FAIL: Trade Show Booths


I’m just back from ERE Expo. I loved the show, but I walked the trade show/expo floor where a bunch of sales reps stood around — with swag made in China — and I wanted to cry. All those salesmen in gray suits. All those women in uncomfortable shoes. They were all trying to sell me software & solutions that I wouldn’t need if HR did its job properly.

But it’s like this at every conference.

There’s a main speaker in a big room, a bunch of concurrent sessions in smaller conference rooms, and a group of vendors huddled around a candy dish in a 20×20 booth trying to catch my eye as I walk to the back of the expo hall to get a cup of coffee.

So I asked some of these vendors — why are you here? Do you make meaningful connections? Do you connect with the right people? Some do. Some don’t. All of them say, “We can’t NOT be here. If we’re not here, our competitors talk smack about us. They say that our business is down, we’re not making a commitment to the community, or that we’re in financial trouble.”


You don’t have to be in HR to have an opinion on trade shows & expo halls. Do you talk to salespeople at booths? Do you feel awkward? Are you comfortable taking a piece of candy or a squeeze ball without having a conversation? Even if you did have a conversation, could you buy any product or service from them, anyway?

Here’s my thing.

  • I have never bought a product or a service at a trade show — but I have learned quite a bit about a company on the trade show floor that resulted in a real relationship.
  • I never pretend that I have any sort of authority. If I look important, it gives the salesperson an opportunity to talk. I’m at a conference. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to shut up & learn. So I pretend like I’m a nobody (not hard) so I can take the swag and run.

When I attended BlogHer and helped organize the job track sessions, I took some time and went to a hospitality suite where Hershey let me make s’mores. And I’ve talked about those s’mores in front of thousands of people, which is exactly what Hershey wanted to accomplish. It was amazing — and Hershey demonstrated the kind of creativity that we need in other industries and at other conferences.

Am I crazy to think that booths are a failed way to reach out to attendees?  I dunno, dudes. Give me a tweet-up. Give me free wifi at an event. Give me an experience. (Vendors at ERE Expo did all of that — and thank you.)  Just don’t give me free hand sanitizer and another flippin’ pen.

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