Anyone who’s been to a trade show knows this scene.

There’s always that one booth that’s crowded with people, all gathered around a particular display. You hear gasping, cheering, yelling, laughing, as if they’re watching an exciting craps game. Everyone’s smiling. The company’s booth workers are engaged in conversation with some attendees, while everyone else is gathered around the craps table, or whatever it is.

What you probably saw was an active display, an exhibit specifically designed to engage attendees in some sort of activity. They can be a great tool for accomplishing your trade show goals.

When done right, they can be very effective at drawing people into your booth, and keeping them there for extended time periods, giving your booth staff more time to engage them in conversation.

They can also serve as the first layer of attendee engagement, helping you qualify interested attendees (and weed out uninterested ones) before your staff gets involved.

Finally, they can convey your brand message, product features, or company story in compelling, memorable ways.

But they’re not always done right. Often, exhibitors make crucial mistakes when it comes to an active display, and they can wind up doing more harm than good.

To avoid that fate, here are three tips for making sure your active display is working for you, not against you.

Find the Excitement Sweet Spot

There’s nothing sadder than to walk past a trade show booth and seeing a performer on a stage, giving a product demonstration/performance to a sparse, disinterested audience. Of the dozen or so chairs in front of him, only a few are occupied by people who just want to get off their feet and check up on email or social media.

That’s an example of an active display that’s not engaging, and just plain boring. But the opposite can be just as bad. If a display is too over-the-top or requires attendees to participate in a way that makes them uncomfortable or embarrassed, it’s likely to have the same results as the sad performer above.

You want to have a display that’s just engaging enough, just fun enough, just interesting enough to draw people in and get them to interact with your brand and your people.

Train Your Staff

Imagine you’re a trade show attendee, and you walk up to a booth that has a cool activity you want to try. It requires some explanation, so you ask one of the booth workers, clad in a blue polo shirt with the logo on the chest, for some help.

“Um, I don’t know how this works,” the booth worker says as he begins fumbling with the controls. Realizing you’re in for a lot of non-productive standing around while someone tries to figure out how the thing works, you leave.

This happens much more than you’d think. When sales staff and other booth workers aren’t knowledgeable about the different displays within the booth, it can derail any potentially productive conversations they might have otherwise have had with the show attendees.

Basically, it makes your team and your company look unprepared and unprofessional. That’s not what people are looking for at a show. So make sure your entire booth staff is familiar with any interactive displays -- how they work and what they are intended to do.

Have a Purpose

With trade shows the temptation is to do whatever you can to put “butts in the seats,” to fill your booth with people so it looks exciting and productive and your CEO is happy.

But that’s not always the best approach. Filling your booth with people who are not qualified leads, just because you have some interesting or fun display, or free food and drink, is not a good use of time and resources. It’s a distraction.

The biggest mistake exhibitors make is creating cool, interactive displays that don’t have a purpose. Everything you do at the show should have a purpose, and should help you achieve your goals.

So before you become enamoured with some new technology or fancy display idea, have a clear picture of what your goals are. That will help you determine if an active display will do what you need it to.