20 Sins of Exhibiting

Time and time again I witness exhibitors making the same common mistakes at exhibitions. Avoid these top 20 sins of exhibiting to ensure that you maximise your investment and have the best chance of achieving your objectives from every show!


1. Not Reading the Exhibitor Manual

Ensure you read and digest every piece of information the exhibition organiser sends to you. Don’t just presume that everything will be provided – check the specifics. Likewise ensure that you return all the paperwork by the deadline to help ensure a positive streamlined exhibiting process and avoid last minute panic and unnecessary stress.

2. Not Thinking About Your Objectives

How can you know if exhibiting has been successful for you and the return on your investment unless you know what you want to achieve and plan accordingly for this beforehand? What are your reasons for exhibiting at the show? How many leads are you looking to achieve? How can you quantify the resulting business?

3. Being Shy

Choose confident friendly staff that are happy talking to strangers and comfortable ‘interrupting’ people passing by in a cheerful, friendly manner. These staff are representing your brand so warm people skills are essential to ensure a lasting impression for all the right reasons.

4. Your Exhibition Booth Doesn’t Communicate Clearly What You Do

Think carefully about your stand design and graphics to ensure it effectively communicates what you do. Always presume that people have no prior knowledge of your company. Pictures really do tell ‘a thousand words and so ensure your graphics clearly illustrate your offering.

Get into the mind-set of the consumer. How does your product or service make their life easier/simpler/more pleasurable? What problems can you solve for them? What are the key features and USPs? Is this information communicated through your exhibition booth?

5. Not Making an Effort or Giving Enough Thought to your Presence

On the busy exhibition floor it is vital that you make a good first impression (many say within 7 seconds) and encourage people to pause, engage with you and cross that threshold.

Why should people visit your stand? If you have a lot of money to invest in your stand this can definitely be money well spent but even if you are working on a shoestring budget there are lots of simple inviting touches which can make a difference such as offering refreshments or cup-cakes on your stand, running a fun competition and theming your stand.

I highly recommend you read this post for more do’s and don’ts and ideas: 20 Tactics to Drive More Attendees to Exhibition Booths

6. Acting Disinterested

No matter how long the day has been exhibition staff should smile and make eye contact at all times. I expect to see staff on their feet, engaging with visitors to the show. If you are on your mobile phone, sitting down, yawning, eating, looking grumpy, have your back to the walkway, etc, etc I may simply walk right on by!

7. Having Too Few Staff

It can be difficult to judge how many staff you need at a show, however people will only wait a limited amount of time to speak to someone before they move on and potentially won’t ever call back to your stand so it is important to have plenty of staff available to ensure every lead is captured and likewise that your staff can take regular breaks to eat, drink, check their phones and rest their weary feet and voices!

8. Having Too Many Staff

On the other hand it can also be off putting and overwhelming to have too many staff at a stand clamouring for your attention. Monitor the balance.

9. Staff Who Know Nothing about Your Product or Company

I have visited stands before and asked the simplest of questions to be told “I have no idea I am just helping out” with no other staff on hand to assist. Following on from this I was also once told to “look at the website and contact the company directly if I want more information.” Charming!

Ensure all staff representing your company are fully briefed and armed with all the key information. Even if they are experienced current employees you should ensure they are prepared with a coherent message and approach. Hiring promotional staff may be inevitable but realise how damaging it can be to have the wrong or no information available to give to a visitor and ensure it doesn’t happen EVER!

Allow plenty of time for briefing and questions of casual staff and enable less knowledgeable staff to shadow senior staff until they learn the ropes. Make sure staff are confident how to deal or pass on detailed enquiries/any questions they can’t answer efficiently on a busy exhibition stand.

10. Not Perfecting your Elevator Pitch

You will need to explain your company and products/services countless times during the show so make sure you can explain succinctly and effectively. Practice and perfect this before the show rather than learning how to pitch on real live customers as you go along!

11. Not Listening

Ask some key questions and really listen to your customer to best understand how you can help them. Talk to them, not at them!

12. Not Having Information to Take Away

Many people will not want information overload however some will request simple or detailed literature to take away with them from the show. Ensure you can provide for both requirements. Think about if your stand becomes so busy that the team can’t physically talk to everyone.

At least if you can hand out some brief information you have a chance that the individual will keep hold of the information and engage with you at a later date or perhaps even venture back to your booth later in the show if they think it is worth their while.

13. Being Cagey about Pricing

Be prepared to answer questions about price and be upfront. Even if you offer a bespoke service find some way to quantify this and give an idea of minimum and maximum costings on the spot, with the offer of a more detailed proposal to follow. Without being willing to talk frankly about figures you could both be wasting each other’s time and missing out on more suitable leads passing you by.

14. Taking Forever to Record Leads

Exhibitions are exciting and I want to ensure I make the most of it. If I agree to share my data with you please ensure that you do this quickly and efficiently, ideally through scanning my badge and quickly taking brief details about what I need more information on.

Asking me to complete a form myself or laboriously watch you complete a handwritten form is not acceptable in this day and age, particularly if there are a million and one questions! It is in your best interest to capture and qualify the lead painlessly so that you can move onto the next visitor too.

In my opinion if you commit to exhibiting an effective way of capturing leads is an essential part of the investment you make.

15. Spamming

I will let you into a secret; I purposefully have two sets of business cards with two different email addresses listed purely because of the amount of spam emails received before and after exhibitions. When registering for an exhibition and on the show floor I use cards with a general email address.

A very privileged few receive business cards with my direct primary email account. Perhaps it is sad that I do this but believe me my inbox is bursting at the seams already without the hundreds of spam emails often sent through from larger shows. This drives me up the wall!

It is also a real lost opportunity as you will lose my attention or be confined to the spam folder forever if you persist with uninspiring email content and/or add me to your email list without expressly gaining my permission!

16. Exhibitors Commandeering the Time of Other Exhibitors

It can be exciting to meet up with industry colleagues and suppliers at an exhibition but please talk to them at the bar at the end of the day, don’t steal their time and attention while the show doors are open to visitors.

Even at quieter times respect that this is strictly time for business. Don’t deny yourself or others a potential lead walking away whilst you are gossiping to your peers.

17. Uninspiring Tweets

Just because you continually tell people to come and visit your stand using the exhibition hashtag that doesn’t mean it will happen! Give your social media messages some thought, tantalise people with a reason to make a visit and have online conversations, don’t just broadcast to them! Use pictures and video to full effect and to maximise engagement.

18. Badmouthing Competitors

Focus on your own selling points and be professional at all times. I don’t want to hear your assassination of a competitor or rival product. I will make up my own mind thank you very much!

19. Packing Up Early

As an exhibitor you are generally expressly forbidden from packing up your stand early and surely should commit to milking every last minute of your presence at the show you have invested in. Packing up isn’t just a potential health and safety issue but it reflects terribly on your organisation and also the show organisers.

Leaving a few brochures spread out for people to take does not make up for human interaction and if you have left the exhibition early the opportunity to secure my business is potentially gone forever.

20. Not Following Up Leads Post Event

You may have heard the shocking statistics that 75% of leads are not followed up after the exhibition. Live events change minds as outlined in these stats from FaceTime so this is really frustrating to hear and such a wasted opportunity!

However please also take heed of point 15 and do not under any circumstances send spam to my inbox! I want a personalised response with the information I requested, not a blanket untargeted and uninspiring mailing!

In Conclusion

Exhibitions are a great way to meet face to face with organisations you are interested in doing business with. For me it isn’t necessarily the most impressive stand build and design that captures my attention and business, it is those exhibitors that avoid these mistakes and perfect the basics of exhibiting and engagement that stand out. Ensure you get the most out of your investment in attending the show by avoiding the 20 simple sins of exhibiting outlined in this post.

What frustrates you when you visit an exhibition? Are there other pitfalls that exhibitors should avoid to win your attention and business at the show? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

About The Author
Becki Cross
Becki Cross is Managing Director of Events Northern Ltd, a UK event and conference management company established in 2004. Becki set up the business in her early twenties and is particularly passionate about conferences, innovation, entrepreneurship and the legacy of events.Becki is also the Deputy Editor, Community Manager and Contributor to EventMB, her dream job alongside event planning!Follow Becki via @beckitrain.
Comment Policy Comments
  • Alfred Poor

    That’s a great list, Becki, especially #6. I know how hard it is to keep your energy level up, especially in the afternoon of Day 3 of show and you’re working short-staffed.

    I’d add one more item to the list: come up with ways to put your “magic in a bottle.” You’ve spent all this time and energy coming up with an exhibit, staffing it, training everyone with your pitch, and preparing the demonstrations and handouts and displays. Then after a couple days, it all gets packed away and shipped home.

    Make your investment in your exhibit continue to work for you year-round. Take pictures of your booth and put them on your website. Better yet, record a video so that your staff can keep on pitching even after the show ends and the booth is stored away.

    Alfred Poor
    Member: International Association of Exhibitions and Events

    • Thank you Alfred for commenting.
      I really love your idea about putting your “magic in a bottle” and all your suggestions for how this can be shared after the event. Great advice!

  • Felipe Villarroel

    This is a very well-rounded list, it’s nice to see facts summorized like this.
    I believe that an exhibition for a product is a unique opportunity and almost a priviledge and should be treated as such. This means, like the article states, to have a friendly, well-informed staff that has the social skills to make you stand out. This means preparing this in advance and evaluating every step of the way (get a third party involved) so when your big day arrives you and your staff are ready for it. Preparation is a key factor to make it a succes.
    On the other hand of the scale we have the conclusion of the event. It’s time to nurrish the seeds you have planted with your visitors. The exhibition should be a filter between what the visitor wants and the huge amount of information you could give. Getting back to your potential prospects as quickly as possible with the right information will give a good impression. Not only that but people won’t have a feeling like: “oh, where do I know them from? What did I ask again?”

    As a future Event manager I will take these tips with me for the rest of my life

  • Kadidia Sanou

    Interesting Sins, Becki ! Really liked the article

    I recognize a lot of my personal mistakes that I’ve made in the past. For example presuming that everything will be taking care of was definitely a mistake I used to make ,being an upcoming event manager I really underestimated these specifics. From my experiences I really learned that checking this over and over again, really avoids stress and problems. Also having a confident and good team is really
    crucial in this business, I believe that everything starts with a good team ! So as I said Communication in this industry is vital to survive !

    The entire subject about attitude and how to act, is a subject that I take very seriously. The Event managers should take this also very seriously because when you are working at an event, being polite an smiling definitely has to be on your “how-to-behave” list. Also having knowledge about certain subjects , even if you are an intern or just helping out ! It is inevitable to brief them with the information they need to make you event successful.

    • Hello Kadidia
      We are in the service industry so that smile is so important. So simple but it really can make all the difference. And the best thing is it costs nothing!

  • Yarnfield Park

    Becki, great post…

    We have been guilty of some of these sins over the years! Another one that can be infuriating as a visitor is if the exhibitors turn up late and there’s no staff on the stand at all when the exhibition opens…

    • I agree completely! Turning up late or still setting up after the doors open does not give the best impression to potential customers!
      Thanks for contributing!

Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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