Trade Show Trolling: 30-Second Presentations :: Springboard Training

Trade Show Trolling: 30-Second Presentations

SylviaH • March 9th, 2011 

trolling -troll (trol) vi. 1. a) to speak fast b) to wag: said of the tongue 2. to catch 3. a) to sing lustily or in a full, rolling voice b) to be uttered in such a voice -n 1. a trolling, or moving round 3. a lure (Webster’s New World Dictionary of The American Language, p.1523)


You invest thousands of dollars to exhibit at a trade show or exhibition. Your booth setup is top notch. Your promotions and samples are in place. Your demonstration is prepared and ready to show. The uniforms-polo shirt, khaki’s, Timberlands ™-are distributed to your staff. Your team is selected and travel plans are made.

The show is ready but can the exhibit staff put on the show? How effective is the script? Just what will your exhibit staff say and do to not only capture participants’ attention but achieve your objectives? From what I see at trade shows and exhibitions that I attend, the answer to these questions seem to be “no”, “not very”, and “not much”, respectively. A lot of money and time goes into an exhibition for such answers.

Trade shows are excellent venues for witnessing an appalling inability to convey a message clearly, succinctly, and in a manner in which the “average person” can understand. On the positive side, trade shows are also excellent sources of outstanding half-minute presentations.

Succeed in making the sale

To succeed in “making the sale” at a trade show – however you define the sale based on your objectives for exhibiting – your staff needs to make presentations. Thirty seconds is all the time they have to capture participants’ attention, explain your product or service, and make the sale. The sale may be to get viable contacts for further qualification by getting participants to complete a series of qualifier questions, which is more than a drop-the-business-card-in-the-jar level of information. Answering questions takes time that a participant would rather spend going to other exhibits getting cool samples. Answering questions also requires capturing and holding participants’ attention long enough to ask them. Herein lies the necessity for an effective half-minute presentation.

What is this half-minute presentation? A half a minute of explanation by an exhibitor at a trade show cannot be considered a presentation, can it? Well, let’s look at what occurs in that half minute.

You can’t really call it a presentation, can you? First, the exhibitor-the presenter, speaker, sales rep, whoever-makes a strong first impression. That impression is created through nonverbal means (attire, facial expressions, handshake, stance, movement) and verbally (voice inflection and volume, enunciation, and grammatical retain interest. This is achieved by using props, product samples, graphics, movement, animation, sound, and any other medium that captures people’s attention. The exhibitor’s speech must “hook” the passersby and convince them to continue their relationship with the exhibitor. The exhibitor uses props and visuals throughout the message in addition to the surrounding exhibit setup. A speaker, an appropriate environment, a message with a purpose, accompanying props and visuals … sounds like a presentation, to me.

Grab ’em, tell ’em, sell ’em

Just what goes into this 30-second presentation? The principles of effective presentations are as appropriate for a half-minute trade show “pitch” as they are for a two-minute Table Topics speech, a five-minute formal speech, or an hour’s keynote address. The difference and challenge is incorporating the principles into a thirty-second time frame.

The first principle for an effective 30-minute presentation is that the structure of the presentation has three parts: an opening, a body, and a close. The opening grabs the attention of passers-by even more than the attention-getting exhibit booth. Your exhibitor must make eye contact in order to continue with the rest of the pitch or presentation. I am an experienced trade show attendee skilled at looking at an exhibit, not the people staffing the exhibit, but the exhibit itself-scoping out the promotion offered to see if I want one, grabbing the promotion and heading to the next booth. Your staff’s mission is to get me to look them in the eye with a strong verbal attention-grabber. This must be accomplished within five seconds.

The body is the content of the presentation. In twenty seconds the information that your staff conveys to the audience includes the who, what, when, where, and why of your product or service. In 20 seconds the message must be clear and concise.

Five seconds remain in which to make the close. The close summarizes and solicits the desired action. An effective close results in keeping the participant’s attention and interest longer than thirty seconds so that she or he will submit to your qualifier questions or otherwise give you leads to real business to pursue after the show. After all, is that not why you submit to such expense to exhibit at a show … to acquire additional business leads?

By the way, similar principles apply to participation at a job fair only there your staff is selling your company to job applicants. The result is to acquire strong leads for potential employees whom you will then interview for further qualification after the job fair.

Do it again and again

Once the presentation structure is established the next principle of a 30- second presentation is to practice. Practice is the name of the game so that the show comes off smoothly and polished. The benefit of a polished presentation is more obvious towards the end of the day when your staff is tired, hot, cranky, and fed-up with us attendees who have grabbed more than our share of promotions and bypassed your content.

What you say as well as what you do

Principles of verbal and non-verbal communication apply for trade show and job fair presentations. Staff are most effective when they project their voices, speak clearly and succinctly, smile, use firm handshakes, eliminate jargon and acronyms, and have fresh or minty breath.

Invest in your exhibit or job fair staff’s people-skills and presentation skills as much as you invest in your exhibit and products. The 30-second presentation, presented well, is more valuable than that cool promotion with your logo on it.

Originally published in Written by Sylvia Henderson.