First Trade Show for Exhibitors: Pre-Show Printable Checklist

My first trade show was a whirlwind, and that is both good and bad. It was a blast! But I know now I missed a lot of opportunities. I have put together this list to give you an edge when you start your trade show journey.

I think most would agree there are three main phases to trade shows and events; before, during, and after. This is about what to do and think about before your trade show!

A printable checklist version is at the bottom. Explanations and additional information are in the blog post.

Things To Do Before You Even Reserve/Contract Your Space

1. Define and outline your main objective

I made the mistake of not defining my goals for the first 2 years when I started in trade shows. I would hear about something close to me and show up! But if you want to ensure a successful event. And not create a black hole of spending for your business this is the #1 most important thing you can do. Ask yourself

  • Do you want more leads?
  • Are you launching a product?
  • Are you a distributor trying to connect with new clients?
  • Do you want to make sales?
  • What market are you in?

Many of these things may seem very obvious. However, unless you have them clearly defined it will cause you to miss the mark and potentially miss out on big opportunities. Once you know what your goal is you can start Step 2!

2. Find and research your options

There are several resources to help you find trade shows. A search on Google is always an easy place to start but often the results can be confusing. One resource I have recently started using ExpoDataBase seems well put together.

I, however, get excellent results by calling the Expo centers and asking! You would be surprised how many events don’t make it to the listing sites. Sometimes I can just get a schedule way further out in advance and I have someone to ask about past attendance and their general thoughts. This happens to be the next thing we are going to discuss.

3. Research and Research Some More

Once you have a list of potential events it is time to investigate. You can search Google for references and reviews. Start to poke around for demographics, turnout, and anything else you can find. I take notes when I do this because typically I’m evaluating 5+ options at a time.

(I will make a video of this process very soon and link it here.)

Big tip here: Pick up the phone! Call the organizer. Call some attendees. As mentioned previously talk to the center staff and see if they remember the last time that event was there. Most of them are going to be happy to give you attendance numbers, demographics, and other information that will be extremely helpful.

*(I will write about different events and it plays into different goals in a future post.)

4. Establish Your Budget

I imagine some people will think this should be step 1. However, I say you need to have your objectives defined and do research first.


By looking at your expectations and doing your research first you will be better able to determine if you need to be frugal or if you can afford to spend a little more. I always direct people to take it slow at first but sometimes that is not going to fit the situation.

5. Consider the Audience

This might seem really obvious and simple. It is! Just think about the type of show you are going to and keep this in mind for your future planning such as booth setup. Attire. And approach you will use. All of these things should change based on what kind of trade show you are attending or how you define your main objective.

Trade show formal meeting
Well dressed formal crowd

If, for instance, you are a manufacturer going to meet new potential clients at a specialty show. Then you can expect the attendees to “speak your language” they should know industry terms and might expect you to dress a certain way. However, if you are going to a public-facing event like a conference on computers. You might need to dress differently or change your presentation so it explains things a little more.

Trade show meeting in a casual setting
This is a more casual crowd that we can dress very relaxed

6. Look for Extra Presentation or Authority Establishing Opportunities

Trade Show teaching and speaking

When getting ready for an event I like to see if they have any classes or special presentations offered. When possible I will sign up to teach these classes or make presentations. I always ask if a time slot is available to teach.

  1. It establishes you as an authority
  2. Helps introduce you to new people
  3. Gives you a great opportunity to work on your presentation

Other times it will be about attending the right classes or keynotes. Checking the lists ahead of time will give you plenty of time to prepare and think about what you need.

7. Ask About Press Opportunities

Similar to the last step I like to ask when I call around if any press is expected to present. I will ask again when I arrive if any press has shown up. This helps me get published with statements about my products and services or just in general about my industry.

This is fantastic because it establishes you as an authority figure. Also, it feels great when you recognized.

Once You Are Ready to get Your Space

8. Pick Your Space and Mind Your Budget

Space placement and size can make a big difference in success or failure. You can expect the more expensive spaces to get lots of traffic. However, if you are smart and keep an eye out when evaluating the event map. You might find a special deal!

When starting out I recommend getting a smaller space and this has way more to do with everything else that is not your budget. For instance the display you will set up. How you will work the space. How your team will work the space.

Getting spacing right is a lot harder than it sounds. When teaching new employees or other people, I have them tape off the area in our showroom and do a mock setup.

Typically I see this:

Trade Show Booth Setup Too Big
Crude hand drawing of the typically wasted space we see when we let first-timers pick the space and do the setup.

I tried using my computer to draw a floor map here of how someone might typically waste space or purchase too much space for their props. Putting some tape on the ground and building your set will help you avoid many of the pitfalls associated with the sizing. See #12

9. The Extras Can Be Well Worth It!

Many events will, for an additional cost, provide a list of attendees. This can be a huge benefit in the planning stages. It can also help in creating some buzz about your booth. I will reach out to the attendees. In general, I think phone calls work better for this but I have been seeing increasing success in emails and social media.

Just take caution. You want the reaction of, “wow, I’m so glad you called (emailed, or whatever),” anything other than that could look spammy.

10. Keep Up With Event Materials

Watch your email. Keep an eye out for snail mail. And WATCH THE WEBSITE! Every event is different and you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity. Sometimes they make last-minute announcements about attendees. Other times you might get important information about reserving electrical plugs or other important things.

Mostly it will just be instructions about when you can set up and how to get there or what doors will be open early. But these little things can make a big difference between an easy and fun first day or a day of disasters.

Trade Show Event Calendar helps you keep up
Don’t forget to fill out your agenda!

11. Scope Out The Site and Make a Plan

If you are at a hotel or expo center chances are there will be floor plans or photos online. If you have the layout for the event. Great! Now you can start making a plan about how you are going to work the space you are in, who will be around you. Some events might have a dinner or ceremony at some point where you will be seated at tables in a banquet hall. It is a good idea to try and seat yourself where you have a better chance of running into one of your potential clients or meeting someone you’ve wanted to meet. This is a great way to make new friends or get additional sales.

At one event I got to meet a blogger that I had read before and they actually inspired me to start this blog!

Peter Shankman has some great info on this and I always read his stuff when I can. Check out this article that covers some of these concepts here.

You Have Space You Have a Plan: Now for the Setup

12. Option 1: Design Based on Your Goals (Self Design)

I think to do this topic justice I need to write another post about it. But in general, you are going to have an idea of what you need. When you have a product that is smaller and needs a demonstration it is good to get a podium style display that you can stand at, set the product on. You want your customer to be able to easily see. Check out this portable podium style display from Amazon they will custom print your design, logo, etc. right on it: [eafl id=”282″ name=”Ace Exhibits Printable Portable Podeum” text=”click here”].

Other times when you are looking to gather leads or sell a set product you might need a different type of setup. Such as some [eafl id=”283″ name=”Simple Folding Table” text=”simple tables”] and [eafl id=”284″ name=”Linen Table Covers” text=”covers for the tables”]. Don’t forget a chair or 2 depending on how many people and what the goal is. (Some experts recommend not having chairs. I say no to this on your first event, and I will write about it more in the future.)

On occasion, I have been to a show just to meet as many people as possible and hand out cards. When this is the case I like to have a few pieces of marketing material that guests can take as they visit. And then I hand out business cards. I use a custom printed “wall” that I mount to this frame you can check the price and take a look at [eafl id=”285″ name=”Display Wall Foldable Portable” text=”Amazon”]. We have a local printer print the vinyl background for each show at around $50-100.

13. Option 2: Hire a Designer

I have not done this, but I have thought about it many times. I will also say some of the best booths I have seen were made by designers. When you hire someone to design your booth they will sometimes if not more often do a better job of considering all the things you are forgetting.

They will consider the little details that it is easy for us to forget and they will have exposure to more options and know what works. I don’t have any good resources on this right now but when I do I will post them!

14. Option 3: Rent a Pre-Designed Booth

Again this is something I have thought about but not done. You can actually rent a Pre-Designed Booth or Rent a Booth to Design. This can save you hundreds of dollars and if you are not sure that you are going to make Trade Shows and other Events part of your business. Then you should consider this option.

*** If you are not sure about which setup you should use. This is another reason you should rent. Experience is a hard teacher and can be very expensive when talking about Trade Shows.

13. Your Booth Number is like a Golden Ticket (or Your Street Address)

Once you have your booth number. You now have the equivalent of a street address to give to people to ensure they can find you. So when you make posts on your website or social media include it!

When people arrive at the show they typically will get a map at the bigger shows and if you have what they are looking for and put your booth number out there. They will come straight to you! It really is like magic 🙂

14. Consider a Giveaway

Giveaways are a great way to attract attention and generate excitement about your booth. We typically try to do things that align with the product we are featuring and we always get our logo printed or etched on whatever we are giving away.

We also put a lot of thought into the things we give away. Coffee cups, pens, hats, and other “show junk” often just fill the garbage cans near your booth. People will take them to be polite when offered but they want to offload it asap otherwise everyone would be carrying 100s of lbs of junk.

Instead, give something useful or thoughtful or fun. For instance, many people have someone they love that they have promised to bring something back for like a kid or spouse. Toys and teddy bears are always a great option. One of my favorite things we do from time to time is giving out bears with a jacket from the state we are in. Then we put an easy to remove sticker with our info and a card attached. Easy and I have never seen one end up in the trash.

Trade Show Giveaway item teddy bear
Example of a Teddy Bear that makes a great giveaway item. Click to see it on Amazon

15. Plan for Extras

I don’t use them often so I forget, but if you need a TV or screen of some kind. Then you need somewhere to put it. I found this portable TV stand on Amazon: [eafl id=”286″ name=”Portable TV Stand” text=”click here”].

Aside from TV, will you need internet access? Additional printed materials? The more planning you do now the easier things will go later.

16. Bring a Few Simple Tools

A plastic mallet. Flathead and Phillps screwdrivers. Zip ties. These are things that have saved me big time during setup or in the middle of a show. I also have a few other things in my toolbox that I don’t use as often, but these are the big ones. I also keep a small vacuum that has a battery. We have been using the [eafl id=”287″ name=”Dyson V7 Portable Vacuum” text=”Dyson V7 Motorhead Cordless Vacuum”].

17. Remember Sales People Will Have an Easier Time

When attending your first trade show or event you want to bring your best salespeople and let them work their magic. If it is just you then you might already have what it takes. If you need some help I recommend Spin Selling which you can get from [eafl id=”288″ name=”Spin Selling Book” text=”Amazon”].

This Book changed my life by helping me with my selling. The important take away here is that if you have a sales team you need to think about sending your best of the best to the trade show.


Ok, that is it for now. I might expand this list as people leave feedback, but the plan right now is to write the “while you are at your first trade show” post. Which I have already started on! Link for the printable checklist is here.

Also, I love reading comments and seeing what you guys think. Let me know if I missed something, or if that was a help to you!

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