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Trade show presenter 101: Your guide to booking a booth presenter (Part 1)

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December 1, 2015

Welcome to your first step in researching trade show presenters.

If you never knew professional booth presenting existed, it’s understandable. Even if you’ve seen a booth presenter, you might not have known the speaker was a pro unless someone tipped you off. After all, part of our job as presenters is making you think we work in our client’s marketing department.

As a professional booth presenter for almost two decades, I wrote this multi-part post to ensure you’re well informed as you walk through the process, so you can avoid common mistakes that cause headaches, kill time and waste money.

I’ll do my best to give you straightforward, unbiased info, and use my own experience as a presenter where it’s helpful.

Please post questions you don’t see answered in the “Comments” area at the bottom; I’ll add the answer to this page so others can benefit.

 

PART 1: WHAT TRADE SHOW PRESENTERS DO,
HOW THEY WORK, AND WHAT THEY COST 

 

WHAT’S A TRADE SHOW PRESENTER?

A trade show presenter is a professional spokesperson who gives live presentations in a trade show exhibitor’s booth to the show’s attendees, teaching them about the exhibitor’s products and/or services.

Presentations vary widely in length, content and style, but generally run 5-10 minutes long, take place in a “mini-theater” inside the exhibitor’s booth, are delivered multiple times each show day on a repeating schedule (such as every 30 minutes), follow an approved presentation script, and include a PowerPoint slide show or other visuals.

In addition, trade show presenters often deliver supplemental services, such as writing presentation scripts, designing presentation slides, and providing professional booth assistants.

Trade show presenters are also called “booth presenters” and “narrators,” and these terms are used interchangeably. However, trade show presenters are not the same as trade show booth assistants, ambassadors or staffers; these are separate services and are priced, booked and delivered differently.

 

Trade show presenter Educause Orlando

A trade show presenter typically walks a small, seated audience of attendees through a series of product slides on a monitor. (Yes, that’s yours truly doing the presenting at the Educause show in Orlando.)

 

WHO DO PRESENTERS WORK FOR?

Presenters are freelancers, so they don’t present for one company all the time. Instead, most present for a stable of several clients that may vary widely in size, industry, and geographic area. A presenter may speak for a given client at several shows a year, one or two shows a year, or one show every few years. Thus, most presenters jump around from show to show, city to city, and client to client.

Use of professional presenters varies widely depending on the industry and trade show. As a general guide, presenter-heavy shows feature most or all of these traits:

  • Show draws more than 10,000 attendees
  • Attendees are regional, national or international
  • Attendees are industry professionals
  • Show has large exhibit floor with many exhibitors
  • Most exhibitors have medium-large booths (20′ x 20′ or larger)
  • Exhibitor products/services are relatively complex and expensive
  • Exhibitor budgets are large enough to accommodate presenter fees

Industries that often use professional presenters include:

  • Information technology (IT)
  • Medical
  • High-end consumer electronics (computers, cameras, cell phones)
  • Automotive

For example, the RSA Conference, a large, high-profile IT show held annually at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, has a very heavy compliment of professional presenters. Most RSA exhibit booths 20′ x 20′ or larger have a presenter or other professional talent (presenter, magician, juggler, etc.) performing in them.

Shows with few to no presenters generally share most or all of these traits:

  • Show draws less than 10,000 attendees
  • Attendees are local (from nearby city or small region)
  • Attendees are consumers
  • Show has small exhibit floor with few exhibitors
  • Most exhibitors have small booths (tabletops or 10′ x 10′)
  • Exhibitor products/services are relatively simple and inexpensive
  • Exhibitor budgets are too small to accommodate presenter fees

 

VMworld trade show floor

Trade shows like VMworld at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco feature professional booth presenters at most medium-large booths.

 

WHAT BACKGROUNDS AND QUALIFICATIONS
DO PRESENTERS HAVE?

Trade show presenting is a completely unregulated discipline. There is no educational degree, accreditation, training, licensing or certification required to become a trade show presenter. One can simply decide to do it. There is also no union controlling who can work as a presenter, how they must be treated, or what fees they must be paid. “Professional” in this context simply refers to someone who is paid to perform the service.

Backgrounds vary widely, but most presenters have some experience in one or more of these areas:

  • Public speaking
  • Corporate sales
  • Stage performance (plays, musicals, magic, emceeing)
  • On-camera performance (spokesperson, commercial actor, TV reporter)
  • Corporate event production

This lack of professional standards does not mean presenters aren’t qualified to deliver your presentation, or won’t do a fantastic job that perfectly serves your needs. Many presenters have the talent, experience and professionalism to knock it out of the park for you.

However, this absence of oversight makes it imperative that, should you book a presenter, you first confirm they possess the background, experience, and command of the tools needed to deliver your presentation your way. As they saying goes, “buyer beware.”

 

HOW DOES A BOOTH PRESENTATION WORK?

A standard, straightforward booth presentation works something like this:

STEP 1: About five minutes before the presentation, the presenter (and their booth assistant, if present) will turn on their microphone and start inviting attendees into the booth theater to sit and watch the presentation, teasing its content and any giveaways attendees may receive or win by staying to watch.

STEP 2: At the designated starting time (and hopefully with at least a few attendees seated in the theater) the presenter begins delivering the presentation, walking the audience through the script and slides. As the presenter speaks, more attendees stop to watch, and the audience grows.

STEP 3: When the presentation is complete, the presenter thanks the attendees for watching, invites attendees to stay and talk to company employees, and resets the theater for the next presentation. Most presenters leave the booth and rest their voices between presentations.

(Sample video)

Countless variations on this format have evolved over the years, including:

GAME SHOW HOST: The booth presenter runs a game show, using audience members as contestants. The questions and answers center on the exhibitor’s products and services. (Sample video)

EMCEE: The presenter serves as an emcee who gathers and welcomes the audience, then introduces a guest speaker (usually the exhibitor’s employee, partner or customer) to give the main presentation. When the guest speaker finishes, the emcee delivers a quick wrap-up to the audience, hands out prizes, and invites attendees into the booth. (Sample video)

VIDEO INTERACTION: The booth presenter interacts with a character on a TV screen in a timed, choreographed performance. (Sample video)

LIVE DEMO: The presentation features a live demonstration of the product or service.

TWO-PERSON PRESENTATION: A product expert from the exhibitor’s company co-presents with the professional presenter. The expert may explain key technical points in depth, run a live demo, and/or answer questions from the audience.

MAGICIAN / JUGGLER(S): The booth presenter is a professional magician, juggler or juggling team that delivers company and product information into their magic or juggling routine.

FAMOUS CHARACTER: The booth presenter delivers the presentation while dressed as (and acting as) a well-known TV or film character, such as Austin Powers.

 

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO BOOTH PRESENTATIONS USE?

Most booth presentations use these speaking tools:

MONITOR SCREEN: This large TV display is usually hung on a wall at the front “stage” area of the booth theater, and displays presentation visuals (usually a PowerPoint slideshow, but sometimes an Apple Keynote slideshow, a Prezi, or a video).

LAPTOP COMPUTER: This Mac or PC laptop runs the presentation visuals displayed on the monitor screen. The laptop may sit on a podium next to the monitor, or “backstage” in a private, closed-off storage closet on the other side of the wall holding the monitor screen.

MICROPHONE: Most presenters use a headset microphone (also called a “wraparound” or “Madonna” mic), which places the microphone very close to the presenter’s mouth, creating the strong audio feed needed to be heard above the din of the show floor. Handheld microphones are often used as well, and generally work just as well. (NOTE: lapel or “lavalier” microphones that clip to a speaker’s shirt do not transmit enough volume to be heard in a trade show environment and should be avoided.)

PODIUM: Some presenters still use a podium to hold the computer running the slides, and/or to store giveaways, brochures and other materials used in the presentation.

There’s one more very special tool presenters use that I’ll address in the next question…

 

HOW DOES A PRESENTER MEMORIZE A PRESENTATION?

Most presenters actually don’t memorize. Instead, they use a secret tool of the trade called an Earprompter, or “Ear.”

The Ear is essentially a souped-up tape recorder system. With it, the presenter records their booth presentation into the recorder before the show exactly as they want it to sound, with just the right energy, pacing, pronunciations and inflections. They also record verbal cues to advance slides, grab props, and perform other choreography.

During the presentation, the recorder sits in the presenter’s pocket and plays back the pre-recorded speech in real time. The audio playback of the speech is fed into the presenter’s ear (through wires or wirelessly) as the presenter speaks, with the next words coming into their ear just at the moment they’re needed. In this way, the presenter is always delivering words and simultaneously listening for the next words from the recording. The entire system is invisible to the audience.

This 30-second intro video I made will give you a taste:

Most Earprompter systems also feature a remote pause button that allows the presenter to pause the playback for any reason and for any length of time (to make a joke, take a question, toss out a prize or attend to a problem, for example). Most recorders also come equipped with a speed wheel that allows the presenter to speed up or slow down the playback as much as 25% on the fly, ensuring a comfortable playback and speaking rhythm.

There are two huge benefits to using the Ear:

FASTER PREP: Most professional presenters need only a couple of hours to mark up a presentation script, record it, and practice it until it’s “performance ready” for a booth. That means instead of forcing their client to send the final presentation script weeks in advance for memorization, the presenter can receive it a few days (or even hours) before the first presentation, prep it quickly, and still perform it perfectly. This allows clients to deliver the script at the last minute, which clients inevitably prefer.

BETTER PERFORMANCE: Since the presenter knows each word will be fed into their ear at the precise moment its needed, they’re relieved of the “recall anxiety” that plagues speakers who memorize content. Free of that concern, the presenter can focus all their energy on giving a great performance, which makes them more effective speakers.

The Earprompter is a specialized skill that takes time and practice to master. Most professional presenters own at least two complete Earprompter kits and have taken and have taken a class to learn to use them. (If they haven’t, they’re probably not “ready for prime time” at your booth.)

 

WHY USE A PROFESSIONAL PRESENTER?

Three words: MORE QUALIFIED LEADS. Far more qualified leads, in fact, than you’d get otherwise. And more energy, more buzz, and more attention at your booth. In short, presenters deliver all the things you came to the show to get, in spades, and do it effectively, efficiently, and enjoyably.

Good presenters create large quantities of qualified leads using three key traits:

PERSONALITY: Presenters radiate all the personal qualities you want attendees to associate with your company: vitality, warmth, humor, credibility, authenticity. Since presenters make your first impression to most attendees, this is an efficient way to prime most attendees to relax, smile, listen and learn.

POLISH: Presenters deliver information with a level of polish few others can match. Their presentation scripts read cleanly and smoothly, uncluttered by extraneous words or overcooked language. They deliver these scripts loudly and enunciate clearly, so their audiences members can hear and understand them easily over the chaos of the show floor. They imbue their deliveries with just the right flavors, adding inflections and emphasis, varying volume and speed, tossing in jokes and questions, all to keep the audience engaged, learning, and eager for more.

PROFESSIONALISM: Presenters come ready to work. They have the stamina to give five, ten, twenty presentations a day without losing energy. They have the focus to start and end every presentation on time. They have the technical skills to fix common audio-visual problems that might otherwise derail a presentation. They have the insight to see which parts of your presentation are working well, and which need tweaking (and to make those tweaks on the fly).

 

Professional trade show presenter VMworld

This is why you use a professional trade show presenter: because they pack your booth with every performance, as I did here for Citrix at VMworld 2014 in San Francisco.

 

So instead of asking “Why use a professional presenter?” I recommend a more productive question: “How can I ensure the presenter I choose will pay off?”

Speaking of which…

 

HOW ARE PRESENTERS PRICED?

Most presenters quote a daily rate for their services. In essence, you are renting that presenter for that day of the show. You multiply that day rate times the number of days in the show to get your total investment.

Some presenters will quote a total “package” price for a show that includes all show days plus travel and supplemental services. In that case, they are usually starting with a day rate in mind, and doing the math for you to calculate your total investment for the show.

 

WHAT DO PRESENTERS COST?

Ah, I knew you’d ask!

Because trade show presenting is an unregulated service, costs vary widely among presenters, and even for the same presenter booked by different sources.

Generally, booking an experienced presenter will cost anywhere from $800 to $2,000 per show day. Some presenters charge that same rate for a “non-performance” rehearsal day or off-site meeting; others charge a lower fee, generally 50%.

Presenter pricing may be influenced by any or all of these factors:

  • Experience / skill level
  • Length of show day
  • Commission (if a talent agent facilitates the booking)
  • Discounts for first-time or repeat clients, multi-show bookings, etc.
  • Client’s budget limitations
  • Show location (presenters may discount bookings in their home cities and favored destinations)

In addition, if the presenter must travel to the show city, the client will usually pay for part or all of the presenter’s standard travel expenses, including round-trip coach flight, hotel room, airport transfers and per diem.

This investment can seem high at first glance. In fact, given the tremendous value a good presenter provides, driving regular streams of valuable, eager leads into your booth, I’ve come to believe it’s the best bargain in the business. There isn’t much else you could do to deliver large quantities of qualified leads for that price.

Moreover, most presenters include services like these in their day rate for no extra charge:

  • All time spent on pre-show client phone calls and emails
  • Travel planning time, advanced purchase of travel services, and travel time
  • Light editing of the client’s presentation script and/or slideshow
  • Consulting on other aspects of the booth, such as giveaways

Finally, remember that just like all independent contractors, presenters pay out a large chunk of their day rates in taxes, insurance, business operations, marketing, performance equipment, and personal expenses. Believe me, that fee gets sliced up fast.

 

WHY SHOULDN’T I HAVE MY EMPLOYEES
GIVE MY BOOTH PRESENTATIONS?

This is a common (and very reasonable) question. On the surface, having your employees give your booth presentations makes sense: they understand what you sell, so they should be the ones explaining it to attendees.

In practice, this rarely works. Why?

First, consider the massive investment of time, money and hassle you put into producing your booth. Your booth investment likely included:

  • Renting your booth space
  • Designing, buying, transporting and setting up your booth
  • Flying your employees to the show city, housing them and feeding them
  • Buying and transporting giveaways, staff shirts and other booth items
  • Related costs like marketing your booth, sponsoring the show and entertaining prospects

It’s not uncommon for an exhibitor to invest six or even seven figures on a trade show booth.

Next, consider how important it is to you that your booth generate at least enough sales to justify that investment. Most shows are only produced once a year, so if your presence doesn’t pay off, your investment is lost and you have to wait a year to try again.

With so much at stake, the role of booth presenter may be the most important one in your booth. It’s imperative that whoever you trust to play it does a top-notch for you. Every performance must pack your booth with attendees, pitch them effectively, and keep them around afterward for one-on-one conversations.

Most employees have strong knowledge bases and excel talking with attendees one-on-one. However, nearly every employee I have ever seen give booth presentations has failed in this task. Here’s why:

THEY DON’T HAVE STRONG SPEAKING SKILLS. Employees may know a great deal, yet be incapable of delivering that information efficiently and effectively in such a chaotic environment. Watching an employee stammer or whisper through a booth presentation is painful for everyone.

THEY DON’T CONNECT WELL WITH AN AUDIENCE. Getting and keeping the attention of a large group of attendees amidst the endless distractions of a trade show floor is a daunting task; exuding warmth, credibility and fun every time you do it is even tougher. Most employees wilt fast under these conditions. And if you don’t connect with your attendees, they won’t become your leads.

THEY DON’T HAVE ENOUGH STAMINA. Presenters perform at your booth on and off all day long. Substantial stamina is required to keep presentations on schedule and ensure that the last presentation shines with as much energy, warmth and humor as the first one. Most employees won’t maintain this schedule; presentations end up starting late or getting skipped entirely. That sloppiness alienates attendees and wastes your booth theater.

THEY AREN’T COMFORTABLE WITH PRESENTATION TOOLS. Presenters must know how to set, adjust and troubleshoot microphones, remote controls, audio mixing boards, TV monitors, slide software and Earprompter kits. These tools must be used correctly, work flawlessly every time, and be fixed quickly if they don’t. Employees lack the experience to do this, and tend to panic when tools malfunction.

For these reasons, employee presenters tend to waste the gigantic opportunity your booth theater represents. Hiring a pro will help you avoid this disservice to your company.

However, the biggest reason employees don’t make good presenters is this: it’s simply not the best use of their time. Your employees should be spending every minute at the show talking one-on-one with high-value targets, being interviewed by the press, scouting competitors, attending seminars and workshops, connecting with colleagues, and seeing to other key tasks that make full use of their industry profiles, knowledge bases and personal connections.

When you instead ask them to spend the show giving the same pitch over and over, not only do they ruin your presentations, you force them to squander all those other opportunities, eliminating entirely their value to you at the show. You’re much better off handing your presentation to a pro and saving your employees for other tasks for which they’re better suited (and more likely to enjoy).

The upshot: in high-stakes situations, paying for professional help usually pays off in time saved, mistakes avoided, and goals reached. As with most jobs, when you need it done right, pay a professional to do it.

 

COMING SOON:

PART 2: Finding and Booking the Right Presenter

PART 3: Building an Effective Booth Presentation

 

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2 Comments on "Trade show presenter 101: Your guide to booking a booth presenter (Part 1)"

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Guest
Deane Louise Greene
1 year 4 months ago

Wow – a lot of great information! Thanks.

Guest
1 year 4 months ago

Excellent information from an excellent presenter.

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