How to Plan for a Trade Show

As a marketing intern, one of the awesome things we get to do is go to trade shows and conferences. After going to ECEDHA, ASEE, and NI week as a marketing intern and Maker Faire with the Digilent MakerSpace, I feel like I’ve experienced every part of the planning on a trade-show either by doing it myself or watching Larissa miraculously pull it all together.

NI Week Booth In Action 2
The booth in action at NI week.

A long time ago, James posted about how to plan a trade show demo. In his post he covered the importance of aesthetics in making a flashy trade show demo. Moving, bright, and colorful demos catch people’s attention. As important as aesthetics are however, they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to planning.

finishing up demos
The LED board, probably the flashiest demo possible.

The main part of a trade show that takes planning is planning the booth. The booth is where we are able to talk to our customers, partners, and peers. This is the primary stage for us to share our message. So what is the first part of planning a trade show…messaging. For NI week our message was Learn, Make, Teach, Electronics, because after all that is what we do every day.


Along with deciding the messaging of the booth there are lots of logistics. When you register for a trade show all you are reserving is the space. Things like, the table, WiFi, carpet and even carpet padding are all extras.

beginning booth mock up
A  early mock up of the MakerSpace appearance at Maker Faire.

Once the booth is planned and the demos are done we have to practice setting up, and test our demos. We have to make sure everything is tradeshow-proof. I’ve seen things happen to demos, that I never even thought possible. So make plan A, B, C, D, E and beyond.

booth testing
Testing the LabVIEW LED strip demo.

Once the message is decided it’s time to decide who is going. Deciding on who is going is an important factor at a trade-show. You want to send the people with the knowledge of the message and demos, as well as who can connect with the audience. For example, at NI week, all the demos used LabVIEW so bringing Dharsan, our LabVIEW guy, was a must.

practice booth set up
Dharsan, our LabVIEW guy, working on the jousting robots for NI week.

Next it’s time to train the people going. They have to know how to incorporate the message properly into every conversation, and of course when to hand off the question to a higher authority figure. This is must less simple than it seems. There may even be specific questions that need to be practiced.

Other important components to consider when training the attendees include: What does it look like to be successful and the objectives of the show.

Once the messaging is nailed down, there are a lot of logistics to consider.

First and foremost…how are we getting there and where are we staying. Finding flights, transportation, and hotel for a large group of people can be tricky business.

heading off to NI week
On our way to NI week! We are not usually this glamorous.

Conferences and trade shows are a big place, with lots of activities, trainings and events going on. It’s important that everyone knows where they need to be at all times. So a schedule has to be made of who has to be where, and when.

This includes a daily schedule for everyone and sometimes even a specific schedule for certain days. Like the booth schedule. Since there are different things going on while the booth is being run, it’s important to make sure the booth is staffed with the right people all day.

NI Week Booth In Action
Another shot of the NI week both in action. Staffed with the right people of course.

Sometimes in addition to the booth we have things such as keynotes, or focus sessions to plan. These are an amazing opportunity for us to get the most direct feedback from professors, department heads, and other customers.

Visiting other booths
Visiting other booths at NI week. Sometimes we get to leave the booth.

Once everything is planned and the demos are finished, we then send materials out for printing. This is where Norm, our Marcom Manager comes in. We give him rough sketches of the demo mats and signage that we need, and he apples the Digilent design guide and works his magic. Along with signs we have: product cards, demo card, hand outs, banners and various other forms of documentation

product cards
A small sampling of our demo and product cars.

Once our materials come back from the printers it’s time to pack! We have to get all of the demos packed snug in boxes so the vibrations of shipping don’t break apart our demos. Along with the demos, there are the table cloths, signs, giveaways, and any emergency demo fixing kits we might have.

demo fix kit
Unfortunately at ASEE I have to break into the emergency demo fixing kit for the Zybot.

A few weeks after we ship out the materials, it’s time to fly out.

Unpacking materials at NI week.

Here we are ready for NI week.

Ready FOr action
Some of the interns and Martha ready for NI week with our National Instruments sunglasses.

Stay tuned to our Facebook, blog, Twitter, and Instagram for sneak peaks of our demos, and trade-show plans.

claw sneak peak
A sneak peak of the Claw demo from Instagram.
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One Comment on “How to Plan for a Trade Show”

  1. Thanks for letting us peek behind the curtains, I already knew that trade shows are a big effort. But I wouldn’t have guessed that it _so_ much effort. I will appreciate it when I visit one next time 🙂

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