Are Trade Shows a Waste of Time?

Trade Shows Display Design & Signage

Your competitor decided against going to the upcoming trade show because they feel it’s a waste of time. Now you’re beginning to doubt your reasons for going to the trade show as well. Because you haven’t seen significant returns from past shows and you have so much work to do already. Why bother?

So, are trade shows a waste of time? Yes and no. It depends on a few factors, such as whether you’re using social media the right way or following up with leads after the show immediately. If you do these things correctly, trade shows should be a profitable venture. But if you mess something up, attending a trade show could be a costly mistake.

As complicated as that answer may seem, there are a few simple things you can do to make the most of your time and money spent at a trade show. Keep reading for the rest of the story.

Are Trade Shows Declining in Popularity?

More efficient marketing efforts have become popular in recent years, such as Google searches and webinars. This makes trade shows primarily for manufacturers and the businesses that support them. Independent companies now use webinars, podcasts, and social media to generate leads at a fraction of the cost of trade shows.

Now, this doesn’t mean that trade shows are declining in popularity overall, but it does give us some insights.

We can see that generic trade shows do not offer the same benefits as laser-focused, specialised trade shows in your industry.

Trade show attendees aren’t exactly happy, so people are less likely to make an appearance.

We know that 66% of attendees reported being unsatisfied with their exhibition experience. The main reason is that exhibitors did not provide enough value to their audience.

Just 34% of attendees said they were very satisfied with their experience at exhibitions. So what do trade show attendees value?

They (34%) reported that exhibitors provided extra activities or had conversations that were of immense value to them.

Most businesses fail to show the value they can provide to customers at these trade shows. Many don’t even communicate what their business does.

This not only wastes everyone’s time and money, but also explains why companies are finding trade shows unrewarding. They can generate more leads online cheaper than they can at a trade show per lead, because they are failing to deliver what trade show visitors want.

Yet trade shows still make sense, and are still popular, if you approach it correctly. In the next two sections, you will learn what the common mistakes are and how to avoid them, while learning what to do to avoid wasting time and money.

Common Mistakes Made at Trade Shows

If you want to promote your business at a trade show, you need to avoid the critical mistakes listed below that will cost you time and money. Doing any one of these can hurt your reputation and create more obstacles to success.

  • Businesses rely solely on their logo for recognition. If your business is well known, you can display just your logo, and people automatically know who you are and what you do. Being less known, showing your logo without an explanation of who you are will mean lost leads.
  • You don’t have a social media marketing campaign. You won’t see many guests if they don’t know you exist before the trade show. Many attendees scour social media before attending an exhibition to see who will be there. If you don’t have a social media presence, you could lose thousands of dollars in potential sales.
  • Exhibitors are too pushy to visitors. It seems that a lot of salespeople think they need to ambush people walking by their booths to get leads. But this behaviour pushes people away more than it draws them in.

Doing any one of these can hurt your reputation and create more obstacles to success.

How to Make Trade Shows Worth Your Time

Trade shows can be worth your time if you put effort into creating an effective campaign. Following these steps may mean the difference between the show is worth your time, or a complete waste of time and money.

Pre-Market Your Show Presence on Social Media

Before the show starts, your presence on social media will determine your success or failure. Create a Facebook page and consistently update your fans about when and where you will be before the show’s date.

Having a social media presence should already be a part of your marketing campaign. Don’t wait for the event to creep up on you before you start promoting your attendance on social media. Get the ball rolling early if you want to see results at the trade show.

Be Clear About What Your Business is About on Your Displays

Your logo will not carry you very far at a trade show if you are an unknown or small business. Somewhere with your logo, you need to include a statement about what you do and how you can help potential customers. Display this prominently on your booth, and you will draw in a steady stream of potential customers.

Say enough to get their interest and bring them to your stand or booth, while leaving the detail to more in-depth conversations and print media. Be sure to have concise, yet clear, brochures printed and ready to hand out to passersby while at the event.

It’s all about using the right mediums to communicate.

Send the Right Person to Represent Your Company

An intern can’t give people the same information about your business that a dedicated salesperson, or even yourself, would. Attendees may ask questions that an intern won’t know very well, which can leave the wrong impression of your company on the visitor.

To avoid this costly mistake, send someone who has a vested interest in your company, and who knows the in’s and out’s of your business. Whether that is you, or another top person, whoever operates your booth needs to understand your business inside and out. You need staff who can answer all questions clearly and succinctly.

Assistants can come to help with the booth set up, handing out business cards, and general organization. But when it comes to speaking with attendees, an intern is not qualified.

Create Fun Activities to Foster Valuable Conversations

A boring exhibit won’t generate new business. If you want leads, you need to create a few fun activities to draw in the crowds. You might have puzzles that show a problem your company solves. By doing this, you will create conversations about your business without people feeling like they are being sold to.

While people are busy with activities at your booth, you then have an opportunity to strike up a conversation. What are they are looking for and how can your business help them? It’s a win-win scenario.

Follow-up With Your Leads Within a Week of the Show

After the show is over, don’t just assume you can get back to business as usual. While your conversation is fresh in their minds, follow-up with your leads–usually within a week of the exhibit. If you wait longer to follow-up with them, they will either forget about you or move on to a competitor that followed up with them quickly. 

As soon as you get back to the office a day or so later, send them an email to thank them for stopping by your booth, and to see if they have questions. Be available, and they will remember you when they do have a problem.


Trade shows are still very much in demand across many different industries. But expecting the same results today while doing the same things you did 30 years ago will result in the show being a colossal waste of time.

As we always tell our clients, we believe your marketing efforts should combine offline and online, digital channels and tools. Each should support the common goal. Trade shows are an opportunity to exercise that toolkit.

If you approach a trade show this way, we think you’ll find exhibiting not just worthwhile, but extremely rewarding. Just think of your event as a campaign/promotion and make sure you bring all your marketing to bear, before and after.


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Haskins Design is based in South-West England. We bridge the chasm between freelance designers and big-budget agencies, to bring you a more sensible, agile, and efficient set of creative services.