Tradeshow Marketing

13 Trade Show Tips for First-Time Exhibitors

New to trade shows? Get valuable tips for first-time exhibitors to ensure a successful and memorable event.

With 2023 here, it’s time to start planning for trade shows of this year. Once you have zeroed down on which live events you will be exhibiting at, it’s time to begin planning for them. 

[Read: Trade show trends of 2023

Trade shows give you the opportunity to find and develop business relationships with attendees and merchants. So it can't be that hard, right? 

But truth be told, it can be daunting to begin the trade show planning process for the first time. There is no one correct formula for each exhibitor to follow. Besides, there are so many elements to take care of, which can make planning and executing a successful exhibit challenging. 

Many first-time exhibitors make mistakes that prevent them from enjoying the experience and getting the most out of their efforts. 

However, there are steps you can take to ensure you present your business correctly at a trade show.

Let’s get into it!

Stage 1: Pre Planning 

Where to start? Ideally, this process should begin 6 months before the trade show. However, depending on factors such as budget, location, size and your team, preplanning could start around 2-4 months before. 

1- How to Choose the Right Trade Show?

As mentioned in our blog about choosing the right trade show for you, there are specific business objectives each exhibitor should determine that fit their goals. These are:-

  • Brand awareness
  • Launch a new product/service
  • Generate leads
  • Meet existing/new clients
  • Boost local sales

You can read more on this here- 7 Steps to Choose the Right Trade Show for Your Business

Not all trade shows are equal- smaller, regional shows attract different attendees than a country-wide event. Thus the strategies you utilize should depend on the type of trade show you're participating in. 

2- Understand the Rules and Regulations of the Event [Pay Attention to the Covid Guidelines]

Exhibitors should be aware of the event's rules, regulations and deadlines. Read the trade show manual carefully. In this manual, you'll also come across exhibitor services; these services will be super helpful! 

Several product and service offerings for exhibitors come from official contractors. 

You must be aware of the show's official contractors. These professionals vary from show to show, city to city, or venue to venue. You'll probably be relying on them throughout your entire event. Exhibitors will interact most with the contractors, who ensure each booth is prepared for the attendees to enjoy. 

3- Know Your Target Audience

A significant step in trade show planning is defining your audience. Ask yourself and the stakeholders the following questions. 

  • Who are you targeting? 
  • What are the interests of your target audience? 
  • How can the products and services you provide meet their needs? 
  • Can you offer them something unique at your trade show booth? 

Being able to answer these questions can help you design your booth while keeping your audience in mind and setting you up for trade show success.

[READ: 4 Types of Trade Show Attendees

Stage 2: Budgeting & Planning

Once you have done the preplanning, you need to get down to the numbers. You and your team must zero in on the budget and plan for various aspects of your event accordingly. 

[READ: Trade Show Planning Guide]

4- Trade Show Budgeting

Planning your budget is an integral step in the pre-show planning process. A common mistake among new managers and exhibitors is believing that a trade show budget is all about booth rental. The costs include travel, booth rental, equipment, marketing, giveaways/prizes and entertainment. Look at the image below to get an idea of the cost breakdown. 

Trade Show Budget Allocation Table

As you can see, the booth rental should be roughly around 1/3rd of your total budget. The rest of your budget should focus on other activities while leaving 10% room for miscellaneous expenses or creating a buffer. 

But here’s a word of caution- Your first event might be more expensive. When you’re new, you might spend more on booth rentals, logistics or even marketing.

[READ - Calculate Trade Show Budget- How To Do It Template Included]

5- Booth Rental - Choosing the Right Booth Size

One of the biggest factors determining your trade show booth rental will be the size. Most trade shows offer booths in standard sizes such as;

  • 10X10 Booth
  • 10X20 Booth
  • 20X20 Booth

A 10X10 booth or 10' X 10' booth is the most popular and probably the best for your first trade show, especially if you're on a tight budget. 

[READ: 10X10 Booth Ideas for Trade Shows]

6- Design a Booth Like a Pro

Once the budget is finalized, the next step should be to design the booth. The biggest part of your booth design will be booth graphics. According to GES, booth graphics should contain 40 per cent empty space, as a general rule of thumb. 

The good news is that you don't have to do all of this alone. 

Many companies can help you get your booth designed. Since this is probably your first trade show, keep it simple. While you should utilize your space to the best of your budget and ability, remember the benefits of leaving space in your booth. 

You want your booth to be busy with people, but you also want them to be comfortable when participating in any activity or even interacting with you. Negative space could be an opportunity to present your graphics clearly. 

7- Trade Show Activity

This is a big one. Having an interactive activity at your live event is one of the best ways to attract attendees to your booth. Take it one step further and aim for something custom. For instance, our custom trivia game, tailored to your specific industry, brand, or product/service, can also help achieve event objectives. 

We’ve covered a lot of these specifics in past blogs, so for easy access to their useful information, these are the biggest takeaways: 

Avoid Costly Trade Show Activities

Budgeting will assist you in organizing your event while accounting for unforeseen costs and additional expenses.

[READ: Trade Show Booth Activities That Can Cost You Dearly

Choose between Interactive Games and other Promotional Activities

Booth Promotional activities such as entertainers, presentations, product demos, etc., have been popular at live events for a long time. With the rise of technology, games in the digital space, such as trivia games, digital spin the wheel or personality quiz, might be a better option if you want to stand out.

[READ: Trade Show Games Vs Other Promotional Activities]

Choose the Best Trade Show Game

While there are many games to choose from, not every game is right for your event objectives. A game should be easy to play, take the least amount of space and align with your audience and event goals. Custom Trivia games significantly impact almost every aspect of your booth presentation and the experience your attendees can have.

[READ: Why Custom Trivia Game for Trade Shows?]

8- Giveaways and Prizes

First impressions are crucial, and rightfully so. It's probably why most exhibitors put all their efforts into their booth aesthetics when planning a trade show.

But you also want your attendees to remember you well after the show. And giveaways are one of the most effective ways to make your brand memorable. Here are ten ideas for giveaway inspiration;

  1. Trial Product/Service
  2. Gift Cards
  3. Hand Sanitizer Bottles and Face Masks
  4. Custom Power Bank
  5. Branded Wireless Earbuds
  6. Customized Journal
  7. 4-in-1 USB Charging Cable
  8. Custom Stylus Pen
  9. Sunglasses
  10.  Hats

[READ: Choose the Right Giveaway for Your Trade Show + Top 10 Giveaway Ideas]

Stage 3: Execution

It's not down to executing and running a great trade show. But there are a few things to take care of. So here are some trade show tips for running a successful trade show. 

9- Booth Staff Training

Since this is going to be the first trade show for you and your team, this aspect is extremely important. Consider training sessions for your booth team. This strengthens comradery and will probably be an indispensable step for preparing.  

While exhibiting, make sure you and your team are prepared for questions. Inevitably, everyone who is on your trade show team will be asked specifics by curious attendees. 

Thus, every team member should be prepared to show they are an expert on your products and services. Incorporating this preparation process into your preplanning is to create a list of anticipated questions. Why not try a role-play? It will strengthen your knowledge, improve the team's confidence and help you all bond before the big event.

[READ: Train Your Exhibition Booth Staff for Maximizing Audience Engagement and Conversions- A Complete Guide ]

10- Trade Show Promotion

Promoting your booth at any event is really important. It also depends on what attractions you will have at your booth because that is something your attendees can get excited about. If your game has activities and prizes, promote them through: 

  • Social Media
  • Email Blasts
  • Ads

Stage 4: Follow Through

Ok, so you hopefully had a fantastic trade show. But your job is not over yet. You also have to follow through to make the most of your event. 

11- Collect Data and Report

Collecting data during your event helps determine if your event efforts have earned a full ROI and help identify areas where you can streamline leads. This isn't limited to how well your booth activity went. Collecting data also includes gathering contact information from your booth attendees or how successful your social media marketing was during the event. Here are some specifics on the type of data that is crucial to collect:

  • Collect data on the number of attendees and the level of engagement 
  • How long did your attendees stay at your booth? 
  • What went really well? Did you have great success with your activity? 
  • What can be improved/changed for next time? 

Make sure you record this and share your learnings with everyone involved. Your first trade show may not be the perfect one. But, as long as you keep improving, you're on the road to becoming a pro exhibitor. 

12- Calculate Trade Show ROI 

The amount of return on an investment related to its cost is crucial data for your business to continue profiting. Why is this important at a trade show? Well, the return on objectives in a trade show will help your business hit non-sales objectives. 

Are your marketing efforts generating the number of leads you anticipated? Are they leaving the impression on your audience that you hoped for? 

Calculating Trade Show ROI will also help you get the buy-in from your team for participating in the next event. 

[READ: How to Measure Trade Show ROI and ROO

13- Follow Up with the Leads

The show is over! You have pulled off a great live event and have won the attention of many new potential customers. The leads captured during a trade show often have a higher conversion rate than other lead sources. You don't want that hard work and meaningful conversation to waste. A survey conducted by Salesforce at major trade shows found that 80 per cent of exhibitors failed to follow up on leads. This is a huge gap that you shouldn't miss. 

Once the trade show is over, the work continues; follow up with your booth visitors, be it via email or phone, to nurture those leads. 

Finally, Don’t Forget to Have Fun at Trade Shows

You should remember one more tip: have fun. Trade shows are an opportunity to grow your business, yes. But they are also an opportunity to network with other professionals and like-minded individuals. Don’t expect perfection; every event is a learning experience. 

This is an opportunity to grow your business and personal network. It also is an opportunity to see a new city and try something new. Unfortunately, for many first-time exhibitors, trade shows can be stressful and confusing. Following these general rules and guidelines should help elevate your worries and allow you to take a deep breath and enjoy the fruits of your hard work. 

So, get started and have a stellar trade show. All the best!

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