is an excellent tip that is super easy to do. It’s all about making the visitors feel comfortable and inspired to see what you have. Comfort can come at little to no cost to exhibitors if they plan wisely and use these tips you’ve provided. Thanks for a great post!

  3. Stacy Gruca

    I LOVE this! I can personally attest to the crowd theory, having participated in numerous bridal expos. The more people you have at your table, the more people join the crow out of interest, its the “whats going on over there” mentality. We also do demonstrations during our expos, showing how to make awesome little wedding center pieces, place cards, and floral arrangements. Drawing in a crowd and keeping them there is key! Plus they get to know you in the brief time they spend with you which is great!

    Food and Drink are key, even something as simple as a bottle of water gives the client a sense of welcome to your brand. Its like going to your Italian grandma’s for dinner, eat and be happy!

    Great ideas guys, I will definitely be pointing my clients towards this blog!

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