Gig Business

How to Get Gigs at Trade Shows

By Matt Holland

At your standard trade show, businesses only have 4-5 seconds to make an impression with their exhibit. Each company competes with hundreds of other booths, making it a struggle to stand out. As an entertainer, you can be a valuable resource for businesses to gain the attention they need to promote their services. Additionally, the thousands of trade show attendees are a great resource for new connections and gig opportunities. Choose the right trade show and you’ve got a successful gig that could lead to even more future performances.


Develop your material.

In our own experience at conferences and trade shows, variety performers such as Magicians, Celebrity Impersonators, Costumed Characters, and even Stilt Walkers have helped us make huge impacts on attendees. And we’re not alone. Businesses of all kinds are seeing the value of live entertainment at their exhibits, so it’s time you tapped into that market.

First, you’ll want to customize your performance and material to be effective in a small space. You’ll likely be performing at the booth or in between aisles, so if you can, tweak your act to provide strolling entertainment. For each artist, this may require different creative skills. Impersonators and Stilt Walkers can walk around the trade show performing while wearing a branded t-shirt or passing out promotional material of the business you’re supporting. Magicians can use their skills to attract individuals to the booth for a quick but mind-blowing illusion. Other unique services like Photo Booths and Caricaturists can offer attendees a keepsake, which can be branded by the business. However you choose to utilize your talent, remember that you’re there to ultimately bring more customers for the business. To ensure your client is happy, think of yourself as a temporary employee.


Research your options.

The right trade show is not only a good gig, but it can also be an excellent networking opportunity with businesses in your community. Take advantage of local and regional conferences by researching expo/convention centers in your area. You’ll more than likely find your local expo centers with up-to-date online calendars, as well as contact information if you need to reach a trade show rep or organizer.

If you’re open to traveling, visit a worldwide directory of upcoming trade shows like this one: Each link in the directory will lead to a dedicated website that offers more information about that specific event. Look for a vendor list to find businesses that will be presenting at this year’s trade show. (If you can’t find a list of vendors for the current year, look for a list from the previous year. Many of the same businesses exhibit each year.) With a little work, you can gather contact information of all the businesses that are participating in that event.


Pitch your services.

Once you’ve created a list of businesses to contact, you’ll want to email them your best marketing material. Even if you have lots of experience sending self-promoting emails, you may consider sprucing up your old templates. Most businesses are used to receiving sales/promotional emails (and often ignore them), so an impersonal approach should be avoided. Lead the email with a brief introduction and then focus on the needs they may have as a trade show exhibitor. Here’s an example:

Hi <insert contact name>, 

My name is Matt Holland, and I’m a professional magician with over 10 years of experience. I noticed that <insert business name> is listed as an exhibitor for this year’s <insert trade show>, and I was wondering what your plans are for attracting attendees to your exhibit? Thousands of trade show exhibitors across the country are using live entertainment to make their services stand out, and we’d love to work with you to get more eyes on your business. 

Following this introduction, you’ll want to include a few details of your performance and most importantly, how your performance can act as a segue for the business to promote their services. Include your best marketing materials (high-quality photos and/or videos) that highlight your strolling performance. If you don’t have experience in trade show gigs, make sure your performance examples can easily be translated to a trade show environment. It’s also great to show a few raving reviews from your past clients.

Once you’ve got the gig, be sure to take advantage of any opportunities you get for more referrals. Keep in mind, your first priority is to promote the business that hired you, but it doesn’t hurt to bring along business cards for yourself as well. You’ll want to be prepared to give out your information to potential clients who are interested in booking your services for other events.

Trade show events can be a wonderful opportunity to grow your business and perform for a large crowd. It may take some work on your end, but trade show gigs lead to years of repeat clients and referrals for more bookings!


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