Ideas for Your Business from Idea Cafe

Welcome to My Booth -- The Trade Show Hostess with the Mostess

Some folks from Idea Cafe recently met at a hotel for a drink (sorry, just decaf!). Always nosy, we wandered around the conference rooms and stumbled on a trade show for graphology (a.k.a. hand-writing analysis). Who knew graphologists had their own convention where they discussed the curly-cues of criminals-at-large and the John Hancock's of the rich and famous?

It seems every biz has its own trade show and/or convention these days. Chances are your industry has one or 13 around the country. They're one of the best opportunities to present your biz to your industry peers and target market.

But surrounded by all that competition, how do you stand out? Particularly when trade shows "have become larger, glitzier, and more high-tech," according to Susan RoAne, the networking expert and author of How to Work a Room. Susan says, "There's gold in them thar booths." But how do you mine it?

Interactive is Key

Trade show booths don't just give out pens and key chains anymore. The best booths create interaction between the presenters and the floor-walkers.

Booth Design

"Booth Design" is taken by permission from Susan RoAne's article "Trade Show Techniques," published in USAir Magazine.

Booth design is important. Your booth should be both attractive and capture interest. A gimmick can be useful, says Jerry Westenhaver, general manager of the Hyatt Regency in Oakland, if it has mass appeal: "At the last trade show we had a shoeshine booth. As our sales managers shined shoes, they had two or three minutes to speak with potential clients. We really worked our booth -- and we had fun."

Nancy Shina, corporate director of sales for Quality Inns International, uses an interesting tactic. She believes that many booths are designed to create barriers: "Because the table can make the solicitation process intimidating for the buyer, we moved the six-foot table to the side, removing the barrier. The result was that the flow to the booth increased."

Lots of Ways to Interact

Once you've moved the table and broken down physical barriers, look for ways to get people involved -- without, necessarily, a hard sell. Start by asking yourself what you want them to remember about your biz. Your booth is the perfect opportunity, for example, to decorate with your company colors, reinforce your personality, and ignite the kinds of relationships you want to build. Do you want to be remembered for service? -- Offer everyone a 30-second facial with cucumber slices over the eyes and a refreshing aromatherapy mist.

Fun?
Come up with a theme, play music, hold a raffle, pass out party favors.

Helpfulness?
Provide a printed or computerized map to the trade show floor, or something to stash all those biz cards in.

Cutting-Edge?
Display your website on a live computer or on a VCR tape; use software to create interactive question-answer flow-charts that help users determine which of your products suits them best.

Sure, creating interactivity means extra work. But you'll be a happy camper when your booth is the talk of the trade show floor.

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