The (Unofficial) Idiot's Three Minute Guide to
Trade Show Displays


should I get this trade show display?

trade show displays?

trade show confusion

or this custom trade show display?


or this modular trade show display?

or this portable custom trade show display?


Has your boss (we'll call him Frank) in his infinite "boss-knows-best" wisdom decided that your company should dive into marketing at trade shows? Has Frank signed your company up for a trade show booth at the National Association of Steam-Powered Cement Mixers annual trade show? Has he made you responsible for getting a trade show display for the trade show booth? But you know absolutely, positively nothing (zip, zilch, nada) about trade show displays. You want to do a good job and make Frank, your boss, happy, but you don't know where to start? Confused about all the options out there for trade show displays? Bewildered by the choices? Befuddled by all the the "trade show industry jargon"? Are you ready to pull your hair out? Do you have any hair left?

Well, stop. Relax. Take a deep breathe. Welcome to The (Unofficial) Idiot's Three Minute Guide to Trade Show Displays, where we'll try to answer some of your basic questions about trade show displays and try to get you on the right path to selecting the right trade show display for your trade show marketing needs... in about three minutes and seven bullet points. Actually, we probably won't answer all of your questions, or even most of your questions, and we aren't trying to claim that we'll make you a trade show displays expert (we'll leave that to the folks who live and breath trade show displays every day). But hopefully we can at least help point you in the right direction and suggest a few trade show resources for more information, reviews, tips, secrets, "how to guides", and basic suggestions for maximizing your trade show exhibiting and marketing efforts.

1. Is trade show marketing the right marketing for your company?

While trade show marketing can be highly effective, it is also relatively expensive. You shouldn't do it if you don't have the money for it, and if you do decide to do it, you want to make sure you do it right so you get the most bang for your buck. There are other forms of marketing. Marketing via your website can be almost free. To my mind though, meeting lots of prospects face-to-face in the highly target-rich environment of your typical trade show just can't be beat, so I say, if you can afford it, then do it (but also do website marketing as well).

2. Are you going to the right trade show?

You want to make sure you are going to the best trade show with the most actual potential prospects for your business. If time allows, I recommend you attend the trade show as an attendee first to check it out, and then exhibit there during the next season or year. If you can, attend several trade shows and decide which one would be best for your business to exhibit at. While your at the show, walk around and check out all the trade show booths. Which trade show displays are the best? Do you see any good trade show giveaways? What booths seem to be the most popular, and why? Which booth greeting lines are most effective? Are your competitors exhibiting at the trade show? What are they doing wrong? What are they doing right? What might you copy, and what might you do differently?

3. What's your trade show budget?

Put together all the costs of getting a booth space at the trade show. Can you afford it? Can you afford the perk of extra padding under the carpet to make your booth more comfortable? Can you afford full-size custom graphics for your trade show display? Can you afford to send out pre-show mailers to let the trade show attendees know that your company will be exhibiting? If you can't afford to do it right, you should really consider if you should do it at all.

4. The key to a good trade show display is great graphics.

The primary purpose of a trade show display is to stop people when they walk by your trade show booth, and the easiest way to do this is with graphics, but not just any old boring ho-hum graphics. The best trade show displays have great graphics. Your trade show booth must stand out from all the other trade show booths at the store. When people walk by your booth, they won't notice a few little tiny cheap signs. You need a big, bold, attention-grabbing image that catches their eye. If you're going to invest in a trade show display, make sure you investing in having great graphics on your display, which by the way, usually also means hiring a graphic artist or designer with at least a little bit of trade show expertise, since the requirements for trade show graphics aren't necessarily the same as the requirements for other types of marketing graphics.

5. The other key to a good trade show display is a clear message.

The other primary purpose of a trade show display is to communicate quickly and clearly WHO you are, WHAT you do, and HOW you can help the person looking at your trade show display. Once your great graphics (the big, bold, attention-grabbing image) catches your prospect's attention as they are walking by, you've got about 3 seconds to communicate your message before they move on to the next booth. Keep the text on your trade show display to a minimum, and make sure it is big, easy to read, and clear. If your trade show display message doesn't answer WHO, WHAT, and HOW, you need to redo your message until it does.

6. All the other options for trade show displays are irrelevant if you don't have great graphics and a clear message.

There are many other options to consider, such as how portable is your trade show display, and how reliable is it, and how easy is it to set up, and how easy is it to take down, and does it have a warranty, and can you replace the graphics, and how easily, and how much does it cost, and how much does it cost to ship it, and is it modular, and so on and so forth...  But if your trade show display doesn't have great graphics and a crystal clear message, all these other options really don't matter.

7. And with that our three minutes are up...

 ~ the (unofficial) idiot :)


If you have a little time left over, feel free to read the following articles...

trade show display design tips  |  trade show booth promotion  |  trade show booths & duct tape

secrets of effective trade show booth displays  |  staffing for trade show exhibits  |  home






Reader/Visitor Comments and Emails
let us know what you think and/or give us your feedback
by emailing us at feedback AT

While this isn't quite the ultimate guide to trade show displays, I would say it is a decent trade show displays guide for idiots, dummies, and beginners. It does seem to have a lot of good and helpful "common sense" suggestions for first time tradeshow exhibitors and people interested in trade show marketing and exhibiting.  ~ ms. tongue-in-check, July, 2009

I hope you can post some reviews and opinions on different trade show display booth systems and manufacturers. The more specific the review the better. Thanks. Becky, July, 2009

While I don't like to think of myself as an idiot, I appreciate that you keep your "3 minute" trade show display guide simple enough for an idiot to understand. Thanks. - George from California, March 2010

We can't all be geniuses when it comes to trade show displays. Thanks for keeping it real for us self-admitted "trade show idiots"! :-) - Jack, a hopeless trade show luddite, May 2010

How about adding more information on new technology that is impacting the trade show industry, like wide-screen lcd monitors, and social media like twitter, facebook, and google plus? You could learn a lot from studying the trade show professor. - Clark, March 2014
  > [Clark, Good suggestion. We're working on it! ed.]