As an exhibitor, you are seen not as an individual, but as the embodiment of your company.

With Prospective Customers

At a trade show, it’s the nature of the beast for people to make snap judgments when they pause at a booth. This means that it’s doubly important for you to use good business etiquette as you demonstrate your product. When meeting potential clients or buyers:

  • Dress as if you were meeting an important client back at the office
  • Always stand when talking
  • Shake hands
  • Express interest in the person
  • Give him or her your undivided attention

It can be tricky balancing several customers at once. Have business cards at the ready, and use them to momentarily satisfy any visitors waiting their turn. Similar to putting someone on hold on the telephone, say a quick “Please excuse me” to the person you’re talking with, turn to the bystander, hand him or her a card and say, “Would you mind waiting a bit? I’ll be right with you.” If you see that a booth mate is free, direct the prospect to him or her. Or, if possible, quickly set up an appointment to meet later in the day.

Even if you’re making small talk with a potential customer, it’s not a good idea to invite another prospect to join in unless your intuition tells you otherwise: It is always better to give your undivided attention to one person at a time. The same rule applies to product demonstrations. If someone is standing by observing, that’s fine—but you should direct your demonstration to the person you’re dealing with at the moment. At the same time, make it clear to the other person that you’ll attend to him or her as soon as you have finished.

Following Up

You might pursue your hottest leads with a phone call, but you’ll most likely be following up by email. Write a personalized note to each customer or prospect as soon as possible, but within a week of the show at the latest. Make sure your subject line references your company and the trade show: Acme Dynamite: 2015 Minerals and Mining Convention. It’s okay to mention a non-business topic you discussed to personalize the letter further and let it stand out from the norm.

With Other Exhibitors

If you attend trade shows regularly, more than likely you’ll be acquainted with many of the booth-tenders from other companies. While you’ll no doubt want to catch up with them, and perhaps make plans for the evening, remember your goal is to bring in business. The less time you spend schmoozing with old friends, the more time you’ll have to meet with potential customers.

“Which way to the snack bar?”

Considering the number of people streaming by your booth, it is inevitable that you’ll be asked for directions to restrooms, snack bars, and the lost and found. The very fact that you’ve staked out a space in a gargantuan hall marks you as a fixture of sorts, if only temporarily. As a consequence, in the minds of browsers, you know the lay of the land.

The wise booth-tender will make sure he or she can politely provide the needed answer, even if the directions are to a competitor’s booth. On the first day, become familiar with the layout of the floor by taking a walking tour, with the show directory as your guide. Then keep the directory close at hand for the rest of the show, so you can answer when some one asks, “Where is the Alpha Drilling Bits booth?” Your kindness to a stranger might open up a conversation that could lead to interest in your product.

After Hours

After hours the atmosphere is definitely social—if not downright party time. From hospitality suites hosted by exhibitors to golf outings and group excursions to restaurants and tourist sites, there is always plenty of opportunity to mix work with play. The last thing you want to be is a stick-in-the-mud, but bear in mind your conduct reflects on your company, after hours as well as during show time. Unfortunately, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

For information on Emily Post Business Etiquette Programs contact Steven Puettner, Director of Sales, at or 802-860-1814.