This series of short articles was written by Gustavo Baner based on research and information provided by Bernardo Szulanski's Quiken Company, specialists in trade show preparedness.and makers of the trade show planning software, Evex

Index of topics included in this series of articles:

Experience in Trade Shows

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"Experience is what you usually learn when things go wrong" the saying goes. Experience can be gained in this trial-error fashion at a huge economic cost.

Some people love trade shows and events because of the potential they envision, while others can get to hate them. It usually dependes on the outcome of the event.

The success or failure of an event can only be determined when there are metrics to analyze the consequences of an investment at a trade show. Measuring is key.

This article will attempt to present you with ideas about what to do and how to do it, in order to propel the success of your event. Some information will be the outcome of research, and some will be tips that will help you make your trade show experience more enjoyable.

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Tip: Successful trade show participation is not determined by the hardware at the booth and requires planning, good execution, and analysis of results.

First Things First

So lets imagine that your organization decided to exhibit at the ABC EXPO. So what is the first thing to do? Is it to order a stand, graphics, etc? Probably not at this stage. Planning goes first.


Understanding the dynamics of the trade shows and who the players are is probably the most valuable first step.

At a trade show, both the exhibitor and the visitor have a lot at stake. Both are invested in the event. One (the exhibitor) expects to recover the cost. The other party, the visitor, has invested in air fares, hotel and living expenses but it is mainly his/her time that play a big roll. It is key to plan your exhibit in a way that maximizes the value the other party takes away. During an event, it is the visitor that has to be attracted to a group of exhibitors and you hope that your company will be one of those selected by the visitor to engage in a long-term relationship.

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The Players at a trade show event

  1. The Event Organizer
  2. The visitor
  3. The exhibitor (you)

The event organizer's job is not easy: They should choose the right venue, at the right time of the year, promote the event, get the press involved, and must provide accurate data generated during past events. Statistics that show who attends, for how long, which parts of the country do people come from, positions at their organizations, purchasing power of the visitors, etc are the ingredients that will help you cook your recipe for success.

The visitor has only one thing in his/her mind: Find what is new in the field for them, and how would that new thing improve the company's bottom line.

Tip: Your event will be successful as long as the visitors to your booth feel satisfied. The focus of the trade show is to find the best way to make the visitors and customers enthusiastic about your company. Nothing else matters

The exhibitor must understand the characteristics of the event, design what to do during and before the event in such a way that maximizes the exposure to the avid of curiosity visitors.

The visitor is investing his/her resources to be able to meet with you, the exhibitor, so don't dissapoint him/her.

What makes a trade show such a unique opportunity both for buyers and exhibitors? It is the quality of the audience. So as an exhibitor, you must assess this before your commitment, and since audience is a numbers game, the location on the floor of the venue make a big difference. Talk to the organizer to understand how the public moves.

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As an exhibitor, you will only gain access to a fraction of the visitors. Buyers must have an interest into what you have to say, and must get to where your booth is. Those two factors will limit your exposure.

Example: if attendance to a certain event is expected to be 20,000 unique individuals, it is useless to have 20,000 catalogs ready at the show. It won't do you any good to have 20,000 promotional items that have been designed specifically for that event. You might get unused resources, leaving money on the table.

The same happens with staff, samples, etc.

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  • Rent of space which include organizers fees and usually a plain table 
  • Advertising among your own clients and prospects
  • Travel and accomodation expenses
  • Salaries and overtime needed to cover the regular operations at HQ
  • Marketing materials
  • Follow-up actions

In some events the booking of the space represents about 25% of the total expense incurred.

The Trade Show Handbook suggests that you should probably budget a total of $10,000 per trade show exhibit. This should cover all expenses of an average booth, with the following cost breakdown:

  • Space: 24%
  • Booth expenses: 33%
  • Show services: 22%
  • Transportation: 13%
  • Advertising, promotional and special activities: 4%
  • Personnel ( expenses): 4%

Tip: Many companies try to save in their marketing materials and in their promotional carousel-item selection. Marketing actions require small budgets when compared with the whole cost of setting up at a trade show. Marketing is key, so do not hurt yourself by choosing the wrong marketing materials.

Prioritize the targets to be achieved

Determine what is the main success to achieve. Once you came to peace with them, it will be easier to plan ahead

We have seen different criteria, but of course, each organization should recognize its own priorities. Here are some examples.

Tip: list the oppotunities and challenges with your team and prioritize them.

  • Build a distribution chain
  • Present new products to the marketplace
  • PR: Improve the public image and brand recognition
  • Build a solid contact list
  • Name your own:.....

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Getting Ready for the Show: Time Frame

It could take anywhere from a few days to a full year to have everything in place for a trade show. Some companies participating at Vegas-type shows, start working for their next show, a year away as soon as the current show is over.

Other companies will only have a few months or weeks to complete the preparation tasks

The shorter the time available, the more you should rely on a team of reliable vendors that will be able to execute quality work within budget and deliver on time.

Tip: Start planning as soon as possible. In that way you will have plenty of time fo revisit the details of the plan and adjust the course

The priorities listed in the previous section will determine a work-path for each of those.

Example of how the requirements will affect the time frame: the introduction of a new product to the marketplace might require ways of bringing into the booth lots of people, trying to have them participate in short interactive presentations. Small giveaways will be required to bribe people so that they stay to the end of a presentation, or to participate of a drawing. Samples, brochures, videos, testimonials will also help.

The action plan to achieve the goal will probably require the design and printing of literature among others. Photography, video, graphic design and good copywriting can take long until they are polished enough. Ordering and construction of the stand itself takes time time, as well as preparing any custom samples to be distributed.


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Choose the location of the booth

The best location will actually be dependant on the type of environment needed and the area required.

Booths can be located on the aisles,corners or islands.

Aisles have the most exhibition room, considering the use of walls, but the least exposure to traffic. Ideal to display many products, since there is plenty of room to present shelves and display signs

Corners have exposure in two different directions, being able to pull additional traffic. Pass-through stands can be attractive and pull additional visitors.

Islands are booths surrounded by aisles. There are 4 directions to come in. This type of booths allows for a very creative use of the area.

Tip: The best location is the result of multiple considerations. Take the time to weight the facts up before making a decision about the location.

The best location, as you start to realize, is such a subjective concept that different people will reply differently.

In the following list, we will introduce some facts that might incline your selection of the best location:

  • Do you want to be close to your competitors? If your competitors are powerful, they might drive more visitors to your booth.
  • Each expo has its own seminar series. Would your booth be seen by those individuals that go to or come back from the session?
  • What is the flow of visitors at the venue, considering the access doors and their locations?
  • Storage: storing items necessary for the show could be difficult. Some booth options allow for more "hidden" storage areas than others.
  • Do you want people to come in and out of your booth fast of do you need people to feel calm and relaxed to go through product demonstrations?
  • Are you trying to strengthen a brand? If so, high-traffic areas might be a plus.
  • If you will need "private" time with the visitors, you might want to consider being close to one of the food courts

The Flow of visitors on the floor of the show.

There are several models that show how people move around the halls. None of the models by itself is 100% accurate, but a combination might better represent the actual movement of people.

We need to present at least five ways that help explain how and why people move in a certain way.

Center of Influence: There are one or two areas in a hall where the largest and most iconic companies have their large booths. Those centers work as magnets in a way and create an opportunity for a second-tier flow

center of influence at the floor of a trade show

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Walking down the aisles when a number of odd corridors is set.

Many people start visiting the halls by turning right up to the last corridor and start to walk up-and-down until the have seen it all. When the number of corridors is odd, there is a good chance that the visitors will walk a second time on the same aisle. That simple fact represents a chance for further exposure.

walikg down the aisles in an scenario of an odd number of corridors

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Tip: There is no universal "best location", but there is a best location for your booth, based on facts and your organization's strategy.

Path of Least Resistence:

It is in our human nature. We will try to get to where we go in the fastest way. It is important to notice where the areas that draw attention are. Depending on the type of product or sevice that you provide, it might be easier to reach a certain audience.

path of least resistence

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Tip: There is no universal "best location", but there is a best location for your booth, based on facts and your organization's strategy.

The Pyramid Model

The public tends to gravitate towards the main entrance, that defines the vertex of an inverted pyramid. The base of that pyramid is the last row, parallel to the main door's row.

The vertex of the inverted pyramid is around the main entrance to the exhibition hall

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Follow the leader

The leading companies from each industry are almost always exhibitors at the trade shows. The size of their booths, their brand name or the events taking place at their booth attract an additional number of visitors.

Your organization can take advantage of that event by locating your own booth close enough to where the "big" companies are. There are risks related to this approach. Your organization must look professional and your booth polished. If not, you run into the risk of pre-judgements that could prove negative to you.

Being close to the leading companies can have a possitive effect on the number of visitors that you receive

How much room do you need for your exhibit?

The research has shown that 57% of visitors attending trade shows expect to find the following:

  • New products.
  • New concepts and creative thinking.
  • Data and technical information supporting those described above.

It is obvious that in order to be succesful as an exhibitor, you will need to offer new products, and show ways to take advantage of those products or services.

Each company have its own requirements when dealing with these topics, but these are the ones that will dictate the space necessary for the exhibit.

There are industry-formulas that based on the requirements suggest a certain space required for the exhibit. Some of the facts to consider are: the number of visitors to the show, the space required for product display, the space required for demonstrations, the need of open space for circulation within the booth.


What type of booth decoration should you choose?

During a trade show you expect the visitors to be attracted to your booth. The design and decoration must support the expected result: The customer/visitor must feel engaged with your stand.

A visitor looking at your booth during 3 seconds from the aisle should be able to capture the message that the exhibitor is promoting. It should be powerful enough to pull the visitor in.

The graphics selected as well as the signs used are strong instruments to convey a message to the public.

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Tip: At a trade show you must please the prospects/cutomers. Make the visitors feel comfortable in all respects while visiting your booth.


Preferred Colors to Use at the Booth

Different colors are related to different moods. Some are "cold" and some are "warm". Some colors are better to display large items while others are ideal for small items.

People have shown to preferr the following colors

  1. Blue
  2. Red
  3. Green
  4. Violet
  5. Orange
  6. Yellow

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Effective Color Contrast

Making effective color choices that work for nearly everyone.

Partial sight, aging and color deficits produce changes in perception that reduce the visual effectiveness of certain color combinattions.

It is the contrast between colors against each other that makes them more or less discernible.

some colors have better contrst and work better


The Color Wheel is a color circle based on red, yellow and blue; the primary colors. It is traditional in the field of art. The first circular diagram of colors was developed by Isaac newton in 1666.

The circle presents an logically arranged sequence of pure hues and colors and its variations.

Tip: On the Color Wheel, opposite or complementary colors (as they are known),
have the best contrast

color wheel

We will apply the opposite colors (points 0 and 3) to the example where there was poor contrast and we will see how much better opposites work.

opposite colors in the color circle create very good contrast

ROI - Return on Investment: What to expect.

Some companies participate of trade shows to improve their public image and to project leadership in their field. Making a determination of the success in doing so is not easy. Market research to find out about those can be extremely expensive.

Most companies are at the trade show to generate sales either during the show, or during a period after the show. Some products or services are complex in nature and require a selling cycle that could take weeks or months.

An accepted theory about the ROI achieved through sales during a trade show indicate that for every $1 (one dollar) invested at the show, there should be a profit generated of about $8 to $15 (eight to fifteen dollars).

Such results will have an impact in any organization, but will not be achieved unless a careful plan is put together and executed neately.

Tip: ROI: Aim at getting between $8 and $15 of profit for every $1 invested in the trade show

After the show make sure to generate reports showing the following results:

  • (in a given time) Prospects that placed orders / Total number of prospects
  • Cost per Contact: Total cost of participation / Number of contacts at the show
  • # of contacts per staff member


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