Guide on the Side – Presenting from a Booth: A Guide to Exhibiting Professional Services

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries‘ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practicing Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected]

A program will be offered at the ABA TechShow specifically for exhibiting vendors, “60 Tips in 60 Minutes: Maximizing your Techshow Experience.” It will be held on April 1, 2000 from 3:30 to 4:30 at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Chicago at the ABA Techshow Y2K: Future Technology. Today! The website is

Exhibit halls exude excitement–a little like a bazaar. People come with great expectations and often comment “This is where the action is.” Conference exhibits give buyers instant access to new companies, new people, new technologies, new ideas and new trends. Little wonder that exhibit halls are exciting places.

If you decide to exhibit your professional services or are asked to manage an exhibit booth for your professional association, you should know that it is a top-ranking marketing opportunity. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) found that “..human interaction is what exhibitions deliver more cost-effectively than any other marketing medium.” (see Center for Exhibition Industry Research )

But professionals are often weak on marketing. How do you know where to start?

Before making a decision – Create a plan on paper

  • Identify your marketing purpose(s)
    Sell products, services or solutions
    Introduce new lines of products or services
    Get leads
    Establish a presence
    Educate potential clientele
    Gain visibility
    Build an image
    There are often secondary opportunities at a conference–bartering, creating strategic alliances or forming partnerships. Work both the booth and the show.
  • Pick the appropriate conference for your purpose(s):
    Does your target market attend?
    Do you have local members for staffing?
    Do your competitors exhibit at this conference?
    Do purchase decision makers and influencers attend?
    You can do everything else perfect but if you pick the wrong venue, it will be a “no-go” similar to marketing pension plans to high school students.
  • Translate your purpose(s) into specific exhibit objective(s):
    Express your objectives in specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time- bound) terms. “Get 30 leads for our placement service and follow them up within ten days after the exhibit.” Do your homework to calculate achievable and realistic goals. Find out the expected number of attendees. How big is your booth staff? How many hours is the exhibit center open? What is the average time per contact? How much follow-up time will be involved ? Relationship objectives, such as establishing a presence, are difficult to quantify. Try expressing the objective in terms of organizational relationships:
    Get an invitation to speak at a future conference or meeting
    Solicit articles for the organization’s professional journal
    Become on a first name basis with the conference “movers and shakers”
  • Determine the costs and your budget:
    Booth rental
    Design development
    Assemble an exhibit kit
    Prizes and freebies
    Travel and shipping
    Buy supplies and rent equipment
    Success doesn’t depend on big bucks but avoid scrimping so the booth looks cheap.

  • Design the booth and its accessories to realize your objective(s). Tools are primarily visual:
    Brochures, banners, pictures, colors, demonstrations and equipment
    Location and size of the booth
    Traffic pattern in the exhibit hall
    Occupants of the adjacent booths
    Booth amenities (rug, curtains, skirting, tables, waste bins, electrical outlets)
    Don’t forget to find out the Exhibition rules, policies and schedule (when you can set up and take down, exhibit hours).
  • Publicize your exhibition schedule via your newsletters, press releases and web site.
  • Create an evaluation form during the planning stage (when you will be more objective than after the exhibit) to determine how well you performed in relation to your goals. Make the form easy for your booth staff to use and enter comments.

During – People deliver your plan not the booth. (The booth is your portal.)

  • Staff your booth with people who know how to advance your marketing objective(s). This means training, ideally with role playing. The staff needs to be knowledgeable on all aspects of your organization and its services, have strong presentation skills and a positive attitude.
  • Allow ample time and staff for set-up.
    Have the booth specifications in writing and a simple drawing of the layout.
    Bring a survival kit, with things you may need for set-up and operation: stapler, pins, tape (masking, duct, scotch, double-sided) scissors, pens, extension cords plus the name and how to contact exhibit personnel, often not the host association but an independent contractor.
  • Create a script. Staffing a booth has many similarities to an elevator speech. (LLRX Guide #18) You have about 6 seconds to get your audience’s attention and 30 seconds to get your idea across. Keep explanations of product and service benefits simple. Listen to the visitors, a form of marketing research. Get something from each visitor – card, name, company, or comment. Give out your give-aways only after you get something in return. It lessens the value (and increases the costs) to indiscriminately give away your freebies to anyone walking by. Determine how to quickly find out whether a visitor qualifies for your service and how to graciously terminate the interaction if they do not.
  • Make a realistic staffing schedule. Staffing a booth is demanding work. Do not expect people to do it for hours at a time without a break. Try to avoid leaving the booth unattended. It sends a negative message. Aim to staff in pairs.
  • Consider not allowing chairs in the booth so that your staff will not be tempted to sit during slack times. A sitting exhibitor projects a tired message. If you have chairs, use them to let your visitors sit.
  • Select promotional items that are related to your products or service. If the connection is not obvious, develop a theme to make the connection. Make it easy for the customer to try your service the first time. Offer a free trial.

After – Finalize your plan

  • Follow-up leads, offers to speak, consult or other promises.
  • Contact the exhibit committee of the host organization. Share what was good and what could be improved in terms of their support. Bargain for a better deal in the future.
  • Evaluate the experience (use the form you developed during the planning stage). Rate your boothmanship. Make notes for future improvements.
  • Calculate the return on your investment. A successful booth pays for itself.
  • Publicize the results of each exhibition to your organization.

Exhibiting at a professional conference differs from trade shows in that the mix of products and services leans more toward services but otherwise the principles are similar. Professionals can also expect to find many similarities between presenting from a booth and presenting from a platform:

Preparation is vital
Identify your target audience
Have clear objectives
Talk about benefits (what’s in it for the audience)
Keep your demonstrations simple and to the point
Have a secure opening and closing
Modify the physical space to support your objectives
Connect with the audience
Evaluate your performance
Expect to have learning experiences.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Presentation Skills