Last week I attended the Napa Chamber of Commerce’s Napa Valley Business Showcase and Women in Business and Technology Symposium at the Meritage Resort. My visit had a number of purposes. (Tip #1: If you plan to attend a trade show, you better go with some specific goals in mind. Otherwise you get mighty disappointed, especially when you have to walk a long distance from where you parked your car to attend the event.)

Business Showcase Ad/FlyerGoal #1: I had a number of clients with booths at the show. It was a good time to check in to see how things were going. (Disclosure #1: The Napa Chamber is a client, and that’s my nifty little flyer and ad you see here. One of the goals with this piece was to give it a unified look with their existing logo, which has several colors. Did it work?)

Goal #2: How did the various graphics pieces I prepared for the clients with booths at the show last week turn out? (Disclosure #2: I think the chamber did a great job reproducing the logo and artwork for event signage, shown here on the podium next to
Andrea Immer Robinson doing a presentation on personal branding. Her quote of the day: “It wasn’t because they sought a brand, it’s because they presented something and it became a brand.”)

Andrea Immer Robinson at Chamber Symposium
Goal #3: Did any of my clients (or prospective clients) need help with new projects? (Yes, as it turns out. But that will be a future blog post.) Tip #2: Even if you don’t buy a booth for your own business (like moiself), you can work the other side of the aisle: Consider yourself a portable booth at trade shows. Be prepared to talk about your own products and services as you stroll each row of booths.

My Observations

You never know when a bit of last minute juggling will turn out in your favor. After purchasing my entrance ticket, I saw several booths set up outside the ballroom. One of my clients snagged the first booth visitors had to pass. This turned out to be a stroke of great luck. After all, as a financial advisor, it’s important to be able to have focused, quiet conversations with existing and prospective clients. The hallway location provided a completely professional presentation while dampening the loud noises bouncing off the walls in the packed ballroom – perfect to attain a little low-volume tête à tête with prospects!

Position your booth near the food and beverages. We’re in wine country. Many of us head for a winery’s booth first so we have something to sip while we tour the show. Chances are if your business is positioned near munchies and libations, you will have higher traffic at your booth.

Give away samples! I was immediately reminded how well this rule works as I dove into delicious Baklavas from Tarla Grill (next to a winery’s booth)! Like all good marketing, a taste of these delicate pastries took me through the sales cycle in a mere flash: hesitation about the food quality (fabulous!); a mental reminder to make reservations for a meal (check!); anticipation of becoming a satisfied customer; and a final mental note in my conscious mind to follow up right away.

Banks don’t bake! Not everyone can close the sale with a fantastic dessert if that’s not actually their business. Banks are highly competitive: Representatives from all the local banks can be seen at all the chamber functions, and all had booths at the show. How does each one stand out from the crowd? Some put their logos on pens, others give away logo’d grocery store tote bags. It doesn’t have to be a bank. Increase your memorability by giving away something with your logo on it.

The Bottom Line

The ballroom of the Meritage Resort was packed with booths. The ones that stood out were the ones with the simplest messages and unusual (to the ordinary visitor) displays to catch passerby attention.

InfluenceInternet-6FootBannerInfluence Internet (shameless client plug) was one. Chris Templeton’s banner (shameless self-plug) spelled out his message clearly, free of clutter. Many other vendors displayed banners and signs with long bullet lists, which made me want to turn away because I would have had to work harder to figure out what they do by reading through all that text. Chris, on the other hand, drew in speeding trade showers by puting out his sound mixing board on his booth table. It aids in drawing in visitors who are unfamiliar with audio recording equipment and serves as an ice breaker for asking questions about what it does.


Beyond Bookkeeping (another shameless client plug) was another with an uncluttered booth, save a modest tabletop display with the two flyers we prepared shown off in acrylic stands. Most importantly, however, like many seen throughout the ballroom, the emphasis was on establishing personal connections across tabletops. Collateral, giveaways and gimmicks all took a backseat as mere supporting efforts as Napa business folks took center stage making new alliances and friends.

In a sea of competition – and trust me, everyone in that ballroom was competing against one another for attention regardless of profession – the trade show attendee finds her head swimming. Make it easy to be remembered by having the simplest message on the block.

What trade show tips and tricks do you use? Share your ideas in the comments.