Tradeshow and booth etiquette best practices

This is a guest post by Matt Heinz, founder and principal of Heinz Marketing, LLC.

You can learn a lot about what to do, and what not to do, at a tradeshow booth just by walking around and observing behavior at just about any event. Below are some of the observations and etiquette best (and worst) practices I see at many events over and over.

The Good

Making Eye Contact & Saying Hello. The best booth staffers are engaged, scanning the crowd, and being proactive at making direct eye contact and greeting visitors. This is a great way to get myself and others to break their stride, pause for a moment, return the salutation, and start to engage on what they do. Many booths fail to do this. Eyes down, watching your Blackberry, is not a good way to get prospects.

Script the First Five Seconds. It’s very clear which booths had thought beforehand about their value proposition, and what specific handful of words would get the most visitors to say “wow, tell me more.” Your first few words, those first five seconds of your introduction, will help me decide if I’m going to learn more or move on.

State Your Benefits in Bold Letters. If I’m walking by, deciding which booth to visit, I need a reason to stop. If I’m scanning the booth, I want to see words that imply what I’ll achieve by working with you. I don’t want you to tell me you’re a cloud-based application. I don’t need a list of features. What will it do for me? Why should I take the time to learn more? It’s part of the hook, part of getting prospects to stop and engage.

Move Longer Conversations Out Of Traffic Flow. Especially in a crowded exhibit hall, once you’ve identified someone who wants to learn more or see a demo, get them out of the aisle and into your booth. Move there somewhere you can have a more direct, less-distracted conversation. This will add more value to that deeper conversation, plus allow more prospects in the flow of traffic to walk by and engage with others working your booth.

Value-Added Takeaways. The best booths offer a book, a how-to guide, or something of independent but related value that will make me smarter. I don’t want to take home a bunch of brochures, that’s what Web sites are for when I’m back at the office. Give me something I want to read on the plane home, something that will teach me and demonstrate how much more you can teach me if we keep working together.

The Bad

Scanning Badges Without Context. Unfortunately, “can I scan your badge?” isn’t a good example of the scripted five seconds referenced above. Offer me some value in exchange for the scan. Even if it’s just to enter a drawing for an iPad, at least I understand the value being exchanged. If you want to add me to your mailing list, promise me something valuable in return.

Failing to Qualify. If you don’t know who I am, what I do, what I need, how do you know it’s worth giving me a 5-10 minute deep-dive on your product? Not every booth visitor is a good lead, not every booth visitor should be pitched the same way. Know my role & my objective first.

Scanning for Someone Better. If I’m talking to you, at least pretend that you’re interested in our conversation. It’s obvious when you’re scanning the crowd to see if someone better walks by.

Ignoring Loiterers. If I pause on my own, stop and stare at your booth on my own, I’m interested. It’s your invitation to immediately engage with a handshake and welcome, especially when booth staffers are looking at and around me anyway. If you’re already busy giving a demo to someone else, take a quick moment to welcome me into the conversation. Make me feel welcome, otherwise I’m likely to move on.

Check Your Email. We’ve all done this at tradeshow booths. It’s bad. If you really must check your email, make sure you booth is staffed by someone else and walk a few feet away to do your business.

Brag About Your Hangover. It’s not a badge of honor. Yes, we may all have had too much fun last night. But you’re here now to work.


Matt Heinz is the founder and principal of Heinz Marketing LLC, a sales & marketing consulting group focused on helping clients accelerate sales, customer and revenue growth. Learn more about Heinz Marketing at, or read more from Matt at


Please note: We have a new method of delivering blog posts to your inbox. If you have previously received these blog posts through Feedburner, please subscribe to receive these blog posts through the form below and unsubscribe to the posts you receive through Feedburner.

Feel free to share:


Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. jrrandle53 on September 11, 2012 at 8:47 am

    I can totally relate to your musings and thus agree with you. Sometimes it’s devastating when I see an annoyed staff in a tradeshow booth ,staring at the giveaways as if scrutinizing them why they have come up such poor trade show giveaway ideas .

  2. Christina on October 24, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Your advice goes beyond standard tips and shares tips about obtaining a deeper level of interaction and success after the first meeting. Your tip to script the first seconds of an introduction could prove especially useful.

  3. Arden on October 29, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Thanks for commenting Christina.

Leave a Comment