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How to Generate Leads Using Trade Show Competitions

Trade shows are still one of the most profitable forms of marketing, yet getting a stand at a show is only half the battle. Passers-by need to be lured to your stand, making them excited about your brand before they even know what your business offers.

In a recent study it was found that since the advent of smart phones, the average human attention span is just eight seconds. To put that into context, goldfish are believed to have an attention of span of nine seconds. Let me repeat that (in case your smartphone just buzzed!), goldfish are now believed to have a longer attention span than humans!

With attention spans falling and so many influences vying for our attention it’s clear that your brand needs to be able to attract attendees in just a couple of seconds, and what better way to do this than a fun and engaging trade show contest?

DW Trade Exhibition

Step One: The Prize

The first step is to think of a desirable prize for a general audience. If you deal in B2C markets, you could give away some of your products or a free subscription to your services.

Don’t make the mistake of choosing a niche product or something too business-focused as people always prefer a prize they can take home, such as cash, a new piece of technology, gift card or voucher for a holiday.

Generate publicity before the show by letting people know what they can win, as well as including posters and other marketing literature promoting the competition.

Step Two: Lead Generation

A successful trade show game or contest needs to be fun but, most importantly, allow some form of lead generation for you to follow up with after the show. It’s also important to note that lead generation does not mean simply getting a contestant’s business card, you also want to know a little bit more about them so the follow-up can be targeted to that lead.

For example, you might require a contestant to fill in a form with their contact details in order to be notified if they’ve won the competition, but you could also add an optional section where they inform you of their company details and whether or not they would be interested in your offering. Another option is to find time for an informal chat with the contestant during or whilst waiting to play your game.

Step Three: The Competition

The best trade show contests take a well-known game and personalise the format for your brand and its core offering. Being innovative is always the key – it’s a fact that brands that exhibit at live events are 28% more innovative when encountered face-to-face, so creating an exciting game only adds to this perception.

If you are struggling for ideas, here are a few games that work well in a trade show environment:

Arcade/Video Game

Many arcade games such as air hockey, mini basketball, Pac Man arcade console or racing driver simulation can be hired solely for your event. Choosing a popular game means that everyone usually knows how to play before they come on your stand.

If your budget doesn’t stretch this far, why not try a personal games console such with a popular game that everyone loves? The Nintendo Wii has the advantage of being user-friendly and active – a leaderboard sports game is bound to attract attention.

Nostalgic game

A game which creates a positive feeling of nostalgia for members of your target audience is bound to be hit. You'll have attendees reminiscing about their glory days, relaxing them when engaging with you at the show.

Scalextric, table football, rubix cubes, a buzz wire, Hungry Hippos, the Crystal Maze chamber??? Think about what period of time makes your target audience go all misty-eyed and find the popular games from that period!

Social Media Photo Contest

Social media is very important for trade show marketing, so integrating it with your trade show competition is a good option. Ask contestants to pose in the silliest/happiest/funniest way they can using branded props you’ve provided. You can then upload them to social media (Twitter or Instagram are best for this) using a competition hashtag.

Ask your own staff and other people at the exhibition to vote on their favourite by liking a specific picture, with the winner being the post with the most likes.

Racing Simulators

Looking to wow your audience? A racing simulator is a fantastic way to engage your audience through competition. We've seen some great examples, such as one lap shootouts to win a track day or driving experience.

With the increased popularity in TV shows such as Netflix's Drive To Survive we've seen racing simulators become more popular across a variety of exhibitions and trade shows.

Fun and Eye-Catching, this is one of the best ways to draw customers towards your stand.. This is a unique way of attracting attention as this is something many of the audience has likely not tried before and so you are providing them with a fresh new experience that is sure to wow them while keeping their heart racing.

Trade show ideas racing sim


People love testing their knowledge so a trivia game is perfect for engaging a more educated target audience. Questions can be focused on your industry, although having a quiz on your brand is probably taking it a bit too far!

Some examples of trivia quizzes include a ‘family fortunes’ style quiz; a picture quiz where contestants have to name the people/places displayed; a ‘Pointless’ style quiz where contestants have to guess the least-known answer to a question. The options are endless….

Prize Wheels

Large and colourful, prize wheels are a great draw at trade shows. Offering smaller individual prizes and a larger ‘jackpot’ prize means the competition isn’t just a chance for attendees to win a quick branded pen, but keeps them interested for a longer period.

Be prepared to hand out a lot of giveaways for this game, so to avoid giving everything away too quickly try to have some level of restriction such as having the contestant answer a question as well as just spinning the wheel.

Virtual Reality Experience

Virtual reality headsets are a fantastic way to create a buzz at your exhibition stand, especially if your brand wants to be perceived as modern and cutting-edge. The user will be transported into a virtual world so realistic they will be leaping around your stand (creating many laughs for all of their colleagues).

There are a number of VR headsets that come with short and engaging games so you can make the experience into a leaderboard contest where participants are competing against each other.

ar trade show

Step Four: Announcing the Winner

Some people like to draw the winner at the end of the show, generating more publicity whilst all the industry is under the one roof.

However, as a long-term strategy announcing the winner via email has many benefits as it allows you to email all the entrants on friendly terms. Instead of simply informing the non-successful entrants they haven’t won, offer them a consolation prize that is more service-focused such as 10% off their first order or a free consultation.

This consolation prize will make them more likely to take up your offer and opens the channels of communication for future correspondence. Whatever you do, make sure you generate some positive PR, ideally getting a picture of the prize winner and letting the world know about your company’s generosity!


In summary, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to choosing the perfect trade show competition for a business.

Whichever approach you choose, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that brand identity and lead generation are the two key reasons people choose to exhibit at trade shows, so as long as you place these at the heart of your hopefully engaging trade show contest, your competition will be a win-win for both the lucky visitor and your business!

*Updated 11/04/2024

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