Meet the Experts - The Exhibitor

Meet the Experts – Trade Show staff training with Matthew Hill

Hello Matt, welcome to The Exhibitor! Tell us a little about you and your professional journey.

I put myself through college in the amusement park business – maybe a precursor for working in trade shows? They are similar. But I am a salesperson by trade who likes to train people through humor, interaction, and engaging with audience. I was a factory rep for Playskool toys, a marketing executive (big name for a salesperson) selling engineering products for Xerox in the Silicon Valley. Got into training at Xerox, left Xerox, designed a bunch of traditional sales training programs. Then one day 27 years ago, a fellow who provided transportation for exhibitors asked me if I could train exhibit personnel to work in their own booths. I said I could figure it out. First client was Unisys (used to be a very big computer company), second client was Apple, largest client has been HP, others include Intel, Microsoft, CDW, a bunch more. I love doing the training.

What is the very first thing to do once you decide to join a trade show?

If you are staffing the trade show booth/stand, focus on the overall objectives, be prepared and have fun. Every visitor to your booth/stand should have a positive, memorable and personal experience. And you should do everything you can do to meet your company’s objectives for the show. This usually means having as many quality conversations as possible. Be prepared with elevator answers, good questions,and know how to start, control, and end conversations. But I also think trade shows are fun. I hope you like meeting new people, talking with them, connecting with them, and having fun with them. That isn’t to say trade shows are not serious and expensive marketing and sales events – they are – but I hope you some humanity and personality to trade shows.

How to choose the people who will be in the booth?

For the past number of years here in the US, the people working in the booth are a from the local area sales team to control travel expenses, and then marketing, product people, maybe engineering types, and management and C-level from headquarters. I just spoke to a new client today who can hand-pick their staffers. In this case the criteria for staffers should be extensive product knowledge, personability, upbeat, positive attitude, and will understand they are working for the trade show/event people so that they will honor their commitments.
As far as promoters and hostesses, if you are not a market-leader and/or at a huge trade show where getting attention really matters, a promoter like a magician or a game show host can draw people in. The trick is to convince at least 20% of the audience to remain in the booth. The promoter/host should end their presentation by introducing one or two staffers that people can approach with questions. Hostesses are fine if they can be trained to start the qualification process.
Trained greeters are better as they can engage, greet, begin qualifying, generate a lead, and if necessary, hand-off the visitor to one of the staffers. One good thing about agency people in the booth is that they work for the trade show/event team, unlike everyone else.

What are the key elements for a successful pre-show training?

Since most staffers think training is a waste of their time and they think they are already experts – which they never are, make the training mandatory by having the highest ranking executive open the training session . Then make a business case for effective trade show personnel; 80% of what visitors remember about their visit to your booth is your staff, not your booth, products, or give-aways. Make the actual training fun if can but definitely make it interactive. Get people from your audience to help you demonstrate the wrong, and right way to do things in the booth like being approachable, greeting, disengaging, etc. And set a lead generation goal that is mildly aggressive and keep the staff informed as to how they are doing.

A visitor is approaching your booth, what do you do?

Okay, free training: I don’t teach an exhibit staff to get a visitor’s attention – the booth and it’s signage, product, lighting, etc. should do that.
If a visitor is in the aisle and slows down and lowers their eyes to eye-contact level, then it’s perfectly fine for the staffer to walk out of the booth and greet them or greet them from within the booth.
Start with an introduction or with an open-ended question (a question that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no.”) Here’s one – and it’s real easy: “What brought you to our booth today?” Another one: “Wow! How short are you?” – a real rapport builder! So start a conversation by finding out something about the visitor; how much they know about your industry or marketplace, what they do, and what they are interested in and why. If the visitor asks the first question, like “What’s new?” answer it with a very brief, very broad elevator answer (an answer so short you could give it in an elevator).
Since you know nothing about the visitor yet, don’t guess on how to focus your answer yet, give a very general answer. Once you find out what the visitor is interested in seeing or hearing about, tell them how long it will take – usually no more than 6-10 minutes but this varies by industry and by how congested the booth is.
To end a conversation; summarize your conversation, restate any commitment made for follow-up, thank them for coming by, shake her/his hand, then turn to go do something else.

You have read the “Trade Show Chronicles“: is it close to the traditional journey of an exhibitor?

It looks great; relevant topics, good advice, but is all of it in dialogue form?

What are the dos & don’ts at a trade show booth?

Do these:

  • Get to the booth early every day.
    If you’re going to take a taxi or bus, allow about twice the amount of time you think it will take to account for traffic. Try to pick up your badge the day before the show opens. Otherwise, allow another 20-30 minutes to stand in the exhibitor registration line.
  • Smile.
  • Be enthusiastic.
  • Be motivated to meet the objectives.
  • Treat the show attendees as guests.
  • Be professional.
  • Keep the booth clean and neat.
  • Demonstrate open, receptive body language.

Don’t do these:

  • Show up late.
  • Eat in the booth.
  • Drink in the booth (bottled water is usually okay).
  • Talk in closed circles with your colleagues.
  • Put your back to the aisle.
  • Read in the booth.
  • Make phone calls in the booth or use a headset in the booth. Keep your phone on vibrate and return calls on your break.
  • Text in the booth.
  • Leave the booth or your station unattended.

What exactly is the role of a booth / trade show manager?

This person’s role is make sure the booth is ready when the show opens, to make sure that operationally it runs smoothly, to handle any issues or requests, to make real-time adjustments.
At any pre-show meeting or conference call, the highest ranking executive you can get to participate should tell everyone working the booth that for the duration of the show, they are working for the booth/trade show manager. And that everyone will be held accountable for their cooperation.
The booth/trade show managers is different that the booth captain. The booth captain is directly in charge of the staff; making sure staffing levels are optimized, sending people on breaks and to lunch, etc. The booth/trade manager and booth captain work together to make the show work. But regardless of title or rank, the booth/trade show manager should have the final say as they represent the interests of the entire company.

What do you advise companies to do to insure proper return on investment?

More quality conversations ⇒ More qualified leads ⇒ More sales ⇒ A better ROI .
It all comes down to the staff. Make sure your exhibit staff is ready-to-go. Here are my seven key trade show skills every staffer should be able to do:

  • Be 100% Present
  • Engaging & Greeting
  • Questioning & Qualifying
  • Cross-selling
  • Delivering visitor-focused demos
  • Working with groups
  • Dismissing

Any additional tips for our readers?

The trade show industry is not that big and the people are great. Reach out to your peers in other companies – yes even competitors – when you are exhibiting and connect with them. You will learn more from your peers than you will from anywhere else.
Get involved in a trade show or event specific organization or association. This is where you will most likely find your own professional development and continuing education resources.


Matthew HillThis is Matt Hill's 26th year of training exhibit staffs. He has trained over 60,000 exhibit staff personnel from around the world. Some of his clients include Microsoft, GE, Toshiba Medical Systems, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Medtronic, and Apple. Matt has published three books about working in a trade show environment.
Meet the Experts – Trade Show staff training with Matthew Hill
Share the knowledge!

Post navigation