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Trade Show Booth Design: 7 Ways to Boost Engagement

By Lance C. Wachholz

AT A GLANCE

  • Use audience knowledge to design the optimal booth experience
  • Create opportunities for the right kinds of conversations
  • Strategically choose your booth location
  • Make smart design decisions for graphics and more
  • Build a budget that allows for engagement

A version of this article originally appeared on efourdesign.com.

Visit any trade show, and you’ll notice something: Some booths are ghost towns. Others draw crowds, but the visitors only swing by for the swag.

Other booths, however, are humming with energy. Visitors are energized and asking questions. These booths turn strangers into leads, leads into customers, and customers into evangelists.

Why do these booths work so well?

Because they’ve been designed to help the brand deliver against specific goals.

While there are many ways to attract more people to your booth, the big question is: What do you want them to do when they get there? Once you’ve nailed down these goals, use them to design your exhibit space in a way that maximizes engagement.

Consider these seven ideas to elevate your booth design and the visitor experience.

Know your audience

Let’s say your goal is to attract new leads. Can you design a booth to do this without knowing what your potential leads actually want to experience?

To reach your goals, you need your target audience to show up. And to get them to show up, you need to know who they are and what they want. So, take time to think about your audience, what their pain points are, what they’re interested in, and what problems you could solve for them. To get the most out of this exercise, consider creating a buyer persona profile for each type of attendee you’re targeting.

From there, you can map out an attendee journey: a timeline of the experience that your ideal booth visitor is hoping to have with you.

Once both of those elements are in place, you can design your booth around your ideal visitor’s needs and their desired journey, making your booth both irresistible and welcoming.

Foster conversations

Whether you’ve decided to target prospects, customers, partners, or suppliers, your primary goal for exhibiting at trade shows is to have profitable conversations. Your attendee journey, however, should inform what type of conversations your booth should optimize. Here are some options:

  • Theater: Create a theater-style presentation area where you teach viewers a new and exciting way to use your product or feature a subject matter expert in your industry.
  • Meeting space: Partition off a meeting space where you sit down with prospects and clients to solve their problems and strengthen your relationship.
  • Product display: If seeing is believing, create a product display area that lets attendees examine and touch your product, and envision how it fits into their particular situation.
  • Product demo: Create a space where you deliver product demonstrations, either one-on-one or in a group, giving visitors a chance to see how your product works with hands-on trials.
  • Virtual: Offer digital engagement with augmented reality or virtual reality, letting your booth visitors immerse themselves in your product and brand.
  • Interactive: Create a fun interactive game like a scavenger hunt, escape room, or X to create buzz around your booth and get people talking about the experience in and outside your space.
Position your brand strategically

The value of a trade show booth, like the value of any other real estate, often comes down to “location, location, location.”

Examine the trade show floor plan (the show may even use a virtual floor plan service, which provides real-time updates on any changes). Locate the entrances, main aisles, education sessions, networking spaces, snack spots, restrooms and social areas.

From there, examine your goals and locate areas that complement those goals.

Perhaps your booth goal is to hold in-depth meetings with existing clients or sales-qualified leads. If so, a lower-traffic area will help reduce noise and interruptions. On the other hand, you may be looking for brand awareness and new lead generation. In that case, find the areas that promise to have the most foot traffic and plan your booth to look as appealing and enticing as possible from the area with the highest traffic flow.

Before you sign the contract, though, think carefully about competitors and collaborators. Find out where your competitors are exhibiting on the show floor and in which direction they’ll be facing — then decide on a space.

Are there other exhibitors who offer complementary services or products to your target audience? They may be interested in teaming up to increase engagement in both booths.

Rise above the competition

One way to make your booth stand out in a sea of exhibits is to literally raise your brand above the others. Here are some high-flying ideas:

  • Research the height restriction for your space and design your booth so that your logo and some eye-catching elements are as tall as possible (and big doesn’t hurt either!).
  • Hanging signs (if they’re allowed) offer a brand beacon for attendees to see from a distance. TIP: Orient signage to face the most heavily trafficked areas.
  • If budget allows, think about whether different booth positioning (like an island space, for example) might have more generous height restrictions.
  • If height restrictions and hanging signs are out, think about other lofty eye-catchers like metallic helium balloons (if they’re good enough for millennial birthday celebrations captured on Instagram, they’re good enough for your booth!) or other inflatables to help draw attention.
Design your booth using the old 1, 2, 3

Have you ever walked up to a trade show booth, studied their display, and not had a clue what the company did? You’re not alone.

Trade show booth displays and graphics and graphics have a tough job. They must attract people to your booth, present your brand, convey your value proposition, and be memorable. The key to success here is to design your graphics in three tiers.

First Tier – Identification

  • If they can’t find you, they can’t visit you.
  • Put these graphics on the highest part of your booth so your potential visitors identify your brand easily from across the floor.

Second Tier – Directional

  • These graphics tell people who you are and what you offer.
  • They typically describe your products and services. Design them so that all text is at least six feet above floor level.

Third Tier – Informational

  • This tier is for detailed information that lets individuals learn more about you.
  • Only detail-oriented and engaged visitors read text at this level, so keep it to a minimum.
  • Or, save this tier for text that has to be there (such as copyright notices and legal disclaimers).
Plan their journey

Once you’ve defined the activities you want your visitors to participate in, envision their journey through your booth.

  • Will they go to a reception counter first? How will you or your staff move them to product displays or specific activations?
  • Will there be multiple one-on-one interactions with members of your team?
  • What’s the traffic flow in your space? If you have an island, for example, do you want your visitors to come in from all sides?
  • What about a central meeting space?
  • Do you envision a specific area as the focus or key attraction?

Answer these questions and then design the journey that makes the most sense for your goals.

Build engagement into your budget

As you can see, engagement doesn’t happen by accident. You must anticipate it, and design for it. Which means you must also budget for it.

Every organization has different priorities and needs, of course, but you can use this budget from Exhibitor Magazine a baseline as you plan your booth design.

If you’re new to exhibiting at trade shows, consider rental options. Take a trial run with rented equipment so you can scope out other booths, see what features and styles attract attendees, and consider what makes the most sense for your brand before making a larger custom booth investment.

Strategic design = success

No matter how you approach it, there’s a lot of work that goes into planning for a trade show. So, why not make sure your trade show exhibit gives you the best bang for your buck, by designing it to give you the best chance of reaching your goals?

By keeping those goals in mind, knowing who your audience is and what they want, and then designing your booth strategically, you can deliver an engaging trade show experience that will pay dividends long after teardown.

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