We all have done it – gone to a trade show.   Most of us have been to several if not dozens.

In a sense you’re not a true American business professional until you’ve had more than a few experiences of the modern trade show:

  • putting up booths;
  • tearing down booths;
  • walking a seemingly endless show floor filled with a seemingly endless number of booths;
  • watching the same endless parade from within a booth for seemingly endless hours;
  • repeating the very same script over and over and trying to make it sound original;
  • handing out “me-too” tchotchkes while praising their uniqueness;
  • chasing after the best tchotchkes you happen to see and acting if they’re not such a big deal;
  • attending a sequential series of lectures and panel discussions in a hotel conference hall that’s either too hot, or too cold and always too bright;
  • eating too much rubber chicken;
  • going a little overboard on the free beverages;
  • blaming how tired you feel on jet lag, even if the show is in the same time zone from which you traveled;
  • yearning for “get-away-day”…

One interesting thing about trade shows is while the show brings together people from all walks and places to focus on a single agenda or theme the people attending the shows are anything but singular in their purpose and style.  In fact, like the colors of the rainbow, there is a wide spectrum of possible attendees.

See if you can find yourself among the following cast of characters we’ve seen at recent shows:

Business Types:

These people attend the show in the spirit of getting work accomplished as their priority.  They generally are early to sessions, readily found on the show floor and their conversations center on the business of the show.

The Expert                          The Expert is just that – someone who is at the show either presenting or attending and possesses a sizable body of knowledge and experience  relating to the theme of the show.  The expert is tough to access as their time is highly scheduled and they have their own “must see” attendees with whom they expect to spend time.  You will know a true expert because they typically are very curious and want to know as much about you and your business should you get the opportunity to chat with them.

The All Business            The All Business either refuses to or just doesn’t know how to socialize.  They talk business at breakfast.  They talk business during the coffee breaks.  They talk business at dinners and during events.  The Stalker[1] NEVER follows after an All Business.

The Whale                         The Whale is a sought-after contact typically a customer and sometimes a vendor or Expert with whom everyone seems to want to connect.  You can see the whale coming and going by the throng of other attendees hanging off of them and tracking their every step.  To preserve their collective sanities, Whales develop a relative indifference whereby they stop noticing the throngs they generate.  Whales tend to like All Business and Social Butterfly types.

The Never Happen        NH’s seem like Whales and by all rights they should be Whales.  However while Whales make relationships and do business as a result of shows, NH’s represent they will do business yet fail to respond to follow-up emails and calls once they return home from shows.  NH’s and All Business types attract each other however anyone interested in doing business is better off avoiding NH’s altogether.

The Brush Off                  This is the attendee who, when engaged, is curt, quiet, non-engaging and looks to leave the conversation as soon as possible.  They behave as if they ended up in the conversation by mistake and there are clearly more important people than you with whom to connect.

The Jekyll and Hyde    The Jekyll/Hyde is the person who functions like an All Business during the day yet magically transforms into a Party Animal at night.  They are the one in the morning who’s asking the most interesting and intelligent questions to the speaker involved in an explanation of the Flux Capacitor and ends up with their tie around their head while doing “the worm” at the social event that night.

The Big Wig                       The Big Wig is a Whale who attends the show for a restricted amount of time.  The other members of the Big Wig’s company utter phrases such as “Come by the booth Tuesday because that’s when Ms. Big Wig will be here and you should meet her.”  Big Wigs show up to a show just to see how many five-minute meet-and-greets their employees and coworkers have arranged.

The Good Soldier           While the Good Soldier manages to have fun at a show, their first priority lies with their duties with respect to the show.  Good Soldiers help set up and tear down the booth.  They attend the sessions of importance to his/her work.  They work the booth and are excellent with customers.  Every company hopes to have Good Soldiers representing them at a show.

The Rookie                       The Rookie looks more lost than Bambi in Times Square.  They are new to attending shows and have never seen such a mass of people, booths, companies, speakers, events, and things to keep track outside of Disney World.  Rookies are on time, impeccably dressed, sitting up front and taking notes.  Rookies read the entire event information guide BEFORE the first session and they always butcher their booth script.

The Veteran                     Veterans have attended too many shows to keep track.  They are a watered-down combination of Jekyll/Hyde and Social Butterfly.  Veterans know which sessions and which social events matter and manage to put their share of time in at the booth.  They are also the ones most likely to use the exercise facilities at the event destination.

The Borg                            The Borg are a group of people from the same company which seems to be operating on a collective consciousness.  They typically come and go at the same time, practically arm in arm, and they always dress in the same theme if not the same clothes.  The Borgs are totally enamored with Whales, Experts and Big Wigs and they protect their Rookies demonstrably.

The Booth Babe            The Booth Babe (sometimes a Booth Boy) is the very attractive, often younger woman who’s from the company but not really involved with the business of the show.  Sometimes she’s a model from a local talent agency.  Either way, her instructions are to smile invitingly to attract people into the booth and then turn them over to an account exec ASAP and move on.  The Booth Babe is very effective in industries dominated by one gender – think software and engineering

The Event Staff              The Event Staff have to be at the show.  Plus, they have to be personable, energetic, informative and helpful.  In truth, the Event Staff are totally tired of having to deal with all the other types.  If they are lucky, the event itself is in a great destination and they will get one or two days after the show to calm their nerves in a lovely setting.

The Show Warrior        Show Warriors also have to be at the show.  Nothing bothers a Show Warrior.  They have seen it all, have done it all, and don’t get too rattled from one show to the next.  The Show Warrior sets up the show, tears down the show, staffs the booth, eats the rubber chicken, and hands out the tchotchkes.  On get-away day they head home and the following Saturday or Sunday they will end up in another town.  Each show is Groundhog’s Day for them.

[1] There are references herein to Trade Show “types” which will be presented in Part II of this blog.


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