You’re Not Too Special to Work Your Own Booth

Tony Compton, Managing Director

It’s the afternoon before the exhibit hall opens at your next industry event, and your company has a big booth on the trade show floor. Let’s make it a very big booth. 50’ x 50’. I’m certain there’s an exhibit manager who’s been working for months prepping show logistics, and that person has battled an obstacle course over the last few weeks filled with long days, late nights, and energy-sapping business travel. Today, with rolled-up sleeves and dirty hands, the exhibit manager oversees union labor crews across numerous trades, stands in long exhibitor service lines, works side-by-side with a rep from an event services provider, and pays little attention to the 18-hour day that’s barely half over.

Then, the inevitable.

Either one-by-one, two at a time, or in small groups, company staff arrive at the under-construction booth site. It’s routine, almost habitual. The process is this: coworkers with zero booth responsibility before the show land at the local airport, check-in at the hotel, make their way to the convention center, pick up their badges, saunter onto the trade show floor, and locate the company exhibit. This scene repeats itself over and over, show after show, convention after convention, exhibit hall after exhibit hall.
(And yes, you may count me among those who have done just that. Guilty as charged.)
But while company convention-goers swell with pride seeing their logo on the side of scattered booth crates, a pet-peeve of the exhibit manager begins to resurface.

It’s Great to See You, But Not Now

The booth isn’t a hangout. Not before, during or after an event. Nor is it a place to drop-off luggage, store laptops, or lend an unsolicited opinion or suggestion about how the’s booth layout or appearance can be improved right before the start of an event. Positive support is always appreciated, but playing greeter to a steady stream of just-arrived coworkers complicates an exhibit manager’s afternoon and takes up valuable time on a day when time is in short supply. Even the most good-natured exhibit managers don’t want to play the part of a repetitive booth welcomer; if they could, they would issue a standing order to all to stay away from the booth until the exhibit hall opens and they’re invited or scheduled to be there.

The Kicker

Part of that steady stream of newly-arriving coworkers usually involves those in the executive ranks who are not in the exhibit hall to work, but to simply announce their presence. Once in the area of the booth, these senior-level colleagues will ask a few mundane questions as they survey the landscape. They’re not there to put in any work, mind you, but for some unknown reason they’re compelled to make the trip to the booth and verbally check-in. Oh, the CMO may give a somewhat credible reason for hanging around and the CEO/Founder/Owner will always have a good excuse, but the rest are just wasting the time of event personnel hustling to complete booth preparations. While it’s understood that hearts are in the right place, that place shouldn’t be the booth the day before an exhibit hall opens.

The Opening Day Search Party

Having a trade show booth staffing schedule is a given, but it may or may not include scheduled time for executives to participate on the exhibit’s front-lines. And for as much as these executives love to show up the day before the exhibit hall opens, many are hard to find during most of the open and busy exhibit hall hours.

As inquires are made into the reasons why “non-scheduled” higher-ups are hard to find, the list of potential excuses may include:

  • They’re busy because they have on-site meetings, then giving a presentation…
  • Just like superheros, they flew in, having just arrived on the scene, but now have to leave…
  • Somebody will try to sell them something…
  • Somebody will try to partner…
  • It’s a security risk…
  • They want to see the sessions on the latest technologies…
  • They don’t want to talk to anybody on the show floor…
  • There are others who staff the booth…

While a few of those reasons may be true, not one is a blanket excuse. And certainly not across multiple events. I’ve done plenty of events to know the difference between booth avoidance and true participation.

How Nice of You to Stop By

Wait, wait, wait… Call off the search party, because elusive senior leaders usually turn up:

  • During the evening cocktail reception on the show floor
  • During the company’s sponsored event party
  • In the hospitality suite
  • For a brief moment before or after an exhibit hall lunch
  • When a piece of luggage, a briefcase, or a laptop needs to be stored
  • Immediately before leaving for the airport

Again, while a few of those event activities count toward on-site work, differences remain between those who interact throughout the course of a convention vs. those who drop in and out of a booth whenever they please.

It’s Your Company’s Booth. Set an Example and Work It.

It’s not only your booth, but event attendees are your employees, customers, and prospects. Attendees are also your partners, competitors, analysts, investors, and academics. While some executives would like everybody to know how busy they are taking care of big business, others do spend time engaging show audiences. All corporate staff – including executives – should roll up the sleeves and pick up a shift or two in the booth. And not just during happy hour.

I’ve worked with many executives who have put in the time at the company’s exhibit, and you see it all the time from executives at start-ups and smaller companies. That same passion, energy, and performance should be on display, even from big shots from global enterprises who feel as if they’re too special to work their company booth.

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