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10 Steps To Exhibiting At The Right Trade Show

Choosing the right shows to attend can make a big difference to your success level overall.  If you choose the wrong show you could be spending money, time and energy with no return.10 steps to choosing the right tradeshows

Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball that tells me what shows will be the best producers this year and I’m sure you don’t either.  (If you do, you are morally required to share.)  That’s why we need to take the time to sit down and work through the following steps to have the best odds at choosing the best shows for your company.

1. Determine your objectives

First things first.  What are the goals of your trade show program?  Are you launching a new product that you want current and potential customers to know about?  Is this specifically for branding your company as an industry leader?  Do you want your sales team gathering leads and making sales right at the show?  All of these questions are very important when deciding which shows to spend money on.

2. Identify shows

Research possible shows for your team to attend over the course of the next year and make a list.  Make sure you include:

  • All of the large shows in your industry.
  • Shows specifically for procurement, coops and buyers groups – if you’re able to find one that works for your business, they are great ways to make face to face sales with procurement folks and sometimes even the business owner themselves.
  • Ask your top 10 customers what shows they attend.  This will help you identify large and small shows specific to the industries that use your products most.
  • Add everything you find to the list even if it has overlapping show dates.  This way you know what shows your target attendees are splitting their attendance between and you can make informed decisions about your show schedule.

3. Do your homework

When evaluating a show’s potential, gather as much information as possible—show statistics/demographics and review lists of previous participants. Verify information provided by show management.  Speak to past exhibitors and attendees.  Check the Facebook page for the event and read posts by exhibitors and attendees.  In some cases you may even want to see what the marketing plan is for the show to ensure show management is doing their job to ensure you have the number and quality of attendees you expect.

4. Visit the show

Whenever possible, personally visit the show prior to exhibiting to assess its value. Evaluate the supporting events and/or educational seminars around the show.  It is MUCH less expensive to send one person to attend a show for a day compared to the costs of exhibiting and can give you firsthand knowledge of the real pros and cons of a specific show.

5. Consider location

When evaluating a show’s potential, take geographical location into consideration.  Usually 40-60% of attendees come from a 200-mile radius of the show location.  Consider your distribution area and target audience.

6. Consider timing

What other events are scheduled for the same time as the show and will they impact attendance?

7. Additional Show Marketing

Some shows have built in Exhibitor Marketing, including links to your website, uploading marketing materials and detailed contact information.  Are there ‘Product Showcase’ events or Educational Seminars you could present at?  Usually there are opportunities for sponsorships that can increase your visibility and each event prices these differently so you may be able to afford these opportunities at one show over another.

8. Schedule it out

Plan a schedule well within your budget and try to stick with it.  One successful show at the beginning of your show schedule does not mean that quickly adding more shows to the schedule will automatically produce the same successful results.  Planning to attend too many shows can mean that you are unable to do the marketing and follow up necessary to make each show a success.

9. Play it safe

Be cautious about participating in a first time show. Promotional material may be extremely persuasive, but a show without prior history is a risky venture.

10. Choose your space wisely

Every trade show is unique and there are many variables affecting direction, volume and quality of traffic past your display.  Be familiar with the floor plan and how your trade show booth fits.  Consider how close you want to be to the main attractions, industry leaders, competitors, restrooms, food stations, entrances, exits, escalators/elevators, windows or seminar sites.  Avoid obstructing columns, low ceilings, dead-end aisles, loading docks and freight doors, dark/poorly lit spaces, ceiling water pipes, late set-up areas or “black spots” on the floor plan.

Ten steps may seem like a lot to do.  But there is arguably no more important decisions you can make than which shows to exhibit at to affect your trade show success.  Take the time to choose shows wisely, and reap the benefits of more leads and sales from your program.

What's Working In ExhibitingShow selection is the only tactic that was a top driver of success for both increasing results and stretching budgets, according to the What’s Working In Exhibiting White Paper.  Click here to request your free copy, which includes insights on many other key trade show topics.

About the Author

Heather Novak was an exhibiting consultant at Skyline North ( in Rochester, New York.

3 responses to “10 Steps To Exhibiting At The Right Trade Show

  1. Great list Heather and potential exhibitors should not miss any of those steps. You mentioned getting demographic information and I would add a bit to that.

    Don’t just ask for number of attendees. Many shows, when reporting numbers, don’t just report on buyers. They also include media, exhibitors and speakers in that number. Be specific, ask the show organizer if their number only includes registered attendees and not exhibitors/media etc.

    Go a step further and ask if their numbers are audited by an independent third party. This is standard practice in shows outside the US. Only exhibitors will force shows to make it standard practice here.

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