After 15 years of trade show celibacy [despite my efforts to be critically ill or otherwise occupied,] I helped man a booth at a vendor trade show. While I can’t speak to all industry segments, my background in Human Resources and Organizational Development has in many ways numbed me to the trade show experience. This week has done nothing to alleviate that feeling.

The American Society of Training & Development (ASTD) started a 4-day trade show at the Dallas Convention Center. Logically, I know the importance of keeping your brand in front of your customer, but mostly what I think is “my feet are killing me.” There are, however, some common themes and characteristics that are at least entertaining:


“we know, we know…”

  1. Three words; peoplelovecrap. The tchotchke business is alive & well; if you’re in the market for stress balls, troll pens, mints in a tin, or magnetized chip-clips, this is the place for you…count on multiple “Wheel of Fortune” attractions; even in an age where laser shows are relatively rote, we still have a spinning wheel to pick “big winners.”
  2. Some bastardization of the words “synergy,” “strategy,” “learning” or “leader” will appear in 50% of the vendor names. It must be impossible to find an available domain name with any combination of those words included. There’s also a growing population of company names substituting the number for the word, i.e. “Learnergy4Leaders“. Don’t laugh, somebody will take that name, just watch.
  3. The people making the big money at these events are the facilities that are hosting the event. It’s shameful – the Dallas Convention Center charges you per electrical outlet, per chair, per plug, and $79 for daily wi-fi access. Price gouging at its finest. Oh, and if you want a QR reader to scan attendee badges, that’ll run you $450. The same technology that costs me .99¢ to scan any other QR code on Earth now costs me $450. Hmmmmm, no thanks.
  4. The attendees ~ Three profiles you can pick out pretty easily: the “poacher [here to steal ideas,] the “moocher [here to engage in a personal eating challenge] and the “tire-kicker.” The latter is the most frustrating, as they will usually spend an inordinate amount of your time leading you to believe there is a potential for significant business partnership, but the true motivation is to score whatever goodies you have under the table.

It’s a strange environment when you think about it…you have exhibits that are nicer than my first apartment, and dozens of direct competitors scoping out the “other guys.” There are hundreds of professional adults walking around with shopping bags teeming with items that will soon be in the local landfill, and an absolute cattle call when lunch is announced.

I’m still not convinced of the direct correlation between trade show and “billable hours,” but I’d sure love to hear successes from others ~ surely there’s more than snarky observations to be gained? Anyone?

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.