Whether you’re ready to work your first trade show or have dozens of booths under your belt, coming up with a compelling strategy to persuade people to stop and look at what you have to offer can be difficult.

Most of the time, a polite “Hi, how are you?” or other conventional greeting isn’t going to cut it; you’ll need something more along the lines of a pick-up line.

Your opener can be creative, catchy, engaging, flattering, or all of the above. Many effective trade show booth operators propose experimenting with a few different pre-planned lines and seeing how trade show attendees react to them.

Ask a question that reveals what you do.
This is a fairly basic strategy, but it is effective, which is why it is so popular. You want to engage passers-by, but rather than shouting explanations or offers, you want to pique their interest with a question.

Naturally, some inquiries will be more effective than others. You want to ask a question that establishes your business, product, or service. The most basic opener would be something like:

“Can you tell me a little bit about our company/product/service?”

This isn’t a question that attendees haven’t heard elsewhere that day, but it does provide you with a good place to start a dialogue.

You can provide better information if an attendee has no concept what your firm does or has a completely false image. If someone appears to have a solid understanding of what your organisation offers, you can inquire as to how they know so much and what further they need to learn. In either case, you can begin discussing your product and measuring enthusiasm.

More specific queries can disclose more about your organisation or product:

Is your production line too slow?

Do you want your customers to see your building before you build it?

Are you looking for robots for dirty and dangerous jobs?

While the standard rule is generally to ask open-ended questions that people have trouble walking away from, these yes-or-no questions still give people a quick sell of what you do or what benefits you can offer. They can also save you a little time.

Sure, the aim of a trade show is to meet potential clients, and you want to talk to as many people as possible. However, there will be some people who truly don’t have a use for your service. Targeted questions can save you both a little time by revealing this up front.

Show them what you do.
One of the biggest draws of a physical trade show is that you can let people interact with the product and make their own judgment firsthand. After two years of video calls and trying to explain to them how your product works, nothing beats an in-person demo.

Pulling people in with these questions or offers is easy.

“Would you like to see a demo?”
“Let me show you something exciting.”

Of course, you’ll have more success if you flesh out these lines to describe how your product is unique or what superior features it offers – for instance, “Let me show you how your company can save time and money with [service],” or, “Do you want to see how you can more efficiently manage [task]?”

Make a personal connection.

Many people find it more difficult to ignore a question that is directly addressed to them. Suspending the sales pitch for a while and engaging in a genuine discussion to try to build a genuine connection with someone can be quite beneficial, especially if you care more about making quality connections than mass contact.

“So, what are your responsibilities at [company]?”
“Have you been able to locate what you’re looking for today?”

Take an indirect approach.

Leading with an unassuming or unrevealing question can be very effective at getting people to stop. You just need to plan a strong, targeted question to follow it up with.

“Could I ask for your help on something?”

Your follow-up question should frame the issue that your product or service can help with, or otherwise build some context for you to introduce your company in.

Draw them in with an offer, or challenge them.

If you have items to give away or promotions running at your booth, by all means, use them to break the ice.

“Did you get your free…?”
“Have you entered to win…?”

Getting people to stop at your booth for just a moment can be the hardest part. Besides, many people feel at least some obligation to listen to what you have to offer after taking your product or entering a contest.

You can also challenge attendees with a question that requires them to think a little, whether about your company or a broader problem.

“Looking over our products and booth, can you describe what we do?”
“Do you know how much/how many [targeted statistic]…?”

A good statistic would be something like what percentage of companies don’t have an effective way to deal with this issue, or how much annual revenue is lost because of that problem.

By providing specific and interesting information, you can catch people’s attention while making the pitch for your product or service a natural and logical progression.

Show that you care about meeting client needs.
If someone has been lingering and examining your booth, or if you’ve already been through a basic conversation with them, questions about specific needs are a natural progression.

These questions also serve a few purposes: they help you make a more personal connection, and they demonstrate that your company wants to improve its offerings and work with clients to satisfy them.

“Which part of our service would be most helpful to your company?”
“Are there any features you don’t see here that you would be interested in?”

Getting prospective clients to say in their own words how they could use and benefit from what your company offers can go a long way toward building a relationship.

Asking about the features that the attendee is looking for gives you some idea of what your company could do to improve its offerings and marketability.

Adapt your approach as necessary.
You may find that, at different shows or even different times of the day at the same show, different questions meet with a better reception. It’s smart to change up your questions and try more than one tack. The results can give you a better idea of how to target your ideal audience in the future and in other contexts, like in promotions or on your landing page.

Getting the conversation started can be one of the hardest parts of working at a trade show, but once you’ve had some practice and found your own style, you’ll be sure to see great results.

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