Walking the floor at South by Southwest last week reminded how important putting your best foot forward at a tradeshow is for your business. And especially at a show like SXSW where there's so much competing for attendees time, energy, and most importantly, their attention. Here are a few of my top must-dos when my online marketing company, VerticalResponse attends a show.

1. Stand Out From the Crowd

Not all shows are the same. Some are more corporate and some like SXSW are just begging you to be creative. You may need to bust out of your usual booth set up so you'll stand out and get noticed. Bloomfire did a great job of this in their SXSW booth, offering free tacos and beer and really amped up the look and feel of their booth that beckoned you to come in and chat with their friendly crew.

Bloomfire booth at SXSW 2013 

FindMyCompany also excelled at being creative in their booth by having a Mad Men theme called "GooMen" compete with cardboard cutouts attendees could pose behind. And, of course, they took pics and posted them to their Facebook Page. Their team also dressed Mad Men style and the whole booth had a retro 60's vibe. Well done--no corporate snoreporate booths here!

2. Who's Representing?

Who you have work your booth is super important. You need connectors. People who naturally are inviting, engaging, and make others feel both welcome and at ease. And, if they can deliver your pitch well, you've got the perfect booth candidate. There's really nothing worse that walking up to a booth and having bored looking people just standing there, not reaching out or engaging with anyone. And even worse, in my opinion, is having a group of people working the booth who are just standing around talking to each other and ignoring the attendees. Booth fail.

3. Swag They Actually Want

My favorite example of standout swag from SXSW was from The New York Times. They were there creating word cloud portraits for attendees. First they would snap the attendee's pics on an iPad. Then the attendee would select a section of the paper like Art, Business, etc., to use words from to fill their cloud. Then they printed out the finished word cloud portrait and placed it in a nice black frame. They also collected your e-mail address and sent you a copy of your portrait so you could share it on your social networks.

Swag from SXSW


What I loved about this was they made it all about the attendee, but they also got that e-mail address so they could follow up after the show. And people were lined up to do it. While there were a number of interactive picture taking swag options at the show, this was clearly the most unique.

What trade show tips do you have? I'd love to hear them!

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