My Worst Trade Show Experience Ever

My Worst Trade Show Ever

Like a lot of events that I was wrangling, it started with a red eye to cross the country to NYC arriving at 1am local time. Rough under any circumstances…but it was also December 2019 and I had barely made a connecting flight in Salt Lake City due to the snowy weather that set in a bit early that year. I got to my hotel by about 2 am and had to be up at 7 am local time to make my way to the first day of the exhibition.

This particular show was a unique one, as it was a big Anesthesia focused conference. It had a large number of exhibitors, and I was certain to see customers and current partners.

Day 1

My team and I made it to the floor after battling through the traffic in Times Square with a steamer (yes, a steamer… like for clothes) in hand. I don’t know the last time I felt so out of place. Crushing through the Times Square crowds with my steamer! More on that in a minute.

See, we were there during the Heisman Awards weekend hosted by ESPN. The traffic in Times Square is hectic on any day but there was a noticeable buzz in the air and we had a bit of a rough time getting into the exhibition hall through the crowds of fans. This is where things started to go south.

As soon as we made it to the show floor, my product fulfillment team lead let me know he was feeling sick. So was my other booth staffer… They needed to step away and get to urgent care.

The staff at check-in let me know there was a problem during setup and one of our TV stands had been crushed in transit.

To top it all off, my marketing director called me to let me know the CEO and his team were running a full day late.

And just like that, I found myself alone, scrambling to get a TV fixed, finding food for myself, and of course, all the other details that come with the first day of exhibition.

To make matters worse, the fabric backing we had on a couple of our stands (I worked for a fairly small software company with a modest booth) was woefully wrinkled and needed to be steamed with that steamer I had carried across Times Square.

I’m a glutton for punishment (I’m in the event space after all) and so I obviously decided to fix both the TV and the fabric, and forgo food for the morning.

It was a tough morning, but when the exhibition hall opened I was ready. Alone in the booth, I had fixed the TV stand and the fabric on our signage was crisp.

The first visitors stopped by.  We chatted.  Then I realized something.

I forgot about lead capture!

I pulled out a piece of paper and started writing down names and emails…I stuffed business cards into a bag.

For the next couple of hours, I was Houdini!

I worked hard all morning to keep up with traffic, say hello to our customers, and network with our partners that stopped by.

By noon I was completely exhausted and I knew I needed to re-fuel. So when we hit a lunch lull I ran to the restroom and grabbed a quick snack. As I was hurrying back to the booth I met someone in our space that would be the perfect partner.

I memorized their contact info and rushed back to the booth to write it down.

Just in time for the afternoon rush.

Now I’m sure you have been thinking about how exciting it must be to exhibit in a hall full of Anesthesiologists. The practical questions, the propensity for black coffee, the sweater vests. It is absolutely a vibe 😉

Somehow, I made it to the end of day one. I looked over the lead list and I was pleasantly surprised. I had written down over 40 pretty decent leads. But then I started feeling sick…you see I have a gluten allergy…and that snack I had quickly grabbed earlier in the day….yeah you guessed it. It was a calculated risk…I gambled that the food that I grabbed that looked gluten-free, was ok to eat. . . and I paid for it!

I spent the rest of the day sick. So sick. Couldn’t get out of bed sick. And when the next day came, I still couldn’t get out of bed.

Day 2

So on day two the fulfillment team lead, the CEO and his team worked the booth without me. Well, sort of. For all the conversations they were having, they weren’t writing down leads, they were just collecting business cards. The CEO had a big meeting and the second day was almost as busy as the first day.

And to top it off, the fix I had worked together for the TV stand failed while the CEO was in the booth. . . and the stand broke again.

Day 3

Day three rolled around and we had a fully staffed booth just in time for a nosedive in traffic. I was feeling well enough to be upright, but still not even close to 100%.

To add some icing to my misery cake, my team generously shared their nasty little bug with me. Queue the worst ear infection I have ever had on top of the intense GI symptoms from my day 1 mishap with gluten.

Now, I have had some sniffles at an event before…but I have never, and I mean NEVER had an ear infection that was this bad. I was experiencing the worst vertigo and felt like I was spinning every time I stepped off an elevator. I could barely walk, I was so dizzy.  On the final day, it was just the two of us. The Customer Account Team Lead and myself…and we were both sick. Sick as could be. So when we were breaking down on the final day…We made a series of unfortunate mistakes that would have serious repercussions.

First, I forgot about the TV stand fix and started to take it down as I normally would. You can guess what happened here…I broke that big TV. Smashed it to pieces in fact.

Second, my teammate shoved the paper lead list and business cards into a bag…a bag he thought for sure was coming back to the office with us. And one of us, no need to place blame…ok it was me… put that bag in the TV stand case. And that case was left to be shipped back to our office across the country.

All those leads. The excellent partnership opportunities, and customer comments. Shoved into a bag which was put in an equipment case, that was then put in a box and ended up with shipping delays.

I am not over-embellishing when I say that was the worst travel day I have ever had. Flying out of JFK with vertigo and GI symptoms. . . I don’t need to paint the picture for you! I’m sure you can use your imagination.  It was awful. My teammate had to hold me upright (the flight staff thought I was intoxicated haha)  to get me onto our connecting flight!

We made it home late and went straight to bed and forgot all about those leads for the entire weekend.

After getting meds and an incredulous urgent care doc who couldn’t believe how bad my ear infection was (small consolation) I went into work Monday to salvage the remnants of the dumpster fire that was the show. I went looking for the leads…and they were nowhere to be found. The CMO and other team members stopped by to ask about leads…and I had to fess up to the fact that we misplaced the lead list. I was sure I had put them in a specific bag but the bag was missing.

Over the next week and a half, the frustration grew and grew. The leads were gone. I was miserable. I knew it was my fault. No one said anything and that only made it worse. About two weeks later our packages showed up at the office due to shipping delays. A member of our Marketing team was unloading all the boxes and found the bag!

This was the beginning of the end of my role there in more ways than one. It sent me looking for the best way to do trade shows - specifically, I went looking for the best way to capture leads at trade shows and events.

I was focused on doing whatever I could to salvage the situation. So we finally had the lead list…only three and a half weeks after the show. And by now all our competitors had reached out to our prospects multiple times. We did what we could but it was certainly too little too late. Our team got very little by way of results.

So why am I telling you this embarrassing story? Well aside from my building character, and my ability to laugh at myself… I am telling you because it certainly got me thinking that there has to be a better way to do Trade Shows!

Why on earth were we using pen and paper or rented badge scanners that only gave us a name and email address? Why did we lug it all back to the office and manually enter it in HubSpot? There had to be a better way.

I went looking for the best way.

And after evaluating a ton of options, I found the best solution. iCapture.

They had an open job posting for a Director of Business Development…and well, you can see how that turned out. I have been here for about 4 and a half years and I absolutely love what we do.

iCapture gives event marketers the best solution to capture leads at events.

Because we have all had one (or several) really hard events.

Because events are chaotic!

People get sick. Equipment breaks. Flights get canceled.

But we are still on the hook for bringing back leads.

And lead capture should be easy. It should be the same solution at every show. It should be in every rep's hands with the same lead form. It should automatically connect to the CRM so we aren’t spending hours and hours entering those leads after a show. It should be dummy proof so that when we have those tough events (or we rely on sales reps) the leads don’t get lost!

Who doesn’t want to show up to each show with lead capture already in their pocket?!

My worst trade show experience sent me looking for a better way. I wanted to ensure I would never lose leads again. Elite Trade Show Marketers know that lead capture at trade shows is a tough game. You know that it is one piece of a very complicated puzzle. You know how chaotic events can be and you are always looking for ways to turn consistency, speed, and visibility into results. I had to learn this the hardest way possible. I hope you don’t!

I bet you got a few laughs from my story and I am sure you are better at executing Trade Shows than I was that day.  In fact, I bet all your events are wayyy better than this dumpster fire! But if you are reading this,I bet you are also keen on using the best possible solution for capturing leads at your Trade Shows. If you want to see how iCapture works - check out this video! If you are already an iCapture client, we are sure your shows go better than this!. If you have a story about an AMAZING show - send it to so we can reach out and add you to our client stories and feature you in our newsletter.

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