How to Organize a Trade Show

You’ve made a name for yourself at your job, and now you’ve been handed a huge new responsibility: organizing a trade show. That’s no small task. The details can be overwhelming, and success or failure can have a huge impact on the bottom line. Challenging though it may be, you can do it. The key is to, first, make sure you’ve thought of all of the factors involved and, second, to make sure someone is attending to them (whether that’s you or someone you delegate). Here are some of the things you need to think about when organizing a tradeshow.

Determine the purpose

Your first task is to find out what your employer hopes to accomplish with this trade show. Is the goal building recognition and authority among existing customers? Attracting new customers? Or, alternatively, does your boss want to stir up competition between your suppliers by getting them all together in one place?

Determine the audience

Sometimes the audience is made up of members of the general public, like at a home and garden show. But sometimes the public isn’t even invited. For example, every November, there’s a huge tradeshow in Las Vegas that brings together automotive aftermarket retailers and the vendors whose products they sell. So your first step is to find out who your boss plans to invite as well as his purpose for inviting those people/organizations.

Pick a date

There are several thing you need to consider when choosing a date. The first is your boss’s availability. While it may seems as if the tradeshow you’re arranging would take precedence over anything else, that’s not necessarily true. The last thing you want to do is schedule it during the African safari your boss has been planning for the last two years. It’s also a good idea to avoid major holidays and school breaks. One more thing to think about is whether anything else is going on in your city at that time. Many cities have annual events during which their hotels are booked solid every year.

Pick a venue

Once you have a date in mind, you can pick a venue (both a city and a specific location). That’s somewhat determined by size. If you’re working for a megacorporation, you’ll want to book your tradeshow in a city that can handle the crowds you’re expecting. Even some fairly large cities don’t have the hotel and meeting space to handle a huge influx of visitors all at once.

Once you’ve got the city nailed down, you can choose the venue. Again, it depends on size. For a smaller trade show, you may be able to find a hotel that fits your needs. For larger tradeshows, a meeting and convention center might be the best bet.

Decide how to publicize your trade show

How will you invite spread the world? Direct mailings? Email invitations? Ads in trade magazines? This requires careful thought into who your audience is and the best way to reach them.

Identify the services you and the attendees will need

There are an infinite number of things to think about, which is why it’s a good idea to work with a professional event planner if it’s in your budget. If it’s not, make sure you consider these important facts:

  • Where will the attendees stay? Will you book their reservations, or will they do so themselves? If the latter, how will you give them that information?
  • Will meals and snacks be included? Many trade shows offer breakfast and snacks to the presenters, if not the attendees. Who will provide them? Will you provide them free of charge, or will people need to pay for them? Who will accept payment, and in what format will they accept it?
  • Will you need to provide transportation from the airport? If so, will you arrange cabs, limos, or shuttle busses? Who will meet high-profile attendees when they arrive?
  • Will there be any activities? Some tradeshows arrange a golf tournament, a city tour, etc.
  • Will there be any evening functions? Where will they be? How formal? How will attendees be informed of the right clothing to bring? Will any awards be given? How will people nominate winners, and who will decide who those winners are? What will the criteria be?
  • Does your employer need any special insurance for the event? If so, how much? And who will provide it?
  • Do you need to provide services to help attendees set up their displays and booths? What extent of service will you provide? Who will provide that service for you? Which vendors have the best track record?
  • What’s your Plan B? Weather could shut down the airport, the pilots and/or flight attendants could go on strike, the convention center could mess up the bookings, the head speaker could have a family emergency, etc. Identify some of the worst things that could happen and think through how you would respond. What will happen if there’s an emergency during the event itself? A fire, perhaps, or maybe a tornado bearing down on the building?

Make it happen

The last critical step is to give some thought to what will need to happen the day of the event. What will it take to make everything run smoothly? Consider things like:

  • Having plenty of staff walking the floor, ready to raise the red flag if anything isn’t going right
  • Making sure all staff members have a way to communicate (cell phones, walkies, etc.)
  • Making sure all staffers have access to food, water, and restroom breaks

If you’re well-organized and successful at relating to people, there’s no reason you can’t pull off a tradeshow that will be remembered for years (in a good way!).


 Photo credit: flickr 




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