Last week, I attended the New England Business Expo in Worcester, Massachusetts. Now, I’ve designed a number of trade show booths, but I haven’t attended many trade shows so I haven’t seen my work in the field before. But I know a good trade show booth from a bad one, so I was curious to see what I’d find there.
After only a couple of minutes at the Expo, I noticed that I was doing something weird. I pretty much ignored the booth designs; rather, I concentrated on the black-and-white signs that were at the top center of each booth space, placed there by the event organizers. Why? Because I was on a mission to speak to representatives of Chambers of Commerce or other possible venues for my Cheating Death by PowerPoint workshop. And I found that many of the professionally designed trade show booths hid the exhibitors’ messages amid dense text, flashy photography, and numerous bullet points.
Scanning the top and back of each booth had the added benefit of allowing me to check out all of the booths quickly while avoiding eye contact with the exhibitors. Not that I’m an unfriendly person, but my time at the Expo was brief and I wanted to make the most of it by zeroing in on my target audience, not make idle chitchat with people whose wares I really wasn’t interested in.
There were, however, some displays that were impossible to ignore. Like this massive carved pumpkin for a caterer. This was carved from one of those giant mutant pumpkins that always wins at county fairs. The pupils were disks cut from tomatoes. Though I’m not in the market for catering, this was an eye-catching attendee magnet that provoked a lot of conversation and admiration of the caterer’s skill.
And here’s a photo from another business trade show I attended in the spring. Like the carved pumpkin, it was very popular with the cell phone snapshot crowd! And it illustrated the point very well that this company has live tech support staffed by knowledgeable people, rather than just phone zombies.
So I’ll keep designing trade show booths the same way. But from now on I will make it a point to find out if my clients are trying to broadcast a specific message, then make sure that that message is the most obvious thing in the world to cut through the trade show static!