Trade Show Etiquette

August 10, 2019 | Trade Shows

Trade Show Etiquette Matters!

There’s only one chance to make a first impression! Yet, many companies sending staff to trade shows don’t review basic trade show etiquette.

Tina Nicola, M.A.

Tina is the founder of and has been creating profitable marketing and exhibit strategies for startups, small businesses and nonprofits for over nineteen years. Her main goal is to broaden access to the techniques she has developed so anyone can benefit and improve exhibiting strategy, sales conversations and follow up.

Here’s’s top 5 do’s and don’ts for staff working a trade show booth or exhibit. Proper trade show etiquette isn’t just about making a good impression— these rules reinforce the trade show training principles needed for a profitable show! Looking for more than an etiquette checklist? Check out our article on trade show staff training!

Trade Show Etiquette: Do’s

1) Do… Be active!

The first principle you’ll learn in’s Tradeshow Basecamp™ course is to always be active when working a trade show booth. This means using icebreakers to start conversations with attendees passing by the exhibit. It also means taking initiative to speak to attendees walking into your exhibit— not waiting for them to approach YOU with a question!

2) Do… Dress Appropriately

Dress appropriately for the trade show you are attending. Trade shows themselves may have dress codes, or your company may have one for the show. Dress ‘professionally’ according to the standards of your industry or event.

Also, always wear comfortable shoes. Why? This brings us to our next ‘do’ in the list…

3) Do… Stand

You should plan to stand (not sit) while working in a trade show exhibit. Unless, of course, you have a specific medical condition that would make this impossible. This is part of ‘active’ exhibiting— looking alert and ready to engage!

Sitting also encourages other behaviors in our ‘don’t’ list, such as: focusing on a computer or reading a book. All of these behaviors will make many attendees feel that they don’t want to ‘interrupt you’ — which isn’t good for business!

4) Do… Take good notes

You should take great notes about your sales conversations at a trade show. This includes information like the name, contact information and the product needs and interests of those attendees you spoke with who were good leads. Why? All good leads should be followed up with by phone or email after the trade show. The potential customer will be rightly irritated if they have to repeat everything they told you or your colleague about their needs during the trade show.

To learn more about how to determine if you are talking to a ‘good lead,’ check out the Tradeshow Basecamp™ online video course!

5) Do… Follow up, soon!

The point of going to a trade show is of course to sell something! As we teach in Tradeshow Basecamp™, staff should be actively qualifying leads during their conversations. Good leads should then be prioritized for email or phone call follow up shortly after the show. By shortly, we mean no more than a week. After that, conversations had at the show are less likely to be remembered well by either party.

For more on what you SHOULD be doing to have a successful trade show , check out the Tradeshow Basecamp™ handbook… Or, keep reading to learn what NOT to do during a trade show.

Trade Show Etiquette: Don’ts

We could (and have!) filled a book with real-world examples that we’ve encountered of bad trade show etiquette. Here are some of our top pet-peeves, all of which will sink your chances of having a profitable trade show.

1) Don’t… Be Passive

Don’t wait for attendees to walk into your exhibit— stand at the edge of the aisle and use icebreakers to start conversations with them! These conversations might lead to sales. Also, be sure to say something right away to anyone who walks into your exhibit. For instance, use an icebreaker to gather information about why they’ve visited your exhibit. Get a ‘just browsing’? Check out Tradeshow Basecamp™ 104: Tips and Tricks to learn how to reach a sales goal even if you initially get a ‘no.’

2) Don’t… Eat, Chew Gum, Drink Alcohol

Eating in front of attendees is bad trade show etiquette. This makes you look unavailable and reduces the chance that an attendee will walk into your booth or ‘interrupt’ you. Instead, take turns grabbing a bite to eat— outside of the booth.

Don’t drink alcohol during a trade show or sales event, even if there is an open bar on the show floor. This rule applies to you even if you are a VP or CEO! Many of the best leads will be funneled your direction during a trade show. Will you be sharp enough to convert them into sales, or at least take great notes about them for your colleagues? Also, do not show up to a trade show hung over— an all too common habit among exhibit staff.

4) Don’t… Read, Play with Electronics

We get it: trade shows can be boring if traffic is slow. But, trade show etiquette requires that you always be active. If attendees aren’t making a bee-line for your booth, you should be using Icebreakers to start conversations as they pass by. Reading and playing with computers or phones makes you look unavailable.

Passive trade show etiquette is never better than the more active approach. Waiting to speak until spoken to is never a better trade show strategy, even if you are representing a nonprofit or your products invite ‘browsing.’

4) Don’t… Be Pushy

While you DO want to always be active, trade show etiquette requires you avoid being pushy. Starting a conversation with an icebreaker is not itself pushy, if done in a friendly way. However, don’t block attendees from passing by you or badger them to take your sample or check out your exhibit.

There are productive ways to respond to a ‘no thanks’ without being pushy. You’ll learn more about what a ‘no thanks’ might mean and how to respond appropriately in the Tradeshow Basecamp™ online course series.

5) Don’t… Forget to qualify leads!

As we teach in Tradeshow Basecamp™, your sales conversations at a trade show should be focused on qualifying leads. That means deciding if the person you are speaking with is a ‘good lead’ likely to buy from you. But what if you discover the person you are speaking with is not a ‘good lead’? You need to disengage from the conversation! It may sound cold, but at a trade show time is money.

Would an online video course help?

To learn more about active exhibiting, using icebreakers to stop traffic and qualifying leads, we invite you and your team to check out our online video course Tradeshow Basecamp™

Tradeshow Basecamp™

Our acclaimed course series, a complete program designed to help you have profitable trade shows. Get instant access to the full course series (101, 102, 103, 104).

Be fully prepared for your next event and earn your  Certified Tradeshow Basecamp Exhibitor™ (CTBE™) today!

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1 thought on “Trade Show Etiquette

  1. […] work a trade show exhibit to maximize your ROI. At the very least, your staff should be trained in Trade Show Etiquette, however a list of do’s and don’ts is not […]

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