The New “Booth Babe”

A most pejorative term, “booth babe” is the moniker assigned to a female spokesmodel hired by a company to draw people to their exhibit at a convention or trade show. For years, in the male-dominated high tech industries, professionally dressed spokesmodels recited the companies’ spiel from memory with a microphone in hand. How did you know these articulate and comely women were not members of each company’s professional team? They didn’t stammer and the script was tricky, very technical. Listening for a few minutes, there would be a misplaced phonetic emphasis on an industry term or two. The jargon was the giveaway. Most recently, companies have been hiring spokesmodels to offer giveaways from tchotchkes, to tickets for expensive computers or phones to lure prospective customers into the booth, and so passersby are less likely to hear mispronounced technical phrases.

Enter the new booth babe. At five feet, three inches tall (I used to be five feet three and a half inches, but time has taken care of that) and looking more the part of the proverbial middle-aged “mom” than the svelte, gorgeous, and yes, intelligent spokesmodel, I have donned the company shirt to work conventions. That’s the first difference; as I have a vested interest in the success of the start-up for which my loved one works, I volunteer. My job is to scan badges. I press the smart phone scanner to the badge to copy the data stored in the badge. Business cards are still important, but with a single swipe “we” now have the name, email address and other pertinent data of the individual, and the marketing or sales team can send follow-up emails. The start-up company for which my husband works needs each of their engineers and sales team members available to speak to interested colleagues and prospective customers, so I provide the extra set of hands to walk the booth, scan badges, offer a token giveaway, and ensure that interested convention goers talk to team representatives if they linger to read the booth material for more than a passing moment.

Unlike most temps hired as badge scanners, on my first afternoon I brought bottles of water for the team, Altoids mints (large and small), disinfecting hand wipes, and a box of tissues. Unabashedly, I am a mom, and it’s useless to hide it. At the end of the session I passed out the hand wipes imploring the engineers to wash-up after shaking so many hands; it’s still flu season. This show is smaller in scope than the one I worked last year, and the booths mostly all fit into a hotel ballroom, overflowing only a bit into the hallway. Last year I worked a large-scale tradeshow that encompassed an entire convention center floor; sensible, flat shoes prevailed there.

I have donned “kitten” heels for this show as the thick pile of the ballroom floor carpeting provides a more forgiving cushion than the thin decorative carpet layer that hid the concrete at the convention center. My company shirt is not a proportioned women’s blouse. When I decided to participate last year, I had to choose from among the remaining sizes: mens’ large or extra large. I bought some hem tape in a fabric store and ironed it on the reverse side of the fabric to shorten the shirt and take in the side seams to remove a bit of the bulk. It’s now an oversized jacket that I wear unbuttoned over a nice matching sleeveless sweater or jersey. It’s not perfect, but it’s professional and I’ve made it work. I wear my badge on a lanyard, and spruce up the look with necklace and earrings. As with all the other badge scanners and tchotchke meisters, I wear my smile. While I have not worked in the high tech industry myself, it turns out that each day on the floor I shake hands with old friends who are most surprised to see me there. They pop by the booth to say hello to my husband, and do a double take when they see me first. One friend even snapped a picture of me and my husband together in the booth to share with his wife, who is in the high tech business. “You’re never going to believe this…!” he texted. Naturally, I scan their badges. I also know that I do not mispronounce technical words, however, I leave the talking to the experts. I’m there to scan, thank you very much, and am happy and honored to lend a hand. And most importantly, I have turned the pejorative title of “booth babe” upside down, and love it.

Kathy Galgano

March 5, 2014

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