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May 17, 2013

How to Train Trade Show Exhibitors

Show organizers, says Traci Browne, often lament that many exhibitors don’t come to shows prepared to trade shows. “We’ve all seen booth staffers who sit behind a table with their head in their phone or staffers who spend more time talking to their colleagues and the booth staff across the aisle than they do the attendees walking the aisles,” she wrote on her blog recently. “Then there is the issue of poor pre-show marketing, lead follow-up and even getting people to read their show manual.”

Back in the day, Browne continued, many shows would offer booth staff training—but it was often the day before the show, and for those few who would show up, there was no time for the lessons to sink in. In addition, the people who really need to attend the training are often the ones who think they don’t need it.

“So,” Browne asked on the blog, “whose job is it to make sure exhibitors and their booth staff is properly trained? Should show organizers do more to provide the training they need? Or should they just be left to their own devices? Is it enough to give them a list of resources and let them pay for it themselves or should show organizers be spending the money to provide the training? How do you convince busy exhibitors that taking advantage of training would give them a better ROI? How do you deliver that training?”

Browne raised these questions and more at the weekly #expochat on Twitter, with industry professionals from across the country chiming in to answer. 

Browne began the chat session with a basic thesis question: Should show organizers take more of the responsibility of training exhibitors? 

Rachel Wimberly, editor of The Trade Show Network, said that better-trained exhibitors lead to a better show all the way around for everyone. “It's a win-win,” she said. Carole Lotito, media manager from Kallman Worldwide, echoed the sentiment: “Trained exhibitors mean more success for them--and ultimately everyone. We train our exhibitors on the culture of a country and how to promote themselves pre-, at and post.” This earned cheers from Marlys Arnold, a Kansas City-based Exhibit Marketing Consultant, who noted that culture is “very important and often overlooked.” “Imagine the opposite,” Lotito replied. “A bunch of exhibitors on the phone, talking to each other, no promotion, lousy graphics and collateral.” 

Michelle Bruno, however, cautioned that the kind of training was also important, and Terence Donnelly, a sales strategy mentor, suggested that that the wording of the sentiment could be important:” I think show organizers should ‘consult’ their exhibitors, not ‘train’ [them],” he said. 

Scott Lum said that happy exhibitors make for a happy conference, and Mike Thimmesch of Skyline Exhibits agreed that happy exhibitors make for happier attendees, too. “It's the exhibitor's responsibility to improve their skills, but it's in the show owner's best interest to help them.” But, Lum added, not all exhibitors are skilled in event marketing. “Some exhibitors don't spend time thinking how to adjust their marketing efforts for face-to-face marketing.”

Browne asked her next question: Is it enough to provide resources for training or should shows provide it with an extra charge? Thimmesch answered in no uncertain terms: “Shows should provide it for free, because it pays for itself in preventing attrition.” Lum agreed, suggesting that the trade show managers consider it a marketing expense for next year. “Success this year means return business,” he said. Arnold, for her part, said that many shows have provided training for free as a value-add, “but perhaps it would be more effective if [exhibitors] had to invest.” 

Donnelly and Wimberly also agreed that training should be free, but cautioned that people might not show up for the training if they don’t understand its value. As an incentive, Browne suggested offering a discount on booth space for those who show up to training: “We used to give our exhibitors $100 off $600 booth space, but they were small [businesses] so it meant a lot to them.” Lum, however, disagreed: “They should be dinged if they don't show up. An empty booth is bad for the conference.” In that case, Browne suggested providing training for free—but charging the no-shows the cost of the session.”

Stay tuned for more ideas on exhibitor training next week. In the meantime, read the full chat transcript here


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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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