25 Fun, Fresh Ideas to Step Up Your Trade Show Game

Skift Take

Trade shows needn't be all business. The trade show portion of your event is likely a large portion of your revenue. It’s time to level up your trade show game for more return and greater engagement.

If your trade show involves people strolling up and down aisles past booths with no meaningful direction to what they’re doing, your attendees and your vendors could do better. There are tons of options out there that you can embrace in order to bring new excitement to your event. Don’t keep doing the same old thing because it’s comfortable. Shake things up. It’s time to take your trade show experience to the next level with these ideas.


Level Up Your Trade Show Game

  1. Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing uses grassroots moments of surprise and delight to get people talking, sharing, and engaging. It can be quite pricey or something done within a budget. This type of marketing has become a showpiece for large brands but with the advent of social media, smaller organizations are embracing it as well.

On the trade show floor, you can use partial reveals to get people talking. For instance, a giant curtain in the center of the exhibition floor that occasionally lets out a roar will get people stopping by to investigate. What’s underneath that curtain is up to you. It could be:

  • A big announcement
  • Dinner
  • Involve a sponsor reveal
  • A prize for a contest winner or any other number of things

The point is to cause curiosity and let people know when they can expect the big reveal. You can bet there will be a crowd there.

  1. Keys or Puzzle Pieces

As each attendee files into the trade show floor hand them a key or the other half of something like a puzzle piece. Tell them the lock or other half of their puzzle is hidden somewhere on the trade show floor. People will comb every inch if they think there’s something in it for them.

  1. Humor

People love to laugh. Look for opportunities to include humor at your trade show. This could be done easily with strolling characters or you could create “hidden” camera scenarios where something unexpected happens and you record your attendees’ reactions to things. You could even go Facebook Live with some of the scenarios if you have the right type of audience.

  1. Jumbotron

Ever notice what happens at a ball game when someone sees themselves on the Jumbotron screen? They eat it up. You can do the same thing by broadcasting a Facebook Live stream from your trade show floor and showing it on a giant screen for everyone on the floor to watch.

  1. Fake News

Create fake news stories about your sponsors and circulate them on your event app. Everyone loves a good laugh. Just make sure that the stories are so over the top that no one could possibly believe them, we hope.

  1. Treasure Hunting

Go live on the trade show floor showcasing not the vendors themselves but the swag. Make the video funny with a treasure hunting theme. Attendees will watch the video and figure out who the vendors are with the incredible swag. In the meantime, they’ll be “hunting” all over your exhibit floor.

  1. Music

Some songs are just too good not to jam to. Create a spot on the floor that when people walk by a snippet of a song plays. Use a DJ to create fun, music moments with songs that make an impact. The theme song from the movie Rocky is always a good start. Look for music that puts big smiles on the faces of those who pass.

  1. Bat Signal

Okay, so you probably can’t call it a “bat signal” but if you’ve ever watched the Batman TV show or movie you know that when the hero is needed somewhere in the city, a bat signal is shown onto the night sky. You can do the same thing on your trade show floor. Let attendees know periodically that the signal will be given, projected onto the ceiling above a booth. When they see the signal the first 20 people there will get a special prize.

  1. Outlandish Leaderboard

Employ a leaderboard using a very silly metric like most uses of LOL or the most hashtags used in one post. This will motivate people to do some silly things to get to the top of that leaderboard.

  1. Nostalgia

From toys from childhood to 80s and 90s themes, nostalgia is a big hit and tons of fun. You could require your exhibitors to dress from a past era and ask attendees to vote on the best costume. Host a Back to the Future theme and let exhibitors work with that as they like. Reward and feature creativity.

  1. Interactive Walls

Use interactive walls to grab attendees’ attention. You could create one out of post-it notes or whiteboard or chalkboard surface. Pose a question and ask people to respond or invite them to draw a design, doodle, or logo on it to show the world (or at least the conference) that they were there.

  1. Contests on the Floor

Host mini contests on the floor that are quick to participate in and fun to watch. Ideas include themes based on the popular game, Minute to Win It or Simon Says. Make the prizes worth their time and you’ll not only draw participants in the center of everything but will also give people a reason to come by the floor. Have these mini pop-up contests all over the floor at random times throughout the show.

  1. Rave

Safety first but sometimes all you need to freshen up a trade show is some cool lighting. Almost every trade show consists of bright fluorescent lighting. Why not darken the lights and create a rave atmosphere with black lights, glow-in-the-dark jewelry and more? Worried about safety and a dark atmosphere? Then try…

  1. Projection Mapping

People always seem to use projection mapping on the outside of venues and in ballrooms, but you could create a very interesting theme by using it in your expo hall. How about a jungle in your hall or the inner parts of a spaceship? Creativity is key here but you could control traffic flow through the things you choose to project and the timing behind them.  

  1. Trompe L’oeil

Before there was projection mapping, there was artistry that fooled the eye. You’ve probably seen examples of it on the Internet of artists who create such realistic paintings in mediums like sidewalk chalk that people avoid the objects because they think they are real. You can use an artist to create these types of mirages on the showroom floor and throughout the exhibit hall.

You can create a guide to exploring them or let attendees find them on their own. They also provide brilliant photo opportunities.

  1. Masks or Props

As each attendee walks onto your exhibit floor, give them a mask or a prop. Write a nickname on their badge or make them choose an emoji as their name tag. Do the same for your vendors. A little bit of humor not only entertains it serves as a conversation starter as well.  

  1. Whisper Down the Lane

Did you ever play this game as a child? The rules are simple. You whisper to the person next to you a secret phrase and tell them to pass it on. They then convey it to someone else. By the time it gets to the end person, it’s rarely the same thing that started out.

Tell attendees that someone may give them a secret. They are then to pass it on to someone they don’t know and keep doing so until you call time. When you do, invite anyone who’s received a “secret” to come to a sponsor booth to share their secret and claim a prize. Not only is this funny but it also forces people to talk to strangers.

  1. Missions

On your event app, send out a push notification periodically inviting people to do something, either an activity like humming to themselves or wearing something like a hat on their heads. When they get these messages and perform their mission, catch them in the act and reward them. Or better yet, empower your exhibitors to do it.

  1. Let’s Make a Deal

If you’re old enough you might remember the television show Let’s Make a Deal. On the show, people were given unknown prizes and then were tempted by the host to trade it in for another unknown prize. Sometimes they fared well. Others they went home with goats. Seriously.

But the host also had a mini-game he played just before commercial where he would go up to audience members and ask if they had random objects such as a battery or a tongue depressor with them. You can play this same game with your attendees based on the swag you know exhibitors are giving out. For instance, ask them if they have a stress ball and then offer to trade it for an unknown item behind your back. Award some serious gifts and some funny ones like pocket lint. But for the sake of your vendor, let them keep the stress ball regardless of what they choose.

  1. Strolling Acapella Group

What’s nicer than musical accompaniment? Live performances, that’s what. Hire a strolling singing group and see if you can get people to join in. Or hire a strolling musician who will come up and “predict”, errr, assign people a theme song and then follow them for a little bit singing it.

  1. Flash Mob

Create a flash mob just outside your exhibitor hall. Once you have a crowd of people outside of the hall, move your mob’s activities into the hall and people will follow them like children to the Pied Piper.

  1. Zombies

Okay, I keep expecting this trend to die but like the undead, it’s popularity is hard to kill. Make an announcement or send it over your app that the exhibitor hall has been quarantined for zombie activity. Advise everyone who hates excitement to stay away. Have some fun by adding a few people in hazmats suits escorting zombies to the exhibitor hall. Bonus if you can get vendors to do their best zombie routine.

And then make room for the crowds who come to check it out.

  1. Escape Room

Create an escape room scenario where people in the exhibitor hall have to find a few clues before they are able to leave the premises. Don’t hold anyone against their will, of course, but do give them a fun reason to have a look around.

  1. Hidden Image

Hide an image somewhere on your trade show floor and challenge people to find it. To prove that they have, they must show you a picture of where the item is and that they have uploaded it to social media with your event hashtag.

If you want a little more engagement, don’t hide a picture. Hide a celebrity. Or at least an impersonator. Tell them there’s a famous person hiding out on the floor and they need to find them. Watch their reactions as they scan the floor.

  1. Food Truck

Drive a food truck into the middle of your exhibitor hall or walk an ice cream cart around. Another popular moveable feast idea is a popcorn cart. The trick to this idea working is making it portable. That way you can serve these refreshing snacks in different areas of the exhibition floor, enticing people to explore.

We didn’t mention tech at all here, other than apps used to push out messaging and projection mapping. But you can also use beacon technology to create mini-experiences for people as they pass. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando does this with their wands.

You can create a similar experience for your attendees by performing a little magic of your own as they pass.

In Conclusion

One of the best ways to change things up at your next trade show is through creating unexpected experiences. When you condition your audience to expect the unexpected, they will become explorers and be more engaged. It takes very little money to surprise people. However, those are the very things they’ll remember about your event.

Trade shows can be really fun or really drab. It’s up to you. But if you use any of these ideas you’re bound to bring smiles to your attendees’ faces and we all could use a little more of those.

Additional Reading on Trade Shows

23 Sponsorship Ideas for Trade Shows
11 Ways to Drive Traffic to the Trade Show Floor
6 Ways Event Planners Can Attract More Revenue to Their Trade Shows
5 Hot Trends in Trade Shows