Monday, September 17, 2018

Ode to the Lonely Trade Show Worker

I attended a trade show this past week. It's something I haven't done in a while, and I was surprised by how little things have changed. Aisle carpet, booth numbers, giant computer screens, shiny products on lucite display stands. And, of course, booth personnel.

Except booth personnel come in several varieties. Forget for a second about the suit-coated or polo-shirted legions that scramble across the big island spaces like ants on a picnic basket. They have corporate objectives and training, supervisors and schedules. Let's instead focus on the solo staffer working the anonymous ten by ten.

You've seen them. They're tired. They got there early and set-up the booth themselves, and they're going to tear it down by themselves at the end of the show. They've been on their feet all day, and their only breaks have been a few quick dashes to the bathroom. They have, in my humble opinion, the worst and most impossible of all jobs. Lost in the basement of some exhibition hall, squeezed into a row of fifty other booths just like theirs, they are there to sell, sell, sell.

Now, these personnel come in two basic varieties.

The first stands at the edge of their booth space. They smile, they make eye contact, they try to engage passersby in some kind of conversation. They know you don't want to talk to them, but they are there to talk to you, and they are not going to let something like a universe tilted against them stop them from doing that.

The second sits in the back of their booth space. Their legs are crossed, their backs are stooped, hunched as they are other their cell phones, their noses close enough to open apps. They don't want to be there. They're counting the minutes until they can leave. They have been treated unfairly and they have given up.

We've all seen this. We've all encountered both of these varieties in the wild. And we all know that the second kind far outnumbers the first.

Why? How many levels of broken must there be for this to be our reality? What is the point of having a booth at the trade show if the person staffing is not going to try? The big flashy island with the cappuccino machine at the front of the hall is going to get all the traffic it needs. The ten by ten under the leaky pipe in the basement is only going to have so many chances for a connection. And it is only the unsung person working that booth that can make them happen.

Hello! How are you doing today?

Bless you. You and you alone make my visit to this trade show worthwhile.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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  1. As a solo trade show worker at times, I appreciate you noticing us! The clients my non-profit organization serves are worth the long days, but only when I have the opportunity to chat with them and not be dead on my feet. I would encourage meeting organizers to consider the solo worker when planning meals and break times, especially. Having meals and breaks in the exhibit hall is a great way to engage clients. But we often don't get to eat as a solo booth worker. Either bring the food out early for vendors to grab a quick bite before the masses arrive, or leave it out after the scheduled time concludes so we can eat after everyone moves on to the next event. (Maybe it's just me, but I'm a much better and happier exhibitor when my blood sugar isn't low!) Another option is to close the exhibit hall during certain times so we can interact with attendees during meals and sessions. Having this opportunity to chat in a different setting can be eye-opening from both the attendee and exhibitor's perspective.