The ultimate guide to exhibiting at trade shows

Ultimate guide to exhibiting at trade shows


An exhibition or trade show is a fantastic way to show off your products and services and to meet new customers.  Exhibitions are great for gaining insights into your customer and the industry, so it’s never too early to start coming up with exhibition stand ideas.

There’s an exhibition for almost every industry or interest, from car shows to comic con, business studies to weddings. These shows often span large halls holding thousands of like-minded people. There’s no better way to get in front of people who matter to your business.

Making an impact at a trade show can be tough, though, with hundreds of exhibitors all competing for attention. For a truly stand-out stand, your team, your materials and your messaging will all have to be on point. Here’s our comprehensive guide to covering all the bases this exhibition season.


What’s in this article?

Before the trade show

Exhibition stand ideas

During the trade show

After the trade show

Before the trade show

Marketing ExhibitionBe clear on objectives
What do you want to achieve by attending a trade show or exhibition? What returns do you expect on your investment?

Without a direct goal in mind, it’s hard to focus your activity. Establish clear objectives to make sure your participation is as effective as possible.

Consider your main aim. What do you want to achieve?

  • Increase brand awareness?
  • Launch a new product?
  • concentrating on a specific product category
  • Gather new contacts and prospects?

Be specific – set a target. For instance:

  • Expand your network by 15%
  • Secure 30 advance orders
  • Get 50 people to subscribe to emails

Be clear on budget

Set a smart budget and stick to it. Be aware that you’ll need to cover:

  • Stand space (plus additional venue charges such as rigging)
  • Stand display materials (including item hire and any refreshments you might give away)
  • Advertising budget for promotion
  • Marketing collateral such as printed materials and promotional products
  • Transportation for your materials
  • Personnel (will there be weekend overtime for your colleagues, will you need external help?)
  • Travel and accommodation for your team

If it’s a new show, are the organisers offering any special discounts to prospective exhibitors?

Find a show, book a stand

In many industries, one trade show dominates. Other business may face a more open decision about where to exhibit. Either way, you’ll still need to consider whether the exhibition is:

  • Relevant to your objectives
  • Relevant to your audience
  • Within budget
  • In a suitable location

Once you’ve selected the exhibition that meets your criteria, the location of your stand is highly important. Contact the event organiser for a map of the hall and consider the following when selecting and designing your stand:

  • Identify key locations – areas close to entrances, main thoroughfares and amenities.
  • Position your entrance and your messaging so it can be seen from the areas where people congregate.
  • Work out which way visitors are most likely to approach your stand. Research the venue and try to look at videos of other events there to gauge which direction people walk around the hall to indicate how you should orientate your signage.

Remember to continue to liaise with the event organiser throughout your preparations. Make sure you’re always up to date on details regarding timings, permissions and promotion opportunities.

Timing your preparations

There are materials to order, services to book and layouts to plan. Start as soon as you know you’re exhibiting at an event to give yourself the most time possible.

Display Wizard survey on exhibitor behaviour showed that:

28% of respondents started preparing their marketing 1-2 months before their trade show, with 22% said 2-4 months. 18% said 4-6 months before and 19% 6-12 months before the show.

According to Display Wizard, 6-12 months is the recommended timeframe for custom-built exhibition stands or other more elaborate displays.

However, if you don’t have the time or budget to involve teams of designers, carpenters and riggers, our exhibition stands are printed and delivered in seven working days!

Consider the lead times for any collateral you want to produce, whether that’s flyers and leaflets, brochures, or a restock of business cards. We’ll discuss the use of print on your stand-in “Materials to take away” below, but for timings, work back from the exhibition date, factoring in time for:

  • creating content
  • design
  • sign off
  • print
  • delivery

Top tip: Remember to add some extra time a buffer to deal with any delays.

Promote your presence

You’ve booked your stand – you’re going to be there. Now you have let people know.

There are many ways to encourage visitors to attend the trade show and visit your stand. by promoting your presence ahead of the event. These include: 

  • send out a ‘save the date’ invitation.
  • Use appointment cards to arrange specific meetings with existing customers during the show to cement relationships and secure future POs.
  • Adding a banner to your website.
  • Promote your appearance in email signatures, remember to include your stand location.
  • Use marketing emails to inform subscribers.
  • Pick up the phone to high-value customers.
  • Create social media posts. Use hashtags created by event organisers, or establish your own.
  • Speak to the organisers about potential promotional opportunities – you may be able to secure some co-op marketing as part of your stand booking.
  • Write a press release and distribute to relevant media

Why not offer exclusive special offers available to attendees only? Promoting your exclusive trade show deal in all these comms will help encourage attendance.

Create a mock-up and have a dry run

Practice males perfect. Time will be tight when you arrive on-site, so you want to get the majority of your decision making finalised ahead of time. Taking these measure can save you a lot of time:

  • Mock it up. Create a scaled-down floorplan based on the dimensions of your stand. Use cardboard cut-outs of your products and display elements to arrange and rearrange the layout of your stand.
  • Dry run. Once you’ve finalised your layout, measure out in an open space. Practice setting up your display area prior to the event so you can get to grips with the logistics and the assembly. Take pictures when your happy with it.
  • Plan of action. Based on your experience of the dry run, create a plan of action so everyone knows what they’re doing on arrival.

Top tip: During your dry run make a list of any equipment you used such as tools or step ladders. Use this as an inventory, making sure you have everything you need when you set off for the show.


Exhibition stand ideas

Creating your stand

Standing out from competitors in a busy exhibition centre requires some serious visual impact. When you’re formulating your trade stand ideas, consider lines of sight and do all you can to direct the trade show traffic to your stand:

Use height. Do the organisers accommodate suspended overhead signage? Do they look after the rigging? What are the costs?

Use light. Illuminate your message, create an atmosphere and highlight key areas with lighting. Ensure you liaise with event organisers and comply with their health and safety regulations

Use built elements. The fixtures, fittings and furniture of your stand need to fulfil their function, but they should also work hard to attract attendees. Think about what elements you might need such as:

  • seating
  • writing surfaces or somewhere to put a laptop or tablet
  • somewhere to mount a screen
  • a counter to serve refreshments
  • somewhere to hold a one-to-one chat, especially if you’ve booked appointments

Simple seating that offers an opportunity for a rest will attract visitors. A free coffee bar will attract even more! 

Use freestanding elements. Custom printed display stands tend to be easy to transport,  assemble and dismantle. There’s a huge range of different shapes, sizes and types available, such as:

Top tip: You should also think about the way the visitors will move around and through the stand itself. Ensure there are obvious entry points and consider which areas are likely to get crammed and where you want attention to be focussed.

What’s your message?

Astound exhibition booth featured the flooring seemingly peeling back revealing text that reads 'exhibiting brand supremacy'
‘Turn The Page in Your Exhibit Thinking’ Astound Group exhibition booth in Las Vegas

The key to any trade show booth is, of course, a killer display. Selecting the right style, colours, lighting and features can make or break your experience and either result in you being overlooked or drawing significant attention to your brand. A few points to keep in mind with regard to the design of your exhibition stand itself are:

  • Announce your product or service in a way that is clear and concise.
  • Explain and reach out to your market.
  • Promote your unique selling points.
  • Detail the benefits of doing business with you.
  • Reinforce your brand with a strong theme of familiar colours and branding.
  • Use large, vivid graphics instead of too much text.
  • Work from a primary focal point on the stand itself.
  • Have one strong, key message.

It’s also worth considering:

  • Exposing your price point (if appropriate for your industry.)
  • Using your stand to introduce key team members (again, if appropriate for your industry.)
  • Publishing endorsements and testimonials on your display.
  • Using bold colours to attract greater attention.

Top tip: Not only are our exhibition stands a striking exhibition marketing tool, they’re convenient, lightweight and simple to install. Our exhibition stands can be moved between events effortlessly, making it easy to get in front of the right people, time and time again. No matter where you use it, your stand will be synonymous with your brand, easily recognisable and really simple to put up.

Embellishing your stand

When you book exhibition space it’s usually just that – a space.  Once you populated the space with your larger fixtures you need to come up with some creative exhibition stand design ideas.

Some basic elements will include:

But don’t forget to think outside the box. Giving your visitors something to see, touch, hear or even taste, to create a memorable experience. You might consider some quirky additions like:

  • Flowers & plants
  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • refreshments
  • A photo opportunity

Top tip: Remember to consider your power requirements. Make sure all equipment is PAT tested and liaise with the event organiser to ensure you comply with policies surrounding extension cables, lighting, sound etc.

Branding to the max

T Mobile's exhibition stand features a pixelated tree and its pixelated leaves as seats
Exhibition Stand for T Mobile

Your branding is your identity, so you need to make sure your stand fits in with the style of your business. Your exhibition stand needs to look like it belongs with the rest of your exhibition marketing, making you instantly recognisable and sticking in the forefront of customers’ minds.

If your brand is colourful and quirky, for example, your stand should be the same. Colours, patterns, shapes and so on should all link to your company brand.

Top tip: Bold, bright and creative are the three keywords for the best approach to employ when it comes to your exhibition stand branding and design. Subtlety rarely pays dividends in these venues.

Materials to take away

Maximise your brand exposure by providing plenty of well-written take away literature. Let’s run through some of the key promotional materials to promote your stand:

  • Leaflets and flyers. Your give and go pieces of print that will highlight a product, campaign or competition.
  • It’s the glossy flagship of your print portfolio. Use them to show off your brand and your products.
  • Literature stands. Keep your booklets and brochures neat, tidy and ready to pick up.
  • Business cards. It’s your basic, bare minimum piece of collateral. Avoid embarrassment by making sure you’re fully stocked up.
  • Appointment cards. Let visitors book time in with the MD or the CEO. An appointment card will ensure their return visit for facetime with the boss.
  • Presentation folders. Assemble separate documents and elements and show of your portfolio in a handy, custom-designed pack.

Top tip: Printed materials make a great conversation starters for your team manning the stand. Make sure they each have a handful and that they don’t let visitors leave empty-handed!

Offer promotional products 

Nobody can resist collecting neat paraphernalia at expos, it’s all part of the show experience – and it is also a great way to keep your company in mind long after the show has ended.

In addition to informative literature, it can be worth considering handing out promotional products such as:

…and many more.

A novelty gift can be an effective way of ensuring that your company name is always accessible for the customer. Solopress can put your brand on a tremendous range of promotional products, from business-like and practical to fun and frivolous!

Top tip: Consider the longevity of your promotional products. Branded Sweets are fantastic for drawing crowds and raising spirits and positive associations with your brand, but when they’re gone – they’re gone. A calendar will be gazed at for a full 12 months – a mug even longer.


During the trade show

Ultrasonic Works exhibition stand at London Boat Show 2013

Putting the “show” in trade show

Using your stand to hold an event within the event is a great way to draw the crowds. It gives you something to talk up and invite contacts to.

  • Give a visual demonstration of a product. A visual demonstration of a product is a great way to show off what you do This can help you draw a crowd and create buzz.
  • Host a presentation, workshop or seminar. Get serious and show off your insight and expertise. The genuinely useful content you share will help to establish your as industry experts and thought leaders.
  • Host a Q&A Get attendees to tweet their questions to you ahead of time. This will light up your social media, boost attendance at your stand and ensure your session addresses what your audience needs to hear.
  • Challenge them to a game. Try running a fun game – such as a quiz or maybe something physical like a golf putting challenge. Displaying the highest scorer will keep your competitors coming back.
  • Hold a competition. Alternatively, try a longer-term competition for the purposes of data gathering. Collect attendee details and enter them in a competition to be announced after the event. A quick and simple method is to collect visitor business cards in a jar for a prize draw.

Away team assemble!

Solopress Team at The Print Show 2019
The Solopress Team at The Print Show 2019

Pull together the right team. Salespeople who are used to speaking to the public and extolling the benefits of your product are a natural choice to join you on the stand.

Train your staff specifically in the art of exhibiting. Consider holding a preparatory workshop to allow team members to rehearse, roleplay and get warmed up. Preparation and training will increase the likelihood that they’re the best advocates for your company and make a positive impression on everyone they meet.

Consider having all team members dress in coordinating outfits – particularly in colours that match your brand. If possible, kit them out in a branded T-shirt. This makes it easy for visitors to spot and increase the overall brand impact of your stand.

Equip your team with a tool such as tablets to gather information from visitors. If that’s not achievable, they should always be carrying some of your printed material to help them start conversations and make sure visitors leave with a little piece of your brand.

Top tip: It’s also a great idea to have a good showing from the top brass in your company. Their attendance will make your presence at the event all the more meaningful. Visitors will feel valued, and it will make it easier to connect with other high-profile industry figures.

Impactful Interactions

It’s not enough to stand by and allow attendees to browse past your stand. It’s important to get active.

A few specifics to keep in mind for successful exhibiting include:

  • Making an effort to speak to as many people as possible.
  • Staying off your phone and directing your attention to event visitors. If you’re using tech and social media as part of your work at the event, be aware of outward appearances, make sure the team always look s welcoming and approachable.
  • Being authentically cheerful and outgoing.
  • Remembering to smile and make eye contact.
  • Not eating at your stand.
  • Talking less and listening more.
  • Appointing one person the team leader for the event.

Top tip: Constantly rotate your team to keep them fresh with regular breaks. Interacting with visitors all day can be fatiguing, and you want your team to be on point while they’re on duty on your stand.

2-way communication

You’re not just here to speak, you’re also here to listen. Yes, trade shows are an opportunity show off your brand, but they’re also a fantastic learning opportunity.

Don’t just hope to learn, plan to learn. Put measures in place and make sure your team is equipped to gather vital information.  That doesn’t just mean gathering a name, job title and email address. It’s about listening to their experiences and opinions of your brand.

You could take things a step further and conduct some active market research. Maybe compile a survey and offer respondents the opportunity to enter a prize draw.

Social Media

Clever use of social media is a terrific and cheap way to get your message across to the widest possible audience. the event on your social channels once the event is underway (inc social inc video)

  • Designate a member of your team to live tweet the event, highlighting interesting stats, mentioning people you’ve met and commenting on what’s happening in general.
  • Set up a marker for visitors to “check in” at your display via your Facebook page – and consider some type of small prize or incentive for those who do. It’ll increase your reach online and offline at the same time.

It’s also worth considering the large section of your audience that aren’t there in person. Post photos and videos of the event on your Facebook page and YouTube channel. Stream a live video feed from your stand. That’s where the games, challenges and competitions we mentioned earlier could really come into their own. Ask people to Tweet about your stand or company on Twitter, using a special #hashtag of your choice in every message, for a chance to win a prize.

After the trade show


Follow Up

You should also have a strategy in place for how to follow up afterwards and make use of the information you gathered during the event. Think about how you can market to these attendees in the following days and weeks and find ways to stay fresh in the mind of those potential customers.

Always follow up enquiries and create a good impression, if you don’t reconnect, someone else will.  It is worth remembering that only a small number of business-focused sales are actually achieved during the exhibition event. In terms of sales, the work starts once the show ends.

Try following up with a phone call, preferably ensuring the caller is the same person they spoke at the show. This personal approach is more likely to gain traction with the prospect and convert the call into a sale.

Reflect and evaluate

Gather your team together for a thorough debrief. This is a rare opportunity to gauge the mood of your visitors and gain insights into how your brand is perceived. Try to capture these impressions while they’re fresh in the memory. Also, make sure you collate all the data and contacts you gathered.

You should also evaluate your stand’s performance at the trade show, ask searching questions such as:

  • What elements of your stand really worked for you?
  • Which needed some improvement?
  • Did you stick to budget?
  • Do you expect to see sufficient return on the investment?
  • What did the most successful stands have in common?

Top tip: Make practical notes to help you next year while it’s still fresh in your mind. Is there a piece of equipment that would have come in really helpful? Make sure your store this information and reference it when it’s time do it all once again!


From flyers and leaflets to exhibition stands and leaflets, Solopress print everything you need to successfully exhibit your company at any trade expo, consumer show or business conference. Get in touch today to see how we can help you raise your game at your next trade show.