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By Frances McGuckin

It is an undisputed fact that networking is the most powerful marketing tool, and trade shows are wonderful venues for exposing your business to potential customers and extolling the virtues of your products and services.

You have a target market of focused customers walking past your booth – what could be better? Having them stop by your booth, obviously. But how do you attract people without scaring them off with either high-pressure tactics or by being too shy in your approach? Here are some tips to help you have a successful and positive experience.

Know what to expect: People are usually browsing, comparing products and prices. Those who stop by your display are interested, so welcome, inform, and give them brochures and cards. Don’t pressure to close a sale. It’s not always the time or place. If you leave with a few leads each day and your brochures are being distributed, you have done well. The secret to a successful trade show is immediate follow-up.

Use a draw-card: Let’s face it, people love the “freebies”. It’s proven that few can pass up a candy dish or free pen, in fact, people look for them. Demonstrations always attract a crowd. Have you ever noticed the people watching cooking demonstrations? What product can you creatively demonstrate that will draw a crowd?

Offer draw prizes: No table is complete without a draw, if it is legal in your state, so splash lots of “win” signs around your booth. Provide a space on the entry form asking if the entrant would like a free quotation or more information. This qualifies leads for follow-up. Don’t follow up those who check “no”.

Follow-up: During the following week, contact the people who checked “yes” to wanting more information. Let them know who won the prize. Tell them that it was a pleasure to meet them and ask if they need more information. Tell them about your special, time-limited offer. Thank them for their interest. Follow up with other connections that you made. If you don’t, you will lose valuable business. Very little actual business is transacted at many shows, but the important connections are made. The business follows afterwards.

Converse professionally and politely: Don’t pounce on people as they approach your table. Use an appropriate opener. Ask if they would like to fill in an entry for your draw, and whether they would like to take some information with them. Be professional, polite and interested in their questions.

Distribute brochures and handouts: To monitor interest levels, count cards and brochures before you put them out. People love information, so display informational handouts for people to take, as this enhances your credibility as an expert. As an example, a vacuum dealer could prepare handouts (with all your contact information), explaining household moulds, where they are found, and how to eliminate them.

Dress presentably: Dress to suit the occasion. Remember, first impressions always count. Golf shirts or blouses with your printed logo look smart and convey the silent message that you are a professional. So jeans and sneakers are out unless you sell jeans and sneakers. Be creative – why not dress up and utilizing a theme for your booth? Stand out from the crowd. Draw them in to you.

Use non-threatening openers: Appearance, presentation, body language, and your ability to be a good listener work hand-in-hand with your communication skills to win over customers. Be attentive; focus on and listen to the person’s needs.

Don’t launch straight into a sales pitch. Feel out the person’s mood – remember – they are just looking and are wary of strong sales pitches. Here are some example openers.

  • "How are you enjoying the show today? There's some interesting new products here. Have you had a chance to see the new cordless vacuum in aisle three?"
  • "Hello, I'm Sandie Johnson of Sew N'Stuff. Would you like to fill in an entry form for our draw prize? You could win this beautiful gourmet basket."
Once a comfort level has been established, you can then progress into some business patter.
  • "This is our second year at this show. It's a wonderful venue for meeting people and keeping up with technology. Is there anything I can help you with? Our company has just become the first U.S. distributor for this new flea control product for dogs. Do you have a dog?"

Take the terror out of displaying at a trade show. Be yourself, be professional, be a caring and concerned exhibitor. If you would like to enhance your public speaking abilities, try a taste of Toastmasters – the invaluable lessons you learn in how to communicate can be applied to endless facets of your business.

Frances McGuckin is a professional speaker, trainer, consultant and author of Business for Beginners and Big Ideas for Growing Your Small Business. She can be reached at 1-888-771-2771, e-mail at

This column is available for syndication. For information, contact Frances McGuckin at

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