Body Language Interpretation and Marketing At Trade Shows

Written by on September 21st, 2016 // Filed under Encouragement & Philosophy, Erika Viktor, Marketing

Testing Audience Reaction In Person Is Important.

In my last two posts, I tried to make the case for getting out more. Get a booth at the trade show floor or get a spot in your local parade. This all came about after I ran a successful booth at the Salt Lake Comic Con early this month. I mentioned that your competition probably won’t be out there with you, they are more inclined to stay in their pajamas, securely separated from the world by a glowing rectangle of light.

By now I hope you are at least considering incorporating the booth life into your marketing. I believe it’s vital . . . but perhaps not for the reasons you think.

Many people get booths at trade shows in order to sell or advertise a product. While there is nothing wrong with this, selling a few grand of widgets isn’t the real value you get from the experience. The value is in customer response to the product.

Sitting behind our glowing rectangles of light, it’s really hard to interpret the luke-warm, edited or non-existent response to our product. Even if we ask friends and family to give honest feedback, their feedback (if they give it at all) will be heavily edited, biased, meant to sooth, or otherwise rubbish. This is because they like you, or hate you and those feelings color their response. They may be simply checking you off their list or trying to get something from you. At the very worst, they really don’t know enough about the market to help you.

But something magical happens when you catch someone in the moment of reacting to a visual stimuli in person. As a general rule, people can’t fake their first impression of any visual display. They may be horrified, curious, disinterested or intrigued and it will show, but only in the first few seconds.

Then, the person will realize you are there and change their reaction based on the social norms they have subscribed to. These norms usually include numerous false reactions that have to be waded through to find the true feelings of that person. But the initial reaction is very, very real.

By studying people’s initial reaction to your display, you can learn about how effective your display is. You can learn how interested someone is in your product. You can find out how they feel about it visually. Even if they lie to your face, praising your display and telling you how they plan to go straight home and visit your website, you can tell how they really feel based on their body language.


Yesterday I told a good friend I loved her. My body language indicated the love was purely platonic and friendly and my friend’s body language indicated how she felt about what I was saying. For a split second, she couldn’t meet my eyes. Then, after registering my tone she realized I wasn’t professing romantic love, but a mutual affection born from decades of camaraderie, then she looked me in the eyes and smiled.

From those small eye movements she made, I saw that she was uncomfortable with the phrase “I love you” and perhaps isn’t used to hearing it. She indicated an awkwardness that she wasn’t immediately sure how to soothe. Then, having figured out the proper response, she smiled. This all happened in a second’s time but I was paying close attention and was therefore able to sense her feelings.

You can do this type of body language reading too and you don’t need an FBI agent to fill you in on the details (though this book might help you out!). All you have to do is pay very close attention to their eye contact, their awkwardness, their tone. While you can’t mind read, if people are using overly-polite and guarded body language over and over again, you likely have a problem. If they get lost in your display and begin chattering, you may be on to something (more on chatter in Friday’s post).


In any visual display, you want to grab someone by the emotional heartstrings. Two people burst into tears when they saw my booth. I wasn’t prepared for that. One, a girl who I called a kindred spirit, had lost all her old toys in a fire and seeing them again gave her deep feelings. Another nice fellow who cried when he saw my booth had lost some of his toys due to family drama. Both bought from me and expressed gratitude. I felt warmed by their kindness and openness toward me.

Some people, those who weren’t impressed, looked at my display as if it were slightly insane. Some people’s eyes lit up. Others moved past without noticing.

The beauty of the conference setting is that many people will walk past your booth and when the subject sample is high, you have a better ability to judge trends. If many people express emotion, especially strong emotion, you have a winner. It doesn’t exactly matter which emotion they display, only that they display any emotion.

Even if you get a standard reaction, you can hack bits of your display by tracking eye movements. By using this technique, I realized that the corner area of my display wasn’t viewable from the front of the table and I should place fast-selling items at the fore.

Showing no emotion, or weak emotion spells trouble too. If you stand at a busy conference and few people engage your table, something is wrong with your display and you need to work to make it better.

If many people stop and look at your display, but move quickly on without their face changing, you probably haven’t engaged their emotions. Before you change your booth, decide what kind of emotion you wish to illicit and work toward that end. Try something unexpected, large, shocking, bright, moving or strange.

Remember, it isn’t about selling widgets or even advertising your awesomeness, it’s about experimentation and customer reaction.

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