The Ultimate Guide to Trade Show Booth Games


You probably already understand the inherent value in attending trade shows. They’re a great opportunity to gather new leads and give your brand exposure. No wonder business leaders around the country praise trade shows as a superior ROI when it comes to promotional budgets.

Consider these statistics:

  • The average cost of a face-to-face meeting at a trade show is $142, while the cost of an in-office meeting is $259.
  • 90% of trade show attendees have not met with any of the exhibiting companies in the past year.
  • 92% of attendees are there to see what’s new in products and services for a given industry.

trade show stats

The biggest takeaway from these statistics is that trade shows are the most affordable way to meet with a large number of people, the majority of whom you have not connected with before.

Yet, there is a side-effect of the no-brainer that is trade show attendance: Your competitors are going to be there, too. While there is some value in checking out the competition, your biggest concern should be drawing more attention to your exhibit.

While a gorgeous, well-appointed exhibit, high-quality product demos and a great, well-informed and high-energy staff are all ways to get ahead of your rivals, there is another trick that just might be what puts you over the top: trade show games.

By offering unique and entertaining trade show contests and games to attendees, you’ll bring the right kind of energy into your exhibit, while also attracting people who may not have naturally been interested in your company otherwise.

That’s why we’re putting together this guide to trade show booth games. We are going to start with some general advice on maximizing your games, regardless of what you end up settling on. We’ll then move on to some specific trade show game ideas that have proven successful for other companies and that are easily adaptable to a wide range of businesses and industries.

Keep the Energy Up

Having a great game or brilliant interactive activity doesn’t get the humans working at the display off the hook. Ultimately, like any sales pitch, the key is the right interaction between company representatives and potential clients or customers.

That’s why you have to make sure everyone involved has the energy necessary to make the game connect.

trade show energy

First of all, you need to draw attention to your trade show game. A wheel or a quiz game isn’t going to necessarily attract anyone if it’s simply hung on a wall and left there. You have to channel your inner game show host or street performer and make sure passers-by know your wheel-spinning game is more than just a way to give away freebies — it’s, in fact, the best wheel-spinning game in the history of trade shows, and it’s up to the host to generate the energy behind the game.

That energy also needs to be directional. You don’t just want people playing your game, walking away and throwing your branded giveaway in the nearest waste basket. You need to get people excited and then immediately transition into your pitch or hand them off to someone else who will start talking business.

And perhaps most importantly, you want to bring the kind of energy that makes people feel comfortable, not overwhelmed. One of the biggest values of the trade show game is lead generation, which is best accomplished through the gathering of contact information. You never want your energy levels to reach the point that people are playing your game because they think it’s the quickest way to get you to leave them alone.

Keep It Professional

While energy is good, it’s also important to remember that you’re still representing your brand. That’s why you always need to keep it positive and be mindful of how your energy may be perceived to the wide range of people who attend trade shows.

For example, if there is a competitive element to your game, you want to give the impression that you want everyone to win — even if it’s the kind of competition where only one person can win the prize. You never want to react negatively.

trade show prizes

You also want to be careful to not get so excited that you use profanity. Even if the person you’re interacting with has a foul mouth, don’t give into the temptation of interacting with them on their level. You never know who else might be listening in. Plus, one of the benefits of the trade show game is the way it creates a fun atmosphere. Even if some choice words may appear to be solidifying your connection with a particular individual, it could be ruining the larger atmosphere and, therefore, proving to be a net negative.

There is also a tendency in moments of competition and even well-intentioned encouragement to use gendered language. Phrases like, “Play like a man” or, “You throw like a girl,” may seem harmless. However, keep in mind that for many, these are actually quite offensive. Again, your trade show activity is about bringing as many people as you can into your exhibit. By using gendered language, you will be limiting that number — which is just bad business.

Keep Your Eye on the “Prize”

While games are fun — and for many, they’re the highlight of a trade show — the game isn’t the end goal. The game is in fact just an introduction. So while you want to stand out with your trade show game, you don’t want to put so much time, energy and money into your game that the rest of your exhibit or pitch is lacking.

trade show booth

Remember, the product or service you’re selling is the real prize. Games may be a great way to hand out branded goodies or develop a buzz around your exhibit, but you don’t want to forget the meat of what you’re doing.

Choose games that mesh well with what you’re offering to potential customers and clients. And if in the end, the option is between investing in a flashy game or investing in a solid product demo, stick with the product demo. The majority of trade show attendees realize that the game is just the hook, and they will definitely sniff out a booth that is all flash and no substance.

Similarly, you don’t want to make a game so good or engrossing that people don’t pay attention to your ultimate pitch. As more trade show exhibits incorporate technology and video game elements, it’s easy to do so in a way that overshadows your actual business. If you’re going to go with a big production, you also want to make sure to keep it short, so people don’t become overly focused on the game and fail to notice anything else in the exhibit.

Some of Our Favorite Game Ideas

Now that we’ve covered the basics on implementing games in your trade show display, let’s move on to some of our favorite concepts. They are wide-ranging, regarding investment costs, complexity and the amount of energy they require to implement and run. So take a look and find one that fits with your business, both regarding branding and company size:

1. Business Card Prize Draw

The business card prize draw is perhaps the simplest trade show game. Offer a prize drawing at the end of the trade show and require that attendees give a business card to enter. This is a quick and easy way to grow your connections list and requires very little preparation beyond choosing a prize.

business card draw

If you want really to build some energy, however, you’re going to have to do that yourself since the game isn’t very exciting on its own. Plus, people have seen it before, so if they aren’t interested in being on your contact list, they won’t have too much trouble passing it by. That being said, if you are days away from a trade show and you feel like you need something else to spice up your display, this a quick and easy way to do it at the last minute.

2. Twitter/Social Media Raffle

Raffles are often great fundraising tools, as people who pay a small amount of money have the opportunity to be awarded a much larger prize. But a Twitter or social media raffle doesn’t require any monetary investment from a contestant. Instead, it only requires them to generate the kind of social media buzz that’s so important for branding these days.

social media show

Simply designate a unique hashtag for the game, like #CompanyXContest2017. Then tell people that all they need to do to enter the contest is to make a positive statement about your brand on their Twitter feed and include both your Twitter handle and the hashtag.

If you want to also incorporate the competition into your exhibit, you can use a single display screen and have the hashtag folder queued up. That way people in the booth can see the way people across the trade show floor are engaging with your brand.

Make sure to announce the winner through Twitter, too. Not only will people be paying attention to your hashtag, but then they will eagerly await the winner announcement. The easiest way to make sure they don’t miss the announcement is by following you, meaning they will see future tweets from you as well.

3. The Prize Wheel

The prize wheel is one that has been around for a while and is pretty common in the trade show circle. However, while a prize wheel might not get you points for originality, it’s recognizability can be used as an asset.

prize wheel

Because people wandering the trade show floor will likely have seen a prize wheel before, when they see yours, they will know exactly what it is and what it’s for. And since prize wheels equal prizes, people who are familiar with them are likely to visit at the chance of a free giveaway.

The key to a good prize wheel is making sure you get something from the attendee in response to a spin. The most common requirement is a business card. That way, whether they talk to you or not after they spin, you will have contact information for future connections.

It is also good to fill your prize wheel with prizes, meaning regardless of how they spin, they will get something in return. Maybe you have one bigger prize space, and the rest are filled with promotional coupons. A nice trick is to have those promotional coupons represent introductory offers, meaning people go away thinking they’ve gotten a good deal, but you’re giving them the same deal you would have given them if they had just walked into your booth.

If you want something that is easy to set up and manage, the prize wheel is a tried and true option.

4. Matching Game

This is a fun one that requires very little setup or material costs. The rules are simple: Contestants leave your booth with a sticker on their shirt that features a symbol of some kind, and they win by finding the one other person playing the game who has a sticker with the same symbol.

matching game

The key is to make sure that in addition to a symbol, every sticker also prominently features your logo. That way, attendees are enthusiastically wearing your branding on their shirt. Furthermore, a bunch of people walking around the trade show floor with logo-branded stickers will attract attention. When someone unfamiliar asks someone playing the game what all those stickers are about, the player will end up talking about your booth, offering you some free promotion.

You can cater your prizes so anyone who finds their match gets a small prize, or you can layer it by saying that finding their match gets them entered into a drawing for a big prize. Either way, it’s a great way to get people engaged while also increasing your promotion throughout the trade show.

5. Scratch-Off Cards

This is a fun one that does require a certain level of material investment. Most people are familiar with lottery scratch-off cards, and now you can get scratch-offs that work much the same way and that are branded with your company logo.

This game is neat because it creates buzz simply by associating your brand with an exciting ritual for millions of people across the country. It also gives people something branded even if they don’t win, which is one of the best ways to leverage a trade show game. If they win, they’ll be excited. Even if they don’t win, though, they will have spent time engaging with your brand while also associating it with the thrill of a simple scratch-off.

6. Plinko

This is a simple game to administer with a ton of natural anticipatory excitement built in. If you’re unfamiliar with the daytime game show staple, a Plinko board consists of a series of nails in a staggered vertical pattern on a board. At the bottom of the board are a series of prize slots, with one slot indicating the big prize. A disk is placed at the top of the board, and the various nails randomize the way the disk falls, making aiming for a particular slot practically impossible. Wherever the disk lands, that’s the prize a person gets.

First of all, many people have come to love this game, so they’ll instantly be drawn to the opportunity to play. It’s also easy to customize to your particular brand, and it’s a very fun game to watch other people play — meaning while one contestant is playing, other passers-by are likely to crowd around and cheer along. As a bonus, because it takes a while for the disk to get from the top of the board to the bottom, you will get a nice moment to enthusiastically encourage your contestant, facilitating a good connection once they’ve played.

7. Video Games

This one, of course, requires a bit of technological investment. However, if you do opt for putting video games into your trade show exhibit, you’re sure to make an impression, so you have a good chance for great ROI.

The key to a good video game display is to opt for something party oriented. You don’t want one person laser focused on the screen and everyone else either waiting in line or disinterested in what the player is doing. There’s a lot going on at a trade show, so people aren’t going to be very patient even if you have a state-of-the-art video game console in your exhibit.

Video games that are motion activated are very effective, as they tend to attract an audience, engaging people who aren’t even playing. They also are more likely to be fun for four or more players at once, meaning you can get more people playing in a shorter amount of time.

One of the best things about video games at trade shows is they are effective with those attendees who aren’t terribly engaged with what’s going on. While the majority of attendees are there because they want to be, there are always some people who have been sent to the show by a boss and aren’t terribly excited. These people are likely to be unimpressed by smaller, more typical trade show games, but they might be intrigued by a highly interactive game on a big screen.

Of course, one of the problems with video games is that they are unlikely to be customizable with your brand, so if you do opt for a console, you’re going to have to commit to selling your company yourself, as the game isn’t going to do much selling for you.

8. Branded Bean Bag Toss

This picnic game is an easy one to adapt for the trade show. Two boards — each with a hole cut in them — are placed a set distance apart, and people compete to see who can toss the bean bag into the hole. It’s easy because many of your attendees are already going to be familiar with the game. It also gives people the opportunity to engage in a little friendly competition.

bean bag toss

This game is also ideal because you can place any image on the face of the board, such as your logo, and people will notice it when they play. Plus, because you’re creating a competition between people, the reward is the victory — so you don’t necessarily need to invest in any prizes.

Contact Us for Your Trade Show Display Needs

Of course, the best trade show game will mean little if it isn’t accompanied by a professional trade show exhibit. That’s where we at APG Exhibits come in.

If you need artwork guidance, our team is here to help you get through the process and end up with a polished finished product.

Plus, our simplified ordering process makes getting the displays you need a snap. Contact us and get started on your trade show exhibit today.

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4 Responses

  1. Sandeep says:

    Thank you very much for sharing trade show ideas, it’s very useful article and hope to read more about your experience.

  2. Barb Wolfe says:

    I love the matching game idea. Is there a vendor you would recommend for that and are there best practices regarding ratio of different symbols vs # of conference attendees?

  3. Elijah Everson says:

    Thanks for giving people advice on how to spice up their trade show booths. While you guys build beautiful booths we create fun games for people to play. Absolute Amusements would love to help anyone out with trade show traffic building.

  4. Audiencegage says:

    Great article – all of these are really fun game ideas to use at a trade show, and you have even added in some physical games.

    The one type of game that you are missing is a Trivia quiz. A Trivia Game (where the content is based on general knowledge of the Industry and the Exhibiting Company) can be a great way to engage, educate and entertain your tradeshow attendees. You can use an Interactive Leaderboard to create competition amongst the attendees and customise the look and feel of the game to match your branding.

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