How to prepare for a successful trade show

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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

Strong words, but Benjamin Franklin’s quote rings true when it comes to trade shows (no doubt the great man would have organised a good show himself).

Take a look at these pointers for ways to prepare for your business for upcoming trade shows, fairs and exhibitions.


1) What are your goals?

Think about what you want to get out of your event. Is it to gain leads? Build awareness? Sell products? Gain feedback? Decide on what you want to achieve, then make sure everything leads back to it.

2) Location, location, location

Where is you stand? Are you one of the first or last stands people will see? Will you get plenty of footfall? Or are you tucked away? Who are your neighbours? These factors will influence your display and how you attract attention.

3) Tweet, post and email

Use social media to tell people where they can find you at an event, plus anything you’ve got planned (like talks, offers and competitions). Ideal for drumming up excitement before an event, social media is also great for following up leads you’ll have picked up during an event.

4) Stand presentation

Your display is key. Try to hit the sweet spot between showing too much (overwhelming) and too little (underwhelming). Practise setting up your stand at home to ensure you’re comfortable. Finally, how do you want people to interact with your stand? Touch and feel? Drink and chat? Watch and listen?

Tip: don’t leave any rubbish or clutter around – it will detract from your message.

5) Look the part

Straightaway, visitors will notice how you look. So make sure you send out the right signals, whether it’s with a branded shirt or company notebook. If there’s a team of you working on the stand, then polo shirts are one way to ensure everyone has a consistent look.

6) Feel awesome (or close to it)

The best sales tool you have is… well… it’s you. Here are some tips to make sure you’re firing on all cylinders.

  • Do your best to get some sleep the night before.
  • Stay hydrated – have plenty of water to hand.
  • Keep your energy steady with fruit and healthy snacks.
  • Take some baby wipes with you – you’ll shaking a lot hands.
  • Pack a first aid kit for the unexpected.
  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be on your feet most of the day.

7) Promotional products

Giveaways attract visitors. People expect them and they’re good for creating a buzz. Classic items to hand out include pens, USBs sticks, T-shirts and bags.

While certainly effective, many stands will hand out these items.  A different approach is to offer a fewer number of higher quality items: headphones, electronics and your own products are all options. You can take it to another level by offering a competition or prize draw around them.

Trade show giveaways: USB stick and selection of branded items

8) Time of year

Successful giveaways are often those people can use there and then.

The weather can play a part (doesn’t it always?). For example, in winter think about items like woolly hats and gloves, while in summer flip-flops and beach towels are popular.

Finally, branded mobile phone chargers will always be a hit as people seek to charge up their phones and devices during the event.

9) Build a space

Trade shows can be tiring a tiring place… for everyone.

With this in mind, turn your stand into a space in which people feel comfortable. Comfortable chairs (with phone chargers) are a good place to start, while complimentary tea and coffee (or beer and wine) are always popular. Oh, and cakes always go down well.

10) Conversation starters

Chatting to visitors is one of the most rewarding aspects of a trade show. But how do you go about starting the conversation? Here are some tried and tested opening lines for attracting people’s attention:

  • “Have you had your free (giveaway)?”
  • I like your (shirt/necklace/shoes/bag).
  • Are you interested in winning a (prize)?
  • What do you think of the (event) so far?

Hopefully these ten pointers can help you prepare for your event and ensure you have a successful time.


Written by

Toby is a wordsmith and communications expert at Vistaprint. He has over seven years’ experience of helping small and large businesses engage with their customers through compelling copy. In his spare time he enjoys nothing more than putting his feet up with a good novel and a cup of tea.