There are hundreds of moving parts when it comes to putting together a successful trade show experience. There are also a number of potential pitfalls, particularly when a company is working with an exhibit house they may not have a lot of experience with.

Over the years, we’ve seen some horrible mistakes pop up again and again in trade show booth designs. Here are four of them as well as tips for avoiding them in your next exhibit.

steelhead_blog-graphics_lightbulbMistake 1: Bad Lighting

Your booth’s lighting basically breaks down into two facets: lighting for your brand and lighting for attendees.

On the brand front, it’s easy for companies to hit one of two extremes: either the lighting is too dim, making it hard for the brand and products to stand out, or it’s far too busy, which is just as effective as obscuring what you’re there to promote.

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Similarly, lighting for attendees can be too distracting and annoying. The sweet spot you want to hit is illumination that is warm and inviting while still making your brand and products pop. You want to catch the attention of trade show attendees and make it comfortable enough for them to want to spend time in your booth.

steelhead_blog-graphics_message-hierarchy-crossed-outMistake 2: Confusing Message Hierarchy

Your booth should have a story to tell about your brand and your products. That story needs to be clearly indicated in your design so that potential customers can quickly grasp what you’re all about without too much effort.

Download Now: The Exhibitor's Guide To Trade Show Success In 2020

Being too clever in your design is a recipe for disaster, as is a barrage of messaging that overwhelms attendees. Keep what you want to say about your brand and products simple.

steelhead_blog-graphics_simple-floorplanMistake 3 : Poor Booth Layout

Your booth serves a purpose, which is to invite people to explore your brand and products. Achieving this means attendees need to have easy access to your products on display and your staff needs to be able to work properly within the booth.


Having a booth layout that forces people to fight for a good look at your products, or your staff members tripping over each other is a major fail on both fronts. Give your team plenty of room to make a connection with potential customers.

steelhead_blog-graphics_people-commentingMistake 4: Being a Bad Neighbor

Trade show floors are crowded and chaotic. While this can make it tempting for a company to design a booth that disrupts the flow of traffic, choke points on the show floor help no one.

If you have a giveaway, great. Just don’t put it along a major thoroughfare. Similarly, don’t put your demonstrations where they can lead to traffic jams.

Everyone at the trade show has put a lot into the investment — even your competitors — and having a booth design that annoys the other brands around you, as well as people trying to navigate the show floor, reflects poorly on your own brand.

steelhead_blog-graphics_status-quoMistake 5: Falling into the Status Quo

When things are crazy and to-do lists are never-ending, one of the easiest things to do is to refer to what has worked in the past. After all, why reinvent the wheel, right?

You know you need a few demo stations, so just throw them into the design. You know you’re supposed to promote your newest and best product, so make that centerstage. And then everything else just falls around that.

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Guess what? Complacency is the easiest way to fall to your competitors. Complacency is easy. Everyone’s doing it. So what if standing out was as easy as just doing something different?

We challenge our clients to think outside the box — including what has worked best for them in the past — and move beyond the status quo. So the next time your boss asks you, “How many demo stations should we add?”, ask in return, “Do we even need demo stations?”

The answer may still be yes, and that’s okay, but at least you’re challenging yourself, and your team, to think differently.

How to Avoid All These Mistakessteelhead_blog-graphics_people-talking_oct19

It boils down to five words: Choose the right exhibit house.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many companies simply go with a legacy partner or an all-flash-and-no-substance choice.

When evaluating an exhibit house, you want to be on the lookout for the following things:

  • Do they understand your brand?
  • How transparent are they in their design process?
  • Are they local or do they have experience with the trade show location?

Most of all, do you feel they will do whatever is necessary to make the trade show as stress-free as possible for you and your company? In other words, will they make your trade show experience fun. Because if you’re not having fun — if you’re a bundle of nerves — that stress you’re feeling will bleed through and negatively impact how your brand performs at the show.

For more thoughts on trade show trends, download our free guide The Exhibitor's Guide To Trade Show Success In 2020.

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