With so many other things to think about ahead of a trade show—booth planning, content development, marketing—staff training can often be overlooked. But training your staff is one of the most important tasks because it makes a huge difference in your potential for success. If you want to achieve your trade show goals, well-trained, open, and courteous staff are a must. Pay attention to trade show etiquette, train your staff to do so too, and you’ll get great results.
Why Does Trade Show Booth Etiquette Matter?
Trade show etiquette refers to the conduct your booth staff display when they’re at the show. This is important for two reasons:
- Like all forms of etiquette, trade show etiquette gives your staff a set of guidelines by which to operate. When they’re not sure how to handle a situation, etiquette gives them a place to start. This is especially helpful at someone’s first trade show, but it’s useful for everyone at every experience level.
- Etiquette helps make a good first impression. And a good second impression, and a third! The personal qualities and behavior of your team can help you attract more visitors, gain more leads, and get the trade show success you want.
It’s All About Attitude
Good booth training is essential for every member of your team, but it won’t make up for a poor attitude. For front-end staff who are working with potential leads and clients, a great attitude is vital.
When you’re choosing your booth team, opt for the people who are enthusiastic about going to trade shows and have a good track record with customers and clients. The best trade show booth staff are:
- Knowledgeable about the company and your products
- Motivated, proactive, and enthusiastic about attending the show
- Willing to work hard
- Friendly and approachable
Booth Behavior to Avoid
Your booth staff should also know that certain kinds of behavior should be avoided. Choosing staff with a strong work ethic and a good attitude help with this, but it’s worth reminding everyone that they need to look and behave professionally. That means no to:
- Eating or chewing gum in the trade show exhibit
- Texting, browsing, or talking on their phone
- Talking with other booth staff, instead of looking out for and engaging trade show attendees
- Uninviting body language like slouching or leaning on displays
- Poor personal grooming
Essential Skills and Scripts for a Productive Trade Show Exhibit
Trade shows are popular for a wide range of reasons, but a major one is face-to-face interaction. You can find out a lot about a company on its website, but networking opportunities are still a vital part of doing business. This means your exhibit staff need to be at the top of their game to make sure every visitor has a positive interaction. They should be professional, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic, and have the necessary skills to guide conversations to the desired conclusion.
Matt Hill, President of The Hill Group, a trade show training company in San Jose, CA, has conducted training sessions around the world, including at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland and the Moscone Center in San Francisco. He’s worked with companies throughout Silicon Valley and beyond, providing instruction on best-practice trade show techniques. He points to the following people skills as essential for all booth staff:
- Engage new visitors.
- Know the right questions to ask.
- Deal with qualified and unqualified leads.
- Generate leads.
- Handle group situations.
Greet and Engage
This technique is the quick, 30-second icebreaker your exhibit staff use to start a dialog with each new visitor. They should be friendly and approachable and maintain eye contact appropriately. Open-ended questions such as, “What brought you to our booth today?” are the best way to start conversations.
Ask Questions That Reveal the Qualified Leads
Your staff need to know what kinds of leads you’re looking for. This allows them to ask the questions that show who the qualified leads are right away. Questions can include:
- Whether the visitor has specific interest in your products
- The timeframe they’re working within
- Their budget
This part of the process should take around two minutes.
Dismiss the Visitor or Take the Conversation Further
For qualified leads, booth staff can transition to a new conversation path or product demonstration. But if the lead turns out to be poor quality, they need to be able to end the conversation and move on.
What’s the right way to end a conversation? For some booth staff, this is the hardest skill to learn. It may feel rude to end a conversation once you realize it won’t lead to the outcome you want. But at a trade show, everyone’s time is at a premium, and nobody wants to waste it making connections that won’t get results.
To politely end a conversation and disengage from a visitor, use a technique called pattern interrupt: Shake their hand and thank them for their time. Then let them know you need to move on to someone else, and turn away.
After qualifying a visitor, the staff member should offer a product demonstration or transition to a more detailed conversation. They can answer the visitor’s questions, go into detail about products or services, and find out more about what the visitor is looking for. This should take no more than five minutes.
At the end of the demo or conversation, they can wrap up with “next-step” information like:
- Making an appointment
- Exchanging business cards
- Swiping their badge
Deal with Group Situations
According to Matt Hill, it’s important to train booth staff to work effectively with groups. For instance, if a staff member is demonstrating one-on-one, and another visitor walks up, there are specific skills they can use to include that person in the demo.
First, they should take a step back or to the side to make physical room for the new person. Then, they should ask their initial guest if it’s okay to open up the audience. Finally, they should do a quick recap on the demo so far, to bring the new visitor up to speed.
Another common situation that arises is when a visitor asks a question the staff member can’t answer. In this case, it’s that staff member’s job to direct the question to a team member who can answer it. If that person is already in conversation with a visitor, it’s okay to politely interrupt them with a quick question.
The staff member who is interrupted can go ahead and answer the question if it’s one with a quick answer. If not, they should let the other person know when they’ll be available. They can then return to their visitor, thank them for waiting, and resume the discussion.
Good Booth Etiquette Gives Great Results!
Some level of etiquette training is important for all your booth staff, so they can communicate effectively with trade show attendees. Education sessions, roleplay, and other kinds of rehearsals are great for ensuring they feel confident and equipped to handle any situation. Hiring an exhibit staff trainer is the most effective way to do this. If your budget doesn’t allow it, you can develop your own training sessions.
In all areas of life and work, a little consideration and politeness go a long way. Make sure your booth staff has the skills and knowledge they need to provide quality customer service, and you’ll reap the rewards both during and after the show.