If you have ever exhibited on behalf of your company you will know that exhibitions have the potential to offer a good return on investment, but only if you know how to grab the interest of the passing footfall.

Making the most of your exhibition investment involves focusing on two key things; attracting visitors to your stand and interacting with them once they are there. If you get it right you can expect new connections, increased conversions and plenty of new business leads.

However, every stand at the exhibition will be trying to do the same. So, how can you be sure to stand out?

Attracting visitors to your stand

Successful engagement has to start with getting visitors to your stand. With so many stands fighting over each visitor, the competition is tough.

Here are four tried-and-tested attention-grabbers:

1. Entertainment – It could be a Scalextric track, a juggler or even Frank Bruno. Entertaining your visitors is a sure-fire way of gaining initial attention.

2. Spectacular stand design – It is an obvious, yet frequently overlooked, way to attract attention to your stand; use the stand design itself to catch the visitors’ eye. A stand with spectacular design features can be more attractive than any gimmick on your stand.

3. Technology – Whether it is a game, simulators, or office technology, this approach can do a wonderful job of attracting people to your stand. One of the most popular piece of tech we ever saw was an F1 simulator, which had visitors queuing across rows of stands. Everyone passing by wanted to see what the fuss was about, so it gained the stand even more attention!

4. Seminars – Most exhibition attendees are there to learn, so offer a seminar or workshop on an intriguing and well-researched topic that will excite your target audience and demonstrate that you have solutions to some of your industry’s challenges. If you can also show thought-leadership – so much the better.

Engaging visitors at your stand

Once you have attracted visitors to your stand, you then need to engage them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ way to do this, instead it’s best to combine a few techniques.

Here are five ideas that we have used successfully on exhibition stands:

1. Coffee – It may sound obvious, but it does work, for a couple of reasons:

a) It can be quite hard to come by good (and inexpensive) tea or coffee at events, so you’re offering something many people are looking for

b) A nice hot drink gives you time to engage the visitor in conversation while they wait for it to cool.

2. Engaging staff – Well-trained, highly engaging staff can make all the difference. We’ve all visited stands where the staff seem friendly and knowledgeable yet lack that extra edge which makes you want to stop and chat further about the brand.

3. Videos – With staff only available to engage with a limited number of visitors, video can be a great way of capturing and maintaining attention as well as giving an overview of your product or service. Be sure to include a call-to-action such as ‘take one of our leaflets’ or ‘scan this QR-code to send us an email’ to increase follow-up contacts.

4. Live Tweets – Add an extra connection with visitors by displaying a live Twitter feed. Visitors can follow you on Twitter, use your #hashtag and ask questions to your offsite sales team, helping to engage and inform your visitors even when all your on-site staff are busy.

5. Get your iPad out – People are far more likely to leave their contact details, complete a survey or view a demonstration on an iPad or tablet than a long paper form. Also, with clever software, contact details can be collated instantly off-site via Wi-Fi or 3G, allowing your sales team to get a head start on your lead nurturing process.

Following up

However you decide to attract and engage visitors to your stand, it is always important to follow up your new leads within a few days of the exhibition. Research shows that making contact within three days delivers the best results. If possible, make the contact personal – this is so much more memorable and will do wonders for the perception of you and your brand.

Exhibitions are a big investment, but done right they can deliver huge rewards. So be sure to think carefully about how you are going to attract visitors, engage them and follow-up with them afterwards. By considering these areas at the planning stage you can expect to considerably increase your return on investment.

Andy Preston on how to avoid stupid mistakes when your business is at an exhibition


As well as the advice from Richard above, we also asked sales expert Andy Preston to list our some of the more common mistakes salespeople make at exhibitions and how you can make sure you don’t make the same errors.

After attending a recent exhibition at Earl’s Court in London, I noticed several salespeople there who seemed to be doing their best to lose their company potential sales leads. Here are some of the mistakes I saw.

Stupid mistake No. 1 – Judging prospects by their name badge

I’ve seen so many salespeople do this at exhibitions it’s ridiculous! Far too many people gaze at prospects’ name badges, in order to find out their job titles, to see whether they’re worth talking to or not!

Prospects know you’re doing this, as the salespeople on pretty much every stand they’ve walked past so far have done that to them as well. They tire of it very quickly.

Experienced exhibition visitors will go to exhibitions and either not fill in the correct details on the name badge because we don’t want to be leapt upon by every salesperson, or give a more junior job title, because we know that salespeople won’t bother us if we do. How many of those prospects are you missing out on by using your current approach?

Stupid mistake No. 2 – Not being welcoming enough

Far too many people aren’t welcoming enough on their stands. Prospects are walking around looking at various companies while their salespeople are busy talking to each other, not looking around for potential prospects that would like to engage in conversation, stood with their backs to prospects etc.

Some prospects aren’t necessarily confident to march right up to you on the stand and ask for details of your latest product or service! They’ll linger a little off the stand, trying to work out what you do and if they want to engage or not. If you and your stand look more hostile than welcoming they’ll move on to one of your competitors instead.

Start being alive and awake to opportunities with prospects who are lingering just off your stand itself. Look for opportunities to engage them and make them feel more comfortable talking to you, rather than driving them away.

Stupid mistake No. 3 – Breaking down the stand too early

This is one of the stupidest mistakes of all. I think this has happened at EVERY exhibition I’ve ever been too.

Once I was at an exhibition that was due to close at 5.30pm. At 4.30pm, not only were a number of people breaking down their stands and packing up, but some had already done so and their stand was empty. Are these people crazy?

What about the impression it had on potential customers if they say a stand being packed up, or worse, still completely empty?

There is NO EXCUSE for packing a stand up early. Ever.

Related: How to stand out at a business marketing exhibition

Stupid mistake No. 4 – Various related stupid mistakes

Here are some more stupid mistakes that you need to make sure you’re not making. They’re all related to each other, so I’ve included them all together here. I’ve seen all of these personally at exhibitions over the past year, so don’t think people don’t do them!

Sitting down – Now, I know exhibitions can be tiring, but sitting down does not show you in a good light. If you really have to do (on the stand), then make sure your stand is designed so you can sit on bar stools, rather than anything at normal ‘chair’ height. If you’re sat down, the unconscious message you’re sending to prospects is that they have to disturb you to speak to you. So they probably won’t bother.

Reading a book on the stand – Even more stupid than the last one! I saw a lady on a stand at an educational show last year break out a book and start reading it on the stand! What faster way of showing people you’re not interested in them is there than that?

Texting or using your mobile phone – I’ve lost count of the amount of salespeople that I see sat down (see above) and texting on their stand, meaning they’re looking down at their phone, not at potential prospects.

Follow the steps above and make sure you don’t make these mistakes and lose valuable leads, sales and your company business at exhibitions in future.

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