Advanced Design & Manufacturing Events

7 Tips to Make Show Planning Easier
A Checklist to Promote, Produce, and Perpetuate Your Trade Show Presence


Exhibiting at a trade show is an exercise in organization -- so many costs to watch, people to contact, and decisions to make! And what helps keep you organized and on task for a big project better than a checklist?

Below you’ll find a series of steps to walk you through some of the toughest exhibiting challenges. This approach can simplify your pre-show tasks, help you save money, and prevent problems that often trip up exhibitors during a show.

1. Pick the show that’s best for you

First, choose your goals: What do you want to get from being an exhibitor? You may want to generate leads and sales, increase brand awareness, launch a new product or service, or all of the above.

Find shows that meet your goals. You can ask your customers and leads which shows they attend. You can also search trade journals for the shows that exhibitors use to increase brand awareness and launch new products.

Research the costs of exhibiting at these shows. Find out the prices of exhibit space, shipping your exhibit and equipment, and travel and lodging.

Choose the show or shows that will bring the most value for your money. A costly show could yield so many leads that it’s worth every cent and then some, while a cheap show could waste your time, money, and effort.

2. Order exhibit space, equipment, and services

Reserve your exhibit space as far in advance as possible. You may get a price break plus a location in a high-traffic area.

Make travel and lodging reservations in advance, too. You’ll probably secure low rates and save money. Another way to save: See if the show works with hotels and travel companies to provide discounts.

A booth is your office at the show, so order office supplies. Adhesive tape is particularly useful for show activities such as sealing shipping cartons and fixing damaged booth parts. Also important: cleaning fluid, paper towels, garbage cans, and similar items to help you keep the booth looking clean and uncluttered. And order replacement packs of anything that easily gets broken, like light bulbs, or stolen, like pens and note pads.

Finally, make sure to order show-specific items such as exhibitor badges.

3. Promote your presence at the show

As soon as you order your exhibit space, write a release announcing that you’ll be at the show. Send the announcement to trade journals and to your customers, leads, and potential leads. Put it on your company’s blog and social media sites. When you post your announcement on social media, use the show’s hashtag. It will put your post into the conversation about the show.

Determine the main message that you want to spread at the show. Choose one idea about your company or products that you want visitors to remember; focus it into a single, short sentence or phrase; and put it into your show publicity, your exhibit graphics and giveaways, your staff’s conversations with visitors, and everywhere else.

Plan activities that can promote your exhibit and your company: contests, product demonstrations, presentations by your company’s leaders, after-hours events, and so on. When you decide that you’re going to do an activity, use email and social media to announce it.

Produce promotion/press materials to give out at your booth. These items should include an overview (what your company does and why it matters), some fast facts (the company’s size, its sales or growth figures, its most successful product, and so on), product information and images, short biographies of the company’s leaders, and frequently asked questions.

Produce show-specific promotional items. For instance, you can print flyers offering incentives for attendees to order your products at the show, or you can offer giveaways featuring your company’s logo and contact information. Announce these offers via email and social media.

Research the costs and effectiveness of other promotion methods, such as show sponsorships, ads in the show’s guide for attendees, ads in trade journals, and direct mail to potential leads who might attend the show. If any of the methods seem likely to help you at a reasonable price, order them as soon as possible.

4. Create your exhibit

If you have an exhibit, check it for imperfections, both cosmetic and structural. Tighten connections between parts, ensure that moving parts such as hinges move smoothly and silently, refurbish or replace elements that are defective, damaged, or showing signs of wear, and clean every visible part.

If you don’t have an exhibit, determine if you want a booth or just a table, chairs, and signage. Some shows offer “turnkey packages” that supply you with a fully equipped exhibit. It’s an option worth exploring.

If you want to get a booth, determine whether you want to buy it or rent it. If you exhibit at multiple shows per year, buying a booth may be less expensive than renting. If you exhibit only once or twice a year, renting may be less expensive.

If you decide to buy, determine if you want a new or used booth. A used booth is less expensive than a new one, but customizing a used booth for your needs can be costly.

Choose accessories for your exhibit. You may need storage units for promotional materials, product samples, and other equipment. If you want to spotlight products, signage, or other elements of your exhibit, you may want to order lighting. You may also need flooring; most exhibit halls have hard concrete floors, and a booth with padded flooring can be a relief to booth staff and visitors.

Nail down your exhibit’s appearance. Sketch the front of the booth; make it as eye-catching and attractive as possible. Lay out a floor plan showing where to put signage, product displays, and other elements. (Keep the signage and graphics big, bold, and bright, with text that’s short and simple, so attendees can read it at a distance.)

If possible, set your exhibit up and dismantle it. You’ll spot and eliminate potential problems long before the show begins.

5. Choose and train your staff (even if it’s just you and a partner)

Decide how many workers you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is one worker per 50 square feet of booth space. Two workers should staff the booth at all times so that one of them can keep things running if the other is talking with a visitor, conducting a demonstration, or using the bathroom.

Determine the workers’ dress code: style (casual or all business?), color, accessories, branding (does everyone wear the company logo?).

Write notes for the workers, letting them know anything crucial such as your goals for the show; the main message that you want to spread; questions to ask visitors in order to qualify or disqualify them as leads; and answers to FAQs that you expect visitors to ask.

Write a schedule for the workers. In addition to covering the exhibit during show hours, make sure that they’ll prep it for the day before the expo opens each morning and clean it up and secure anything valuable after the expo closes each night.

Rehearse your staff for common show activities like exhibit installation and dismantling (even if you’ve hired an outside firm for those tasks); engaging with attendees walking by the exhibit; and product demonstrations.

6. Arrange to ship your exhibit, supplies, and other items

Before you send anything to the show, you can save on shipping costs by deciding which items you don’t have to send. Instead of shipping office supplies, find out if you can buy them near the show site. Instead of printing and shipping printed materials, see if a printer near the show site can make and deliver copies.

Choose a shipment carrier. You can find carriers online; ask each carrier about its experience with trade shows (the more experience, the better) and customer services. Important services include providing help via phone 24-7-365 and letting you track your shipments online. If the show has its own carrier, contact the carrier to see if it’s right for you.

Schedule the carrier to pick up your exhibit, supplies, and other items a few days earlier than necessary to ensure that your shipment reaches its destination on time; accidental delays afflict even the best carriers. If possible, ship to the trade show’s advance warehouse -- which stores shipments that arrive before the show -- rather than to the show itself. Storing a shipment at an advance warehouse usually costs less than storing it at the show site and often guarantees that it will be in your booth space when you arrive. The warehouse’s address should be in the show’s exhibitor manual.

Consolidate your shipment into as few containers as possible. Using only a few containers reduces shipping weight, which can save money, and minimizes the number of items that you have to count and track.

7. Create a schedule for the show and for your post-show follow-up

Schedule business meetings, meals, or drinks during the show with leads, current customers, journalists, and suppliers, and others. If you’re planning a dinner, make restaurant reservations as soon as possible. Great restaurants can fill up fast when a show is in town.

After a show, it’s tempting to collapse in exhaustion and take a day or so to recover, but the first days after a show are crucial for following up with people you’ve met at the show. To get as much done in those days as possible, prepare for them before the show. The first priority should be to sort all leads acquired at the show from hottest to coldest, and to contact the hottest leads right away. You should also schedule a post-show meeting of booth staff to identify successes, failures, and what to do to make the next show more successful. And you should make time to write news releases, blog entries, and social media posts about the show.


What you’ve just read covers the plans to make and actions to take before a show. But what about during the show and afterward?

Next month, this space will cover the crucial days of the show itself and your return to your office. It will provide tips on creating and nurturing relationships with leads, raising your reputation within your industry, and other ways to enrich your company.

See you in a month!


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