What will stop a person from just walking by? How to attract people to your booth

by Paula Moran in

At some point or another, your business, organization, fraternity, or other organization will either buy or be offered a “booth” to promote yourselves at some special event.   You may be the lucky one charged with setting up and manning this booth and promoting who sent you there.  What do you do?

This was not something I seriously thought about until the other weekend when I was at a Harley Davidson event helping promote the DC Rollergirls.  There was a large amount of traffic going past our “booth” (aka pop-up tent with table and two chairs).  But few stopped and for the hours I was there no one even looked at our merchandise

By the end of the event I knew we were doing something very wrong.  What’s the purpose of standing around if you’re not making money or effectively promoting your cause?

To determine what was the “right” thing to do requires a little research.  The first question is who has a vested interest in a few hours with a tent and table?  The answer: trade shows and arts & craft vendors. 

Trade show booths tend to have larger more expensive set-ups, but the core advice on how to attract people to your booth was universal.  I divide the advice into three categories: the visual, the stuff and you.

The Visual

99.9% of the crowd is not there to see you.  You and your booth is merely something people have to walk past on their way to were they want to go. 

Your booth needs to have big, bold, dramatic signage to catch peoples’ attention.  This is worth spending money on because it is your non-verbal first impression.  Large, bold but minimal text.  The sign is something worth paying to have professionally done.  Plastic or vinyl signs will weather whatever drama the day brings and are reusable.

Display your banner or sign prominently in the front or alongside your booth – not on the back wall.  Even if it takes a separate banner try to get your website up there as well.

We don’t go to events naked and neither should your table.  People may not consciously realize how much professionalism is displayed with a draped cloth.  Dinning room table cloths drape to chair height,  Presentation table cloths go all the down to the ground.  The ground length table cloths also creates a convenient and hidden storage place.  You may want to consider a few cloths of different color to make the presentation more dramatic. 

Quick hint: buy a large polyester table cloth.  It has a little shine and will evade stains.

The Stuff

You may be a very nice person, but people generally don’t want to talk to you they want things.  Have fliers, cards, stickers, knick-knacks, candy, anything with your name on it.  It helps your brand recognition and allows for people to contact you post festival.

Now that they have been suckered in to get their “free” stuff, get them to spend more time and money with you.  Have a sign-up sheet.  Many websites  recommended having a raffle of some sort.  If people could win a t-shirt for free they’d probably like to see it – and it should be displayed near/around other things that they can buy.

To encourage people’s eyes to wander around your entire table craft vendors recommend making your display multi-level.  This can be easily achieved by placing small boxes below your tablecloth , or by buying a multi-level serving dish from your local box store.  Trade show suppliers offer various stands or  racks to achieve the same purpose

Photos and videos will also catch and keep people’s attention.  Keep things under 3 minutes.

Candy is good but there seems to be some inconsistency in how it should be dispensed.  Some say just put a candy bowl out.  It may however suffer the same fate as a bowl of candy left out by a front door on Halloween.  To avoid such tragedies Jeff Richards recommends dispensing the candy by hand – also forcing people to interact with you, which is a good thing.


Much of what I have to say about appropriate interaction has already been stated in my previous article on etiquette.  Consider your time in this booth as a constant gauntlet of meeting people.  Smiles, hand shakes and eye contact are the call of the day.

Here are some additional “booth etiquette” rules

  • Wear professional (or appropriate) clothing even if you’ll be talking to people in stained cutoffs all day long.
  • Talk with strangers not the person who came with you
  • A name tag will make you friendlier and more approachable.  Just ask Scott.
  • Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be standing in front of your booth the entire time (not blocking your sign of course)
  •  How can this be said delicately?  If you have the option who works the booth pick someone attractive.  Hate to say it but this is still an effective and widely used tactic

The Emergency Box

This box hides in the shadow below the table ready to fix any problem, and hopefully will never be used.  It should include duct tape, a stapler, zip ties, box cutters, sharpies, pens, scissors, bandaids, pain killers, paper towels, trash bag and all those other things you may need if something breaks or the unexpected happens.  Nearby this box should be the box with all your extra cards and filers to replenish what’s on the table.  But all the ugly boxes are blocked from public view by a beautifully draped table cloth.