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Etiquette for Tradeshow Organizers, Exhibitors and Attendees

Many association executives we talk to are worried about the future of their exhibitions.  Exhibiting is never inexpensive for vendors, and their expectations are forever rising.  This is a the same time buyers are pressed for time, so show average show attendance is often stagnant or declining.

Which is probably why many show organizers, in the meetings industry and other sectors, have moved to a hosted buyer/appointment-setting model.  But for some associations this model is either too labour-intensive or impractical due to the length of the exposition.

Perhaps the answer rests with improving the overall experience on the exhibitor and attendee side.  Based instances witnessed first hand at a recent tradeshow, here are a few suggestions we humbly submit could enhance your business-to-business expo:

  1. Educate your exhibitors!  This is where we envision a CODE OF CONDUCT.  A pledge that each exhibitor would be asked to uphold, sign or swear to.  We mean it.  You need to spell out, otherwise this happens:
    • Exhibitors picking up a giveaway or signing up for prizes at other booths:  OK there might be instances when exhibitors have business for one another.  But what we saw just reeked of unethical, boorish behaviour.  Even if you have purposefully stopped by to say hello, do not drop your business card in, or fill out a ballot.  You are likely NOT the exhibitors target market, and you may win a prize that would have been better suited to an attendee.  And someone please tell these poor, misguided souls that most savvy exhibitors weed through their ballots or cards before they draw for the prize.  Don’t waste our time, your time and the exhibitor's investment.
    • Exhibitors exhibiting uninviting behaviour:  Exhibitors that are obviously texting, answering emails, or on their personal social media sites are NOT engaging.  If my boss saw me on my phone and not standing in front of our booth with a smile on my face inviting people to chat with me, I would be reprimanded.  Big time.  It is BASIC etiquette, and should NOT be tolerated.  I challenge show exhibitors to take this to the next level: enlist the help of your committee, and select few attendees or even students to "police" your tradeshow floor and report offenders.  You might just be doing a big favour to the exhibit decision-maker by alerting them to less-than-inviting booth behaviour by their staff!
  2. Tell your exhibitors what to do & what to expect.  Exhibitors should EXHIBIT.  Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, recently a Greenfield rep was on the floor at a tradeshow, walking the aisle, taking pictures and gathering quotes for the association's social media efforts.  But an astounding number of exhibitors did not want their picture taken!  How engaging is a shot of an empty booth?  Attendees and non-attendees want to see people hamming it up, inviting them to come visit.  We didn't think it was that strange a concept, but clearly exhibitors need to be educated about these things.  
  3. Teach exhibitors how to be personal with any pre or post-show communication:  We've written about how an avalanche of misguided pre-show emails will harm your show.  And after the show, please advise exhibitors to STOP sending generic emails or requests to connect via social media to everyone that showed up.  Again, exhibitors need to understanding this is not putting their best foot forward.  Tell them this says that customers will have a generic experience if they do business with them.  As a show organizers, the better your exhibitors are, the more attendees you will attract.

The job of a tradeshow organizer is already a tough one, and I can relate to those who lament the fact the above points are what the exhibitors' PARENTS should have taught them... We get that.  Remember though that any uninviting behaviour by any exhibitor can be a turnoff for the attendee.  And then we ALL lose, in the long run...