How to Prepare for a Trade Show in 5 Steps

Trade shows are usually big expensive shows that start with excitement and end with exhaustion. But we can make the in between segments a little big smoother with careful planning and having a game plan in place.

[aesop_image img=”” caption=”A pop-up trade show display in action.” align=”right” captionposition=”left” lightbox=”on”]

Trade shows are the pinnacle of a networking opportunity. Nowhere else are you simultaneously in front of so many potential customers and competitors at the same time. The stakes are high and the pressure is turned up. Just because these events are large and important doesn’t mean they have to be chaotic. Let’s look at some of the most important tips to make your event the best it can be.


1. Research now Relax Later

Know the audience, attendance volume, and culture of the trade show you’ll be attending. What do past reports say of the show? Is the audience mostly business people, window shoppers, tire kickers or a mix of all of it? Knowing your audience up front is important for you to know how to approach each customer. How you approach weekend lookers will be much different from how you’ll sell to serious corporate buyers with large expense accounts.


Researching everything before hand will determine what you bring to the show, how you’ll act, and where you should set your expectations. If you don’t meet the sales numbers from the show you’ll need to explain this to your boss. You’ll also want to understand what types of leads you’re going after. Are you just trying to get your brand name out there? Are you trying to get people to sample or trial your product? Are you scheduling demos? Are you trying to sell on the spot? All of this influences everything else when preparing for the trade show.


Talk to people who have been to this trade show before. You’ll want to know if there are certain dead zones to avoid that might defeat the purpose of the show. There’s nothing worse that putting in a ton of effort to set up your display only to have a spot with no foot traffic. Next you’ll want to get the perfect display for your show and your exhibitor spot.


2. Brainstorm your Trade Show Display


You’ll need some type of trade show exhibit in order to be allowed on the floor. Technically you can set up a table and a poster, but you’ll need to make up for your lack of an exhibit presence with some charismatic company reps.


If you’re designing a trade show display from scratch you’ll want to start the brainstorming process well ahead of time. Using the data from the research phase you can pull in the square footage data of your floor space to build the exhibit with this in mind. You’ll also want to know your budget limit, as trade shows displays can get expensive if you go the whole nine yards.


Research trade show exhibits you like that you’ve seen at other shows. Do some online research, ask around from friends and colleagues, or talk to the trade show display companies to get advice. If you’re just starting out though, choosing a few of the basics such as:

  • Banner Stands – these have a single message and are very portable
  • Pop Up Displays – large back drops that add high visibility
  • Podiums – a helpful stand up counter to meet customers at
  • Literature Racks – useful if you have a lot of information to hand out
  • Table Top Displays – small displays with detailed information
  • Table Throws – usually branded table cloths


If you want to get even more advanced you’ll want to talk to a trade show display designer who can specially design a display for your needs. Trade show exhibit companies like our own can specially recommend the ideal modular display setup for your event and have graphic design teams to help you with the graphics. Most displays are modular and able to be set up by the exhibitors themselves, but the trade show display company can set you up with help if you need it in most cases. Which leads us to…


3. Gather your Materials and Staff


After you have your display ordered or custom built, now you’ll gather everything else you’ll need for the show. Your research phase helped you understand who your audience is and what your goals for the event are. Based off this data, you’ll want to bring the literature, videos, giveaways, and prepared answers that your audience will need.

[aesop_image img=”” imgwidth=”600px” align=”center” captionposition=”left” caption=”A pop-up display and podium in action.” lightbox=”on”]


Everyone forgets things some of the time, and moving a large amount of materials and people to a large trade show means you’re almost guaranteed to forget something. Create a list of everything you need and review it with everyone in your staff that will be helping you man the event. Assign different items to the staff to bring and be responsible for so one person isn’t doing all of the checking and oversight.


4. Setting Up Your Exhibit


The research phase told you all the logistical requirements for the trade show. You learned when you can set up, where you can park, where to enter, where to get your passes, whether hand trucks and trolleys are available to use – the whole deal. Now you’ll really see how good your planning was, because poor planning means more work for you when set up time comes.


When you get to your actual event space, you’ll really see how it all works together. Before you finally start putting the display together, take a quick scan around you and evaluate your surroundings. Are exhibitors around you set up in a way to block your customers’ vision when approaching your display? You’ll need to account for that. Are there any last minute problems such as a power outage or other obstacles that change your plan? You’ll need to adapt.


Once you get past the hurdles start setting up your exhibit with your staff according to the plan you laid out, and get put out your welcome mat for the customers.


trade show space


5. Game Day – Close the Deals


You’ve put in all the hard work and planning to make this trade show a success for your business or organization. Now is the time to make that impact and attain your goals. You may be capturing leads, signing up demos, selling products, or recruiting members – all require different approaches but all should focus on one thing – meeting the customer’s needs. You’re not selling features, you’re selling benefits and solving problems. Focus on the customer, meet their needs, and close the deal. The trade show exhibit will bring them in, but only you and your staff can add that magic.