Planning a trade show is like planning a wedding, only without all the fun dynamics of the in-laws, family and friends.

What the two events share, however, is potential, both in rewards and misfortunes. With a little planning, you can greatly improve your chances for rewards at your next trade show.

For most weddings, the guests make the day. The same goes for a trade show. Early promotion of your participation to registered attendees or prospects and customers in the area can increase attendance at your exhibit. Once the show starts, your job is to make sure you attract attendees and reward them by providing the attention, product knowledge and service they won’t get at any other exhibit. Here are a few basic ways to do that:

1. Do be the charming, attentive host. Keep an eye out for potential guests coming by your booth and greet them cordially. Ask if they’re interested in taking a look at your new products and then give them a chance to browse.

Don’t hover like an overprotective parent. Be available to answer questions, but don’t follow them around. I was at a show recently where a salesman pursued me from exhibit to exhibit — and right back into traffic because he made me so uncomfortable.

2. Do carefully attend to every visitor. This can be tricky. As you know, your customers can range from someone who owns a few acres of land to a lawyer in the city who is an outdoor enthusiast. Everyone deserves your attention. Be careful not to discount someone who could end up buying big.

“Everyone deserves your attention.
Be careful not to discount someone who could end up buying big ...”

Don’t make assumptions. Those people walking down the aisle could be customers or they could be vendors or competitors. Recently, I was a vendor at a show and a salesman left his booth unattended to chase me down and give me literature that, as a competitor, I clearly didn’t need. Reading the body language of people passing your booth is a good way to gauge interest.

3. Do make your display inviting. Remember to put display tables to the sides, center and back, in a “U” shape. This draws people into the booth to explore and gives them a chance to view all your materials.

Don’t barricade yourself from your customers by lining tables across the front of your booth and then standing or sitting behind them. It can make you look defensive, uninviting and unapproachable. It also wastes valuable booth space behind you for which you probably paid dearly.

4. Do make yourself available. In other words, pretend you’re at the movies. No talking. No texting. No cell phones. No outside business. This is a one-time event to capture these attendees’ attention. They deserve to be greeted immediately by an expert.

Don’t bunch up in teams. Sure, trade shows are long and tiring and frequently boring. But when your staff clusters together, they keep potential customers from approaching. No one likes to approach a group. Spread your team out, so they seem much more inviting.

Finally, remember that once the show is over, the show isn’t over. If it has gone well, you’ve made multiple contacts and developed new leads. It’s time to use those contacts as touch points. Follow up to thank them for visiting and to see how to convert them into customers.

Todd Foltz is senior public relations account executive at Osborn Barr, an agriculture-focused, full-service marketing agency. He supports the Equipment, Outdoor and Rural Lifestyle Group, providing marketing solutions for some of agriculture’s largest machinery, tire and building companies. He has spent more than 15 years writing about agriculture and advising agricultural companies on marketing.