By Samuel Smith
Trade shows are a powerful marketing medium for lead generation, brand awareness, and relationship building. But they can also be mind-numbing dull, for both attendees and booth staffers.
What makes a booth boring? Nothing does. And by nothing, I mean standing around in your booth doing nothing. With no activities in your trade show booth, attendees focus their attention instead where there is movement. With no activities to host, your booth staffers retreat inside themselves or their smartphones.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can make your booth a mecca of face-to-face engagement. You can be the fun booth. You can pull people in and get conversations started. Conversations that become leads and sales.
Here are 14 trade show booth activity ideas to help generate more booth traffic and engagement:
1. Demonstrate your products
Buyers come to trade shows to see in person the (mostly B2B) products they don’t feel comfortable buying online. So have your booth staffers demonstrate your products all through the show. You can also let the attendees get their hands on your product and try it out themselves. The best demos have movement, noise, and clearly prove your major advantages that matter to buyers. Got a small product? Consider amplifying the demo with a live video feed on large monitors.
2. Photo op
Even though almost everyone has a camera included with the smart phones in their pocket, they will still stop to get their photos taken at events. Entice attendees into your booth with fun wearable props: props they can hold, cool things or people they can pose with, or something that exemplifies the event location. Get your brand into the act with backdrop screens displaying your logo and hashtags, or oversized social media post frames. Or just use the photo op as a way to stop attendees and start a conversation.
3. Augmented and virtual reality
These technologies add a high-tech cool factor to exhibitors’ booths. Done well, they let attendees experience products in new, more memorable ways. Virtual reality puts your booth visitors in virtual places in locations and at a scale they can’t in real life. Augmented reality overlays more visual information over the product or visual prompt they see before them. Both AR and VR can help you tell stories and make benefits more explicit.
4. Trade show games
Trade show attendees like to win prizes. By offering trade show games, booth visitors learn about your products as they compete for prizes or top-dog status. Games can be old-school analog or digital interactive activities. As people get excited playing, their enthusiasm will attract even more attendees. Just be sure that attendees can figure out how to play your games quickly and your prizes don’t break any industry gift-receiving rules.
5. Time trials
Hosting a contest of skill where attendees compete against the clock or each other is a sure draw. This works especially well if your product users are motivated by ease and speed of use. Display a leaderboard with the names of the fastest competitors. Give the setting a bit of game show pizzazz. You may even have an emcee who cheers on competitors, which will attract even more people.
6. Subject matter expert talks
Attendees come to trade shows to learn. That’s why most trade shows offer many educational sessions in addition to the exhibit floor. Get in on some of that action by having your own subject matter experts or company executives host presentations. Talk about the latest trends, most wanted how-to topics, and biggest challenges your customers face. Just be sure your subject matter experts are also good presenters—if not, get a professional presenter to learn the content or to interview the expert.
7. Attendee survey
Ask attendees to share their opinions to key questions facing your typical buyers. They can share their feedback by writing on white boards, Post-It notes, texting, data-entry kiosks, touch screens, or any way you can capture and display their votes. Some attendees will be willing to share their opinions, while others will only want to see what others have said. Either way, you have attendees engaged rather than just walking by. Bonus: Their opinions are a natural starting point for a meaningful dialog.
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One of the oldest ways to bond with people is to break bread with them. Offering food and drink gets attention and gives your staffers something more productive to do with their hands than hold their smartphone. I recently read that people who receive a warm drink (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) from someone feel closer to that person. So, set up a café and hand out the treats and finger food—as long as it’s not messy! The better the aroma, the more traffic you get.
Entertainers put some of the “show” back into trade shows. Magicians, dancers, musicians, artists, performers, actors, and more can attract attendees who want to see something fun they usually don’t get to see live. You will need space to host them and perhaps extra sound amplification. You may need permission from the show if the performer or the audience will clog the aisles. Be sure to tie the entertainment to your brand or show campaign theme.
10. Donations to a cause
There are a few reasons to consider offering to attendees that you will donate to a cause or charity if they visit and interact with you in your booth. First, it’s an emotional appeal that lets them know you care about something worthwhile. Second, it can help you build stronger relationships when you choose a cause that is a good match for their demographics. And third, you build your brand by supporting causes that fit your corporate culture and personality. As people make donations, let them put up their name on a board to show they also care. This activity works even better in industries that don’t allow gifts for attendees.
Animals, whether they are cute or exotic, have a surprising drawing power on the human psyche. People will line up to pet a cute puppy, bunny, goat, or kitten, and even more so if you have a bunch of them. This may be harder to tie into your brand message, so it’s not for everybody. We know of one exhibitor that brought in baby goats that attendees couldn’t resist—perfect because the company sold soap made from goat milk. Exotic animals can tug on attendees’ curiosity.
12. Arts and crafts
Let your attendees explore their artistic side. Give them something to paint, draw, sculpt so that you’re not only engaging them in a fun activity, but you’re reinforcing your brand message. These activities will make your attendees happy and keep them in your booth longer. And as they sit there making art, other people will see them and want to make art, too. Then share photos of their art via social media and a hashtag to make them all easy to find.
Keep attendees in your booth longer and tell a more complex story by taking them on a journey through your booth. You can design your exhibit with graphics and hands-on stations where attendees learn about successive aspects of your product offerings, competitive advantages, or company history. Some exhibitors will give attendees a punch card or passport that can be redeemed for a prize after attendees visit and complete each step of the journey.
Experiences help create more memorable and emotional attachments between exhibitors and attendees. Experiences appeal to multiple senses, create interaction, and get attendees emotionally involved with an exhibitor’s brand or story. Some of the other ideas in this article could quality as experiences, but do not cover every possible experience. Examples of successful experiences include an escape room or a Zen garden.
When deciding between these 14 trade show booth activity ideas or others, also consider:
- Which activities will best fit your brand?
- What activities will best attract your target demographic?
- How will you convert activity participants into leads?
- How much space do you need for the activity?
- How will you set the stage for the activity?
- If trained, can your own booth staffers host the activity or do you need professional help?
In Europe, they call a trade show booth a “stand.” But the last thing you want your booth staff to do is just stand there and do nothing! Choose a suitable activity for your trade show booth, and create motion, excitement, and engagement that brings in more visitors and generates greater results for your company at trade shows.