I recently attended the Origins Game Fair, a gaming tradeshow in Columbus, Ohio. For avid gamers like me, attendance is practically mandatory.

I've been doing tradeshows and conferences as an exhibitor, attendee, and conference center staff member for the better part of my professional career. So, as I walked the floor of Origins, I took mental notes about how exhibitors presented their products and engaged with potential customers—what worked and what didn't.

Based on my experience at Origins, here I offer nine ways to draw tradeshow attendees to your booth and engage with them. Some of these tips may seem like common sense, but I was amazed at how many exhibitors completely disregarded them.

1. Remember that first impressions are critical

Things got off to a rocky start when picking up my badge took 30 minutes. The young woman checking me in couldn't figure out why her computer was giving me the incorrect price. Sorting it out required two managers to get on her terminal.

Computer problems happen, OK. But then, once the problem was fixed, she was more interested in checking her text messages, talking to me about her cats, and grousing about the customers she'd helped thus far than in checking me in. Then she went on break—without printing my badge! It took another 10 minutes, a printer repair tech's help, and a supervisor to unlock her workstation before I was fully registered and in possession of my badge.

Beyond her simple lack of interest in customer service, clearly nobody knew what anyone else was doing. That created a frustrating customer experience and left a bad taste in my mouth. Luckily, I'd attended past Origins and knew that it was well worth the hardships of a botched check-in. Otherwise, I might have been turned off enough not to want to continue any further.

Key takeaway: A customer is typically not bound and determined to get to you. Don't turn off customers with a poor first experience.

2. If you demo something that gets your customers excited, have that product for sale

I played a great game during a demo session and promptly rushed right over to the exhibitor's booth to purchase it—only to find out the company didn't yet have it available for sale. If you're showing a prototype or product that's not yet released, make that amply clear. If the product is on the market now, then ensure it's easy for customers to buy, on the spot.

Key takeaway: Getting potential customers amped up for something but then not delivering the goods is a huge turn-off.

3. If you're going to staff your booth with eye candy, then make sure they know your product

I spent 40 minutes demoing what could have been a really great game... had the "booth babes" that were hired known anything about it. Make sure anyone demoing your product—whether they're candy to the eye or otherwise—can talk about it.

Key takeaway: Make sure the people staffing your booth know your stuff.

4. Put some effort into your booth

If you're spending time and money to be at a tradeshow, put your best foot forward. (See No. 1 above.) You may not have the resources for a 40'x40' two-story booth, but make the best of what you have. A chair and a flyer rack that reads "Take One" won't cut it. Again, first impressions are everything.

Key takeaway: If your booth doesn't make people want to stop by, you'll never get them to take those next steps (learn more, purchase), no matter how good your product is.

5. Have a booth presence that doesn't exude misery

You're tired. You've been in a booth for eight hours talking to schlubs like me. I get it; I'm tired, too. I've been walking around for eight hours listening to sales pitches from every booth I stop by.

But guess what? Talking to schlubs like me is why you're at the tradeshow. Without schlubs like me, you don't have a company. If you're sitting in your booth with your eyes closed or looking like you'd rather bite my head off than sell me something, what's my incentive to talk to you? I'm going to avoid you rather than risk your wrath.

Key takeaway: You don't have to be professional or polished but you do need to be approachable.

6. Be in it for the long haul

Intrigue me enough, dazzle me enough, make me feel important enough, so that even if I don't buy your product at the show, I'll likely buy it when I get home.

Key takeaway: What happens after the show is as important (especially for B2B) as what happens during the show.

7. Don't sacrifice quantity for quality

Your product might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but you still need something to get people into your booth. A tchotchke, a spinning wheel, a raffle, a giveaway, something. You need to get people there.

Purists will tell you that people don't come to conventions or tradeshows for free stuff or to enter a contest, but my experience is that people love free stuff. Why do you think everybody carries a swag bag?

Sure, you may capture some leads that aren't qualified or don't match your user demographic precisely, but some of those leads could well turn into customers.

8. Have a crowd to keep a crowd

If a crowd has gathered around your booth, that signals to passersby that something is worth seeing at your booth. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. (See No. 7.) People want to know what's going on, and they will feel compelled to check out your booth to see what the ruckus is about and to ensure they're in the know.

9. Make your interactions with potential customers memorable—in a good way (See No. 1)

Having a truly unique product is hard in a crowded market with lots of competitors. That lesson really came through at Origins. But you will make your product more memorable if prospective customers experience you and your booth as memorable. Some of the things I remember most vividly about the tradeshow are not the products but my interactions with the people I met and the booths I saw.

Key takeaway: You can be memorable and can provide a memorable experience, even if your product isn't the newest, flashiest X-9000 version.

* * *

Those tips may seem simple, but applying them will 'take you a long way toward making your investment of time and money in exhibiting at a tradeshow worth it.

Comments? Questions? Let's talk tradeshows. Even if you disagree, I'd love to hear what you think!

(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Chinese man holding his glasses)

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image of Matt Snodgrass

Matt Snodgrass is the director of social and community at Swapcard. After working in highly-regulated fields of healthcare and medical informatics for the first ten years of his career, he’s having a lot more fun in the world of community, events, and marketing.

LinkedIn: Matt Snodgrass

Twitter: @msnods