Published | 4 MINUTE READ

The Perfect Trade Show Booth

Successful trade show booths are all about the details. Set your company apart, secure new clients and grow your business.


Photo Credit: Products Finishing

More than 11 years have passed since I penned a column about trade shows.  The last one, “How to Fail at a Trade Show,” ran in the February 2011 edition of Products Finishing and I think I received more positive feedback on that column than any other. Since that time, I have attended or exhibited at more than 100 more and have a few more best practices to make your next trade show your best ever.

Years ago, I used a broker to sell a yacht I owned. He explained to me the importance of first impressions; that if a potential buyer approaches a yacht and immediately likes what they see (shiny topsides, sparkling deck, oiled teak, etc.), they will spend the rest of their review finding attributes that validate their first impression. In other words, if they like what they see, they are more likely to buy. The reverse, he explained, was also true. If their first impression is that things are unkept, disorderly, dirty and not well cared for, they will immediately begin looking for more examples of things that aren’t quite right. As his theory went, these people would never buy.

The exact same is true of your trade show booth. If an attendee walks by your booth and it’s messy, disorderly and not engaging, their interest in whatever you have to offer will stop dead. Conversely, if the booth is neat, clean, professional, interactive and engaging they will dig deeper and be more likely to express genuine interest. If you do walk away from your next trade show with a huge pile of leads consider these 13 tactics:

  1. Plan ahead! Meet weeks if not months in advance of the show to plan the booth space, who will attend, what marketing materials to bring and what will be on exhibit. Make sure everything required is in working order and prepare a checklist of what must be completed before the event.
  2. Make your booth experiences interactive. It’s one thing to tell your attendees about your new technology but better to show them, and better yet to enable them to experience it for themselves. For every interactive item in the booth, there should be someone there to demonstrate and explain it competently.
  3. Arrive each day in plenty of time to make sure the booth is set up, lights are turned on and all equipment is fully functional before the show hours begin. If equipment requires batteries, they best be fully charged and bring enough of them to make sure equipment is powered throughout the day.
  4. Electrical cords and other cables should be virtually invisible; tucked under tables and behind booth displays as necessary and properly secured underneath or to the floor with gaffing tape for the sake of appearance and safety.
  5. If your space includes tablecloths and runners, make sure they are wrinkle-free and square. A small, hand-held steamer works wonders here.
  6. Add a video screen to the booth to feature product demonstrations and customer quotes and testimonials.
  7. Most booth displays include lighting. While it may be easier to skip using it, a well-lit backdrop makes a subtle but instantly noticeable difference in the appearance of the booth.
  8. Stow personal belongings, bags, cups and the like out of sight. 
  9. Begin setup early enough that the booth is ready and team members have plenty of time to prepare themselves for the day before show hours begin. This includes professional dress as appropriate for your audience. Suits and ties have become the exception which makes those who wear them look even more like they mean business.
  10. Stand up for yourself – and your booth visitors. Remove all chairs from the booth and skip the table across the front that puts a barrier between and separates you from your visitors.
  11. Condition those working the booth that their job is to engage attendees.  Consider two booths, the first one has two people slumping against the backs of their chairs behind a table full of parts. The second includes two people standing at the front of the booth greeting attendees in a friendly fashion and welcoming them into the booth to learn more.  Which of the two goes home with more opportunities? Every time.
  12. Never tear-down early.  Doing so is unprofessional, insulting to attendees who are still present and creates the risk that you’ll miss out on a great new opportunity from later visitors. 
  13. Take your time packing up. At the end of a long show, there’s a temptation to rush through the process and get on the road toward home. The old adage “the lazy man works twice as hard” will ring true here when, come the next show, components and tools are misplaced or missing altogether and setup will consist of one frustrating delay after another. Take a deep breath and return items to their rightful spots and conditions before heading out.

Successful trade show booths are all about the details. Attend to yours, set your company apart, secure new clients and grow your business.