10 Signs It’s ‘Amateur Night’ at Your Trade Show

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

25 years ago I tried to persuade a friend to compete on Amateur Night on Showtime at the Apollo. With no luck. He was a very talented rap artist. But he knew (and anybody who watched the show knew) that rappers stood little chance of winning that competition. He thought I just wanted to see him get booed off the stage. (That was a comical part of the show.) I knew where he was coming from, but… nothing ventured nothing gained.

Regretfully, today’s trade shows and industry events bring a new the meaning to Amateur Night. Or Day. Or whatever you want to call it. And it’s so damn easy to see…

Though I vividly recall watching Showtime at the Apollo over two decades ago, a tour of current trade shows would have you wondering if anything has been learned in the last five decades. If there’s ever an industry — an area of marketing performance, corporate communication, sales enablement, lead and demand generation, and revenue-generation —  ripe for innovation and disruption, it’s the trade show and event industry.

Turn on your computer, wake up your mobile device, wander around some convention halls, view the Tweet streams, and within minutes (maybe seconds) you may see what I’ve seen:

1. Two Bags of Junk and a $5000 Expense

Somebody proudly tweeting a picture of two suitcases full of swag (junk) that was (allegedly) to be brought home from a trade show. I started to do the math. One conference registration, plus one flight, plus ground transportation, plus meals, plus hotel, plus incidentals, plus time OOO, plus time wasted on-site gathering this stuff, plus time packing, plus (God forbid) luggage fees = $5000. Maybe more. Probably not much less than that. Gathering stuff is not why one attends a show. More, who is paying those business expenses?

2. Signage, Ineffective

Will somebody please take exhibitors to a baseball game? Or for a long drive on the highway? Look at an outdoor sign, or at a billboard. The companies with bold, simple messaging stand out. You remember those Coca-Cola signs with the logo – and nothing else? Good. So why do a majority feel the need to cram messages and shoehorn every product and company feature onto their 10’ backdrop?

3. Exhibit Space Rich, Booth Poor

So you splurged on a 20’ x 20’ booth. Congrats! But then you populated it with four posts with four monitors, one reception counter and some chairs. Oh, and you placed your logo here and there. Way to break the mold on the creative marketing effort.

4. The Exhibit Hall Copy Machine

When that long row of 10’ x 10’ booths resembles Cellblock D at a Federal Prison, it’s Amateur Hour. It’s tough to ‘break out’ of prison, and it may be even tougher to ‘break out’ in the crowd of endless booths that look the same. No amount of crammed messages on your signage will help. No rotating PowerPoints on a 27” monitor will change anything. And no literature racks with collateral from 2014 will separate you from your confinement.

5. Streaming Amateur Video

Doing Periscope, Facebook, and YouTube videos from trade show booths and convention halls is all the corporate marketing rage. Yet I’ve seen better, more engaging, more original, and more entertaining content on cable TV programs that feature homemade video submissions versus some of the so-called ‘professional’ stuff generated from industry events. I used to wonder if those in charge at some of these companies knew that these types of videos were being produced to represent their company – but then I see some CEOs who have taken part in such productions.

Oh well…just another competitive marketing and trade show advantage given away.

6. Nonsensical Event Imaging

Here’s what I’ve seen: pictures of event speakers next to their eye chart PowerPoint slides while the audience plays on mobile devises. That’s usually accompanied with a caption that reads “Joe really knocked that software demo out of the park!” Anybody notice that the audience isn’t paying attention? Or that the slides are illegible?

I’ve also seen those ‘just behind the scenes’ pictures of a TV interview being conducted for yet another trade show interview. Problem is that angle has become common and faded years ago. It all looks the same and had grown long-in-the-tooth. Plus, it used to be compelling to see the larger cameras, and detailed staging behind some of the bigger, on-scene video setups. Now, a picture behind one person holding a single light next to a small mobile camera on a tripod watching XYZ executive be interviewed just isn’t cool. Or compelling. It’s simple. Mediocre. Average. Played out. Every single interview, from every single trade show, of every single show attendee or industry executive, looks and sounds the same.

7. Public Speaking & Presentation Arrogance

Did you practice giving your presentation before going on-stage? Probably not. Not sufficiently, anyway. Did your colleagues? Doubtful. Did you care more about how you look and sound while giving your speech versus the overly detailed content of your color and logo-correct slides? Maybe you looked at yourself on video to practice before going on-camera from your event?

My apologies, I forgot. What you, your colleagues, and your company do is good enough.

8. The Panel Discussion Recipe for Disaster

Take six high-chairs, six microphones, six ‘just stopping by’ panelists, one moderator, and a handful of pre-planned, softball questions and try to engage an audience for 60 minutes. Or substitute four cozy, comfy living room chairs on-stage. Then take pictures, circulate, and try to sell everybody on the notion that this panel discussion was earth-shattering and ground breaking. One look at the body language of the panelists is all anybody needs to know that it wasn’t.

9. The Self-Proclaimed Self-Important Event Producer

I once had the pleasure of supporting an exhibit for a midsize tech company, at a midsize trade show, in a midsize convention hall. Nothing remarkable about the event itself. 100 exhibitors, maybe. What I do recall is that we needed something from the show producers. Couldn’t tell you what it was or why we needed it. What I do recall is finding the guy who was our contact and point person for the show. He was riding around the hall on one those indoor golf-cart-looking vehicles. He was very busy, and very important. He was friendly-ish. But just couldn’t help at that moment in time. Not right away. You see, this was during booth and exhibit hall construction, and he said (they) were “building a city.”

Relax, pal. It’s a midsize trade show. Not the first human colony on Mars.

10. The Rookies

Yes, I know there’s a first time for everything. That includes attending a trade show and corporate events. But there are those rookies who swoop into town and proudly proclaim that “The Networking Breakfast starts at 7:30 in the morning and I have to be on time!”

Enjoy your breakfast. You, the hotel catering staff, and two others just in from Europe fighting jet lag will have the place all to yourselves for the first 30 minutes.

Trade shows are business investments. Sales and marketing expenditures. Attendees are there to learn, not collect junk from other vendors. Speakers are there to engage, influence, and motivate audiences. Marketers are to help uncover opportunity. All are there as an investment to grow the business. You won’t get there by applying Amateur Night behaviors.

Stand out in the crowd. Dominate the event. Do something that’ll capture the imagination and attention of your competitors, and your target audience.

Have the industry crowd take your picture.

Do that, instead of taking and circulating yet another generic event selfie.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @tonycompton, GettingPresence

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