How to Plan a Successful Exhibition

February 20, 2019
Andrew Doerfler
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Planning an exhibition at a trade show might seem simple. But a successful exhibition requires careful preparation. At expos, conventions and trade shows, you need creative ideas for your exhibition to achieve your goals.

More than simply having the things required for an exhibition stall, you need an action plan to attract potential customers and acquire qualified leads. Follow these trade show tips to learn how to plan a successful exhibition.

Steps for Planning an Exhibition

A successful exhibition doesn’t come together overnight. Instead, the process requires diligent planning and preparation, from booth design to follow-ups after you’ve left the exhibition hall. In the months leading up to your event, follow this organizer to plan your exhibition.

  • Identify your audience. Your hard work will be for nothing if you don’t reach the right people. Make sure the trade show will attract your target audience.
  • Set goals. All of the decisions about your exhibit -- including design, marketing strategies, selling points -- should follow from clear, measurable goals.
  • Do your research. Learn the ins and outs of the event to guarantee a smooth experience with no unpleasant surprises.
  • Prepare the booth. No matter how strong your products or services, a lackluster stand design will make for a disappointing trade show experience. Take the time to learn the best practices for exhibit booth design to make an impact on the trade show floor and grab people’s attention.
  • Spread the word. Relying on foot traffic leaves to much to chance. Maximize your brand awareness by getting the word out and bringing your audience to you.
  • Assemble the team. Your trade show booth staff will be your exhibition’s best asset. Make sure they’re up for the task.
  • Develop your strategy. Everyone on the team needs to know how they’re contributing to the company’s trade show goals. Plan out tasks, assign roles, develop schedules and follow marketing strategies to make the most of your trade show investment.
  • Set up your exhibition. It’s important to know how to set up your trade show exhibition, whether that means providing the materials to the trade show staff or coordinating your own labor.
  • Put the plan into action. You’ve arrived at the convention. Now it’s time to keep everyone focused and on track.

Let’s delve a little deeper into each of these steps.

Choosing the Right Trade Show for Your Business

Painstaking planning, a focused team, and expert strategies mean very little if you’re not reaching an interested, engaged audience. That’s why it’s important to do thorough research before committing to an event. Set yourself up for a successful exhibition by determining what each exposition offers you.

Bigger isn’t always better. Top trade shows have a strong reputations that attract serious, influential attendees. However, keep in mind that newer trade shows can present opportunities to stand out more easily, and may draw fresher, more innovative businesses. It’s a risk because the event hasn’t yet established itself, but it could pay off. If you’re an upstart business that might get drowned out at the more established shows, this might be the option for you.

Fit in, but stand out. Be sure to look at the lineup of other businesses and presenters that will be attending the exposition. Ensure that your business will fit naturally at the show. Remember, though, that it can also be beneficial to attend a show that is indirectly related to your business. Without as many direct competitors around, your booth can stand out more easily on the trade show floor.

Feed off the crowd. If you’re confident that your company can make a splash despite big competitors, look for shows with top industry names, which will in turn draw high-spending potential clients. These events can be a real opportunity to survey the competitive landscape and get a sense of industry trends.

Count your beans. Before you commit, first check that the finances work out: Determine trade show costs such as travel, lodging and booth space reservation will cost. If the price is too steep, consider a show more conveniently located or smaller in scale. If the numbers add up, all aboard.

Setting your Exhibition Objectives

How do you plan a successful exhibition? First, you have to define success. Determine your goals, and prepare ways to measure them throughout the event. Here are some common objectives at a trade show.

  • Acquire leads. Exhibitions and events offer a built-in audience with interest in your area of expertise. A successful trade show will generate a high volume of qualified leads from these engaged attendees.
  • Make sales. An attractive exhibition design will lead to coveted face to face opportunities with prospective clients. A high return on investment means your exhibition was successful.
  • Grow your relationship with current clients. Wow your existing business with your creative display, and capitalize on their attendance by selling them on new products and services.
  • Get your name out there. Increasing your brand exposure is one of the biggest benefits of a trade show. A successful exhibition means a boost in website traffic, email subscriptions, Google searches and other analytics.
  • Gauge your competition. Rarely will you have a chance to get an up-close-and-personal look at how your competitors are pulling in clients. Take note of new industry trends and strategies.
  • Attract new talent. An effective exhibition can attract more than just new customers.  A trade show is your chance to catch the eyes of new talent who can take your team to the next level. Have a recruiting pitch prepared, along with informational materials to sell your company’s strengths.

Roll out the Blueprints

You don’t want to be caught off guard when the trade show comes around. Learning how to plan an exhibition becomes much easier when you have a grip on the basic info of the event.

Reserve a high-traffic location

Location can make the difference between a successful exhibition and a lost weekend. Familiarize yourself the exhibition space floor plan, and look to grab a high-traffic locations include booth spaces. Look for available spaces where two aisles intersect, next to big-name vendors and near the entrance. The best booth spaces will be claimed far in advance, so don’t hesitate to stake your claim.

Learn your space specs

Your exhibition planning and design will depend on heavily on the specifications of your booth. Common trade show booth sizes include 10 x 8, 10 x 10, 10 x 20 and 20 x 20 feet. But size isn’t everything: You’ll also need to know whether your space is an inline booth (the most common), a perimeter booth, a peninsula booth or an island booth (the most desirable). Inline booths, with access typically on one side only, are the most affordable. Island booths, with aisles on all four size, offer the most access and impact on the show floor.

If you secure one the larger spaces, you might be able to consider building a double-deck  exhibition, with a second level that can be used for additional display space or even to set aside a private meeting area for interested prospective customers.

Get on schedule

Well in advance of the show, make sure you and your team know the trade show dates, location, seating plans, hours and other logistical information like loading and set-up times for your exhibition and other materials. Trade show shipping can be complicated -- by hiring a logistics company to transport your exhibition materials to the show safely and on time, you can get some welcome peace of mind.

Set Your Exhibition Budget

Trade show expenses can add up fast. That doesn’t mean that they’re money pits-- industry experts agree that trade shows are worth the cost thanks to unrivaled fact-to-face time with a large audience of interested clients. Nonetheless, it’s important to track finances and set a budget that makes the show feasible for your business.

Don’t forget about these expenses when preparing an exhibition for a trade show:

  • Reserving your exhibition space
  • Show services
  • Travel and lodging expenses
  • Graphic design
  • Exhibition and display materials
  • Customized branded giveaway items
  • Printing and design of marketing and informational materials
  • Audiovisual and interactive displays
  • Shipping your exhibition
  • Warehousing your materials
  • Booth set-up and construction

Attending a trade show means not only budgeting money, but time as well. Whenever a team attends a convention, it means using resources and talent that would typically be spent on other responsibilities. When evaluating a trade show, make sure you factor in the time commitment your staff will have to make to prepare for and attend the event.

Design an Eye-Catching Exhibition

With your stand requirements, specifications and budget in mind, start designing the look of your exhibition. The booth should send a clear, direct message to visitors passing by. You only have a second or two to attract someone’s attention, so you need an eye-catching booth design, a simple but bold color scheme and a tagline that conveys your brand in an instant. If you don’t have an in-house designer, consider hiring a designer -- sometimes it’s best to leave these things to the pros.

Less is more. According to the Transportation Marketing and Sales Association (TSMA), minimalism is back in style for trade shows. Passersby will be impressed by a clean, uncluttered design: It sets a modern, sleek tone and conveys that the quality of your products and services will do the talking.

Send a simple message. Your business’ pitch to possible customers should be clear even when they’re just walking by. You need a clear, direct tagline that sums up what sets your company apart from the competition.

Stay on brand. Trade shows provided a perfect opportunity to get your brand in front of fresh eyeballs. Make sure what they see on the trade show floor will make them recognize your business later on. All your marketing and display materials should align with your tried-and-true branding.

Create an immersive environment. Stepping into your exhibition, visitors should immediately recognize a defined tone. You want your booth to transport them to a world where their business needs are met. Incorporate tall, three-dimensional visual impact with pop-up displays, video walls, tension fabric displays, samples of your products, models and prototypes.

Consider texture. Add depth to your exhibition display by incorporating texture. Natural, “real” materials like wood and industrial fixtures are on trend, according to TMSA. They send a message of authenticity and heritage to potential customers. Of course, remember to consider whether these options match your branding before working them into your booth.

Let there be light. The work you put into your exhibition can be stifled in an instant with poor lighting. Don’t leave it up to what the trade show provides overhead -- bring your own lighting equipment to guarantee your creatively designed trade booth pops on the trade show floor.

What You Need for a Successful Exhibition

You might be surprised at the lengthy list of things you need for an exhibition stall. But to see a strong return on investment, you need to be equipped with these exhibition essentials.

Get your trade show booth materials

A good exhibition requires an investment into the materials to make your booth both professional and functional. While you’ll also want to jazz up your booth with customized branded items, products and samples, get started by incorporating a few common, useful exhibit ideas. Here’s what you need for a successful exhibition:

  • Banners
  • Curtains
  • Table skirts
  • Pop-up displays
  • Tri-folds and other tabletop displays
  • Lighting fixtures, such as flood lights and LED lights
  • Tension fabric displays, which mount on frames for light-weight signage
  • Touchscreen kiosks or tablets
  • Audiovisual displays and equipment

Plan your giveaways

Every exhibition should offer something for its visitors to take away with them. Not only does this spread your branding and name throughout the convention, it helps keep your business in prospective clients’ minds after they’ve left the event. Avoid cliche items like pens, and look to hand out something that people don’t have a million of already: Drink koozies, phone cases, travel mugs, or reusable water bottles.

Along with special giveaways, don’t forget to design and print your marketing materials like brochures to promote your products and services and recruit talent at the show. It may seem basic, but be sure to have business cards to hand out, too.

Offer activities for visitors

Attending a trade show is work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it. Organizing games, contests and raffles at your trade show exhibition will link your business to a sense of excitement, competition and joy for your visitors. Fun tips for exhibitions include:

  • Raffles
  • Interactive apps and displays
  • Spin wheels
  • Trivia contests/game shows
  • Carnival games
  • Arcade games
  • Bingo

The goal is to capture people’s attention in the second or two before they pass you by. The sight of attendees enjoying themselves at your booth will generate interest and draw even more people. Many of these activities also add visual impact to the exhibition.

Show off your tech

Your products and services might be top notch, and your customer service might be unparalleled. But many prospective customers will want to do business with a company that’s on the cutting edge of its industry. Convey that your business is forward-thinking and innovative by incorporating interactive technology into your booth.

Preparing interactive displays on iPad screens or touch-screen kiosks is a good start. But if possible, you should look to create an immersive atmosphere by incorporating technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. Augmented reality superimposes virtual images onto real-time video of the real world through apps or a display screen, while virtual reality creates an entirely simulated environment.

Make yourself useful

Wow factor is one thing, but providing necessities to the show-goer can help pull in visitors who might have otherwise never stopped by. Offering useful features like phone charging stations or snacks will establish your booth as a place to refresh.

Think Outside the Booth

Spreading the word about your business should be an essential aspect of your exhibition strategy. A successful exhibition is one the actively draws new customers, rather than passively waiting for them to find you. Use these trade show marketing strategies for a hit exhibition.

Invite Your Audience

Much of the work that will determine your success happens before you even get to the exhibition hall. Using a few of these tips, you can drive traffic to your booth without relying on passersby. The most promising trade show attendees will be ones that you’ve identified in advance as having an interest in your product.

Send invitations to hopeful clients, as well as existing customers, notifying them of your presence at the expo and encouraging them to visit your booth. Target your messages as much as possible to their particular business needs. If you have email subscribers, send out a message promoting your appearance at the trade show. Seal the deal by offering special deals available only to subscribers.

Get connected

Social media has opened up entirely new methods of drawing trade show attendees to your exhibition. Don’t underestimate its potential to engage people who otherwise might not have noticed your business.

Before the trade show, hype your upcoming appearance, making sure to include the hashtags connected to the event. Engage with the social media accounts of other businesses who are planning to attend, especially those with whom you hope to do business. When the event arrives, post photos of your enthusiastic team and eye-catching booth, bragging about your giveaways, activities and offerings. Social media is no place for the humble.

Making headlines

Top trade shows often will attract industry press and trade magazines. These publications will have an authoritative voice and trusted readership, and appearing in an article can help to legitimize your business in in your field. If you have exciting news to share -- such as new offerings, a important benchmark achieved, a change in leadership or an expansion of your business -- send a press release with the noteworthy points and your contact details to industry writers and editors.

To increase your chances of getting a response, attach the press release to a personal email that makes clear that you’ve followed the publication and the journalist’s work. Make sure you have something worthwhile and interesting to pitch, however. Your mere presence at a trade show won’t be enough to pique a reporter’s interest, but a well-crafted press release with an interesting story can convince them your company is worth attention.

People Power

The most important thing you need for a successful exhibition is a competent, enthusiastic team. Your trade show booth has no better asset than the people running it -- they’re on the front lines of the show floor. While an eye-catching design and fancy doo-dads may draw people in, it’s your booth staff that will keep them engaged and close sales.

A friendly, informed team will leave visitors with a positive image of your company when they walk away from your booth. Charm will only go so far, though -- preparation and training will ensure an effective booth staff.

Pick the right team

You’ll have a leg up on training your team if you start with a group that’s already knowledgeable about the major selling points of your products and services. But knowledge alone won’t win over visitors to your booth. Choose booth staff members with strong interpersonal skills, who can converse naturally to make guests feel comfortable at your exhibition. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

Class is in session

Even if your team is well-versed and enthusiastic, don’t count on them knowing exactly what to say. You’ll likely have to train them on how to win over prospective clients and gain their business. Prepare a script of key questions and talking points that highlight the advantages of your products and services.

Encourage your team to deviate from the list when necessary so that the conversation flows easily, but always return to the selling points. Teach you booth staff to greet passersby warmly and to ask open-ended questions that don’t allow yes-or-no answers -- these encourage visitors to talk about their business needs. Potential clients shouldn’t feel like they’re having your business forced upon them.

Mind your manners

No matter how informed your exhibition staff is, bad trade show etiquette can undercut all of their preparation. A few basic rules will guarantee that prospective clients see your team as professional.

  • Make eye contact with guests
  • Don’t eat, drink or chew gum at the booth
  • Quickly dispose of any waste to keep the exhibition looking neat
  • Stand up straight (if you’re able) and don’t fidget
  • Listen actively, let people finish speaking and never cut them off
  • Make sure someone is always manning the booth
  • Thank guests for their time when they leave

Look the part

Whether you like it or not, your attire sends a message. The trade show might not have an explicit dress code, but you still need to put thought into what your exhibition team will wear. The staff should dress professionally, but also comfortably -- standing at a trade show for hours requires suitable footwear. To stand out on the trade show floor, consider having your team wear a uniform color -- such as matching, branded polos -- that will send a message of team unity and spread brand awareness.

Plan travel and lodging

This seems obvious, but don’t wait long to get it done. Everyone needs to arrive at the show on time and has a place to stay. If you’re attending a popular trade show, rooms at convenient hotels can fill up fast.

Define Your Trade Show Strategy

Preparation is one thing -- knowing how to put it into action is another. Even the best trade show teams need a plan and project management to execute their goals.

Assign tasks and roles. Delegation is essential to make sure your trade show experience is efficient. Each team member needs to know his or her job at the convention.

Articulate goals. Everyone on the team should know what the company is hopes to achieve at the trade show -- and how their work will contribute to the goals. Have benchmarks in mind -- whether counting qualified leads, closed sales or one-on-one meetings -- to keep the booth staff focused throughout the event.

Make a trade show staff schedule. Your booth needs to be manned at all times -- but you can’t expect any single person to stay there throughout the show. Use a clear schedule so everyone knows when they need to be at the booth, when they can go on break, and when they should roam the event.

Plan your follow-ups. You may not see the fruits of a successful exhibition until after the event. If you’ve done your job, plenty of people will leave the trade show with your brand on the brain. Take advantage of that newfound opportunity by planning how to follow up with leads. Devise a system to organize visitors’ contact information, and send follow-up emails as soon as possible, while your company is still fresh in their minds.

How to Set Up Your Exhibition

After likely months of planning, The requirements for this step will vary depending on the trade show and the services offered -- some will have designated workers who are tasked with constructing the booths, while at others you will have to coordinate your own set-up. In any case, confirm that the workers know how to arrange the exhibition stand.

But first, you have to get your exhibition materials to the location. A trusted shipping logistics company like R+L Global Logistics knows the ins and outs of the trade show journey, including exhibition shipping, warehousing, drop-off and everything in between.

Your contact at the trade show should be able to provide you with a schedule for shipment and exhibition setup.

Your Exhibition Planning Checklist

Now that you’ve decided what your exhibition should achieve, you can get cracking on preparing for the big event. A multitude of factors go into a successful exhibition, and many of them would never occur to first-time exhibitors. This exhibition checklist organizer will guarantee that you’re prepared for your trade show.

  • Choose your trade show
    • Research the event’s size, business lineup, and cost of attendance
  • Set your goals
    • What do I want to achieve?
      • Acquire leads
      • Close sales
      • Expand business with current clients
      • Increase brand awareness
      • Survey the competition
    • How do I measure my goals?
      • Keep track of leads and contact info
      • Establish methods to calculate return on investment
      • Assign tasks to team, set schedule and itinerary, lay out strategy
  • Do your research
    • Find out the following:
      • Location
      • Dates
      • Floor plan and high-traffic locations
      • Booth space size and type
      • Services provided by the trades how
      • Loading and setup times
      • Storage
  • Set your budget
    • Reserving booth space
    • Travel
    • Lodging
    • Per diems
    • Trade show services
    • Booth materials
    • Giveaways
    • Activities
    • Marketing materials
    • Shipping
    • Warehousing
  • Design your exhibition
    • Define message and tone
    • Think minimalist
    • Set a color palette
    • Write a tagline
  • Prepare your booth
    • Acquire materials
      • Banners
      • Curtains
      • Table skirts
      • Pop-up displays
      • Light fixtures
      • Tension fabric displays
      • Audiovisual equipment
    • Plan giveaways
      • Custom branded items such as koozies, phone cases, travel mugs
      • Informational and marketing materials
      • Business cards
    • Organize activities
      • Raffles
      • Interactive apps and displays
      • Spinner wheels
      • Trivia contests
      • Games
    • Incorporate technology
      • Audiovisual displays
      • Touchscreens
      • Augmented reality
      • Virtual reality
      • Phone apps
  • Spread the word
    • Send invites to prospective and current clients
    • Take advantage of social media
    • Contact industry press and trade magazines
  • Build your team
    • Choose the best people
    • Train staff in key talking points
    • Learn trade show etiquette
    • Plan attire
    • Arrange travel and lodging
  • Lay out your strategy
    • Assign tasks and roles
    • Make a staff schedule
  • Set up your booth
    • Arrive on time
    • Coordinate set-up

Ship Your Exhibition Safely and Easily with R+L Global

For a successful exhibition, it’s essential that your materials arrive to the event securely and promptly. Don’t leave it up to chance -- contact a logistics company with expertise in trade show shipping. R+L Global Logistics knows how to transport your trade show booth, products and materials. R+L Global at (866) 415-8986 today or reach a representative through email or chat for more information about trade show shipping services.

Get A Quote
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Get a quote, quickly, by filling out the form or feel free to call at:

Tradeshow Shipping and Logistics Services © Privacy Policy