Exhibitors: Cut the Literature to the Bone!

It simply can't be all about print collateral

Recently I was walking through a moderately sized expo hall with a wide variety of small exhibit spaces – tables, not booths. At one point my eye caught two tables, side by side (pure coincidence, I’m sure), just covered with stacks of literature. Each stack must have contained several hundred copies, and the piles competed with each other for the meager table space.

The two exhibit tables weren’t quite identical. Table A had a branded table cover, and the neat stacks of paper were separated by about two inches of space. And there was no one staffing the table – just an attractive display of paperwork!

Table B looked like a recycling effort in full swing. Not a centimeter of space between the piles! In fact, the stacks of literature on either end of the table looked like they might fall off if anyone got a little too frisky. There was no branded cover, and not one iota of visible table space. However, behind the table stood a rather affable looking fellow.

Now, which one of those tables would I be likely to approach? Neither! Is it just me, or do other people also feel an aversion to simply collecting paperwork to bring home and – uh – read??? Recycle??? How on earth would stacks of literature draw me to an exhibit, even with the clear branding of a respected organization? And, if there were an approachable human being behind the table, would I really want to talk to someone across a divide of overwhelming, incomprehensible “stuff”? Maybe you would; not me.

As I turned away in horror, my eye caught the table just across from these two. Here’s what I saw: A branded table cover, a table with empty space in the middle, a three-tiered document holder on the left, and, on the right, a single-tier document holder and a vase of flowers. Behind the table sat a well-groomed woman calmly reading her phone screen (of course!), a smile on her face. Nothing about her display screamed “urgent” or “an awful lot of homework” or “just stuff to read.” I was curious. I approached that table. After our chat, I took one flyer as I left.

It hurts not to lay out every piece of print material your organization has generated; I understand - I’ve faced the same thing. And you have to find a way to give them the details that you can’t possibly work into a three-minute exchange: the crucial data; the case studies; the summaries of all the different applications and variations and innovations. But the truth is, quantities of literature don’t sell. They don’t even attract and, as in the example above, they can be so imposing as to send a negative message.

Why not do like the lady at the third table? Select your three most critical and attractive documents and put them in a three-tiered holder? Of the four case studies you’d like to display, how about displaying the one most convincing or most popular and keeping the other two behind the table where you can grab a copy if necessary? Consider a small display of intriguing swag, and then leave the rest of your table top empty, with no clutter between you and your invited guest. Such a display, I believe, sends signals of welcome, serenity and confidence: “I don’t need a lot of paperwork to convince you. Let’s just chat. I’m calm and relaxed; you can be too.”