Exhibiting at a trade show or exhibition

Exhibition and Trade Shows: If your company is looking to book a display booth at a trade show or exhibition it’s vital you get the most from your cash outlay. I have been to many shows and it’s all too often that I see wasted opportunities. You know the exhibition stands that I am talking about – the ones where there is a scruffy salesman falling asleep or eating a sandwich surrounded by a few A3-sized posters stuck to a drab backdrop with Blu Tack. There’s usually a goldfish bowl on the stand offering a cheap bottle of wine as a prize for a random business card picked from the bowl at the end of the show… and it’s usually half empty with everyone walking past the stand.

In order to attract visitors to your stand, have a look at the pointers below. These will hopefully give you some ideas for making your stand a success.

What do you want from the show?

Firstly, you have to decide what you think will make the show a success. Is it brand awareness? Sales leads for your sales team? Orders of a particular product? Once you decide, you can really start to plan accordingly. There is usually a lot of competition at a show and you have to stand out in some way in order to get a return on your investment. If you are selling software, for example, you can usually bet that you are not the only company selling software at the show, and this goes for any business.

Location, location, location

Location is one of the most important considerations for any business, and this is no different at a show or exhibition. If you look at the exhibition early on you can pick a good location. I would say that the best locations are usually corner stands, and pretty central. If you are right in the corner, far away from the centre, a lot of people will skip your section and not see your stand – no matter how good it is – or what you are offering.

You will usually find there is a main corridor of booths in the centre. I’d also try and avoid this section as the people walking down the corridor get so bombarded by lots of small booths throwing information and goodie bags at them that they tend to tune out and not give you the attention that you want. Have a look at my diagram below to see what I think works best.

Looking good

Your stand needs to look good no matter what you are offering, but you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands if you don’t have the budget. There are many products out there that can make your stand look good. What I would suggest is to mark out an area in your office and build your stand at work first. This way you can work out exactly how it will look when you set it up. You don’t want it to look cramped, but, again, you don’t want it to look bare either.

Fabric banners are modern and easy to put up and you can make your booth stand out from the other exhibitors by purchasing one of these new, modern stands. A podium is also a good, tidy way of displaying leaflets and brochures. Printed floor graphics do not take up any room and will give you more branding and maximise your message. Printed boards can easily be Velcroed to the walls and help to brand your exhibition space. Stay away from encapsulated posters randomly placed on the walls, they look so 2005.


It’s not just good to have something to give away at an event… it’s essential. This can be the only reminder of you that a visitor has, so having nothing to give away, even in this increasingly digital world, is not going to work. Corporate printed brochures are excellent (you can read my separate article on corporate printed brochures here); business cards are also important. It may seem like common sense, but at a trade exhibition that I attended last year I couldn’t believe how many exhibitors didn’t have a business card to give to me after chatting to them.

I’d also suggest something like a branded drawstring bag or tote bag to put your giveaways in. If you are only giving away data sheets and a brochure then a nice printed folder with a business card slot in is a professional and smart way to hold your items together. Branded promotional items are also a great giveaway. I have more info on promotional items on my our blog.

Be approachable

Your booth MUST be approachable. I mentioned earlier in this post about a host eating on a stand; this is a big NO-NO (unless you are promoting something to do with food or cooking). If you have potential clients walking past they are quickly going to avoid eye contact and walk by if you have a mouthful of sandwich or a bacon roll in your hands. Another no-no is if your hosts are either on their phones or constantly playing with their phones. If you have invested in an event it’s best to not have your team near their phones at all.

It’s also worth having a stool to either sit or lean on. Standing for hours can take its toll, especially if you are wearing heels. If you are manning a booth it’s also good to really choose what you are wearing carefully. A smart suit can work well but at some shows it can make you look unapproachable and too “salesman”. A branded polo shirt works well for some industries but can also make you look amateur in certain events. Whatever style you choose fpr your team to wear, it must be clean and ironed.

Exhibitions can also get hot – I always make sure that I have a spare bottle of aftershave and deodorant – as well as a spare shirt (a coffee stain down the front can become a real nightmare!). It may seem funny, or like common sense, but investing in a booth costs money, so a stained shirt or your team looking all hot and sweaty can be the deciding factor in whether or not you make sales and generate potential clients.


Many shows hold competitions on their stands. The typical one is to put a business card in a goldfish bowl and offer a prize to the owner of the card picked out at random. This is not always going to give you good leads unless the prize is relevant to your target audience. If, for example, you are offering a free iPad and selling web design services then everybody will enter the competition to win the iPad, but when your sales team follow up the leads after the show they may find that most people were not interested in your product, just the prize.

The best way around this is to offer your services to the winner. If you are selling web design, offer free web design hours to the winner. You may get fewer business cards in your bowl, but you know that everyone who has entered is looking for web design services. The same will go for most prizes that you give out. This is different for some companies as they may be selling a product that you simply cannot give away. In this instance, think carefully about the psychology of your client. If it’s a tech company selling, say, software solutions to IT professionals then a tech prize will draw in your target audience.

If you are targeting HR professionals that are decision makers and you know that the demographic of your clients is in their 40s and work at a desk all day, pick a prize specifically relevant to them, rather than a stuffed animal with your logo on or a bottle of cheap wine. Printed scratch cards are an excellent way of promoting your company or service. It can break the ice and get your team talking to the audience who visit your stand.

Pre-show promotions can also be a good way of promoting your event and getting your audience to visit you. Social media campaigns, leaflets, email marketing campaigns and brochures can give you a head start on your competitors.

Document leads

Create a pad with tick boxes or have a form on a tablet to quickly collect information from leads generated at your event. You need to have something that can quickly and easily record important information. Many companies will gain a lot of leads at shows, then simply not follow them up afterwards. This will not benefit you and you are not going to get the maximum return on your investment. Even sending out a personalised thank you card for attending your exhibition stand is a great way for your team to interact and open up a line of communication after the event.

These are just a few ideas from my experience either promoting our own trade exhibitions or helping many companies promote their events and trade shows around the world. I have been fortunate enough to work with many Marketing VPs and Communication Directors as well as event co-ordinators in my 20 years with The Printroom and hopefully some of these ideas can help you when planning your exhibition. If you want to tap me up for any ideas or have anything to add please feel free to either email me directly (slewington@printroom.co.uk) or leave comments below.

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