Unless your company has an unlimited trade show budget, you likely have to choose between a bunch of shows to exhibit at for the year. It’s important to put your time and energy into the events that will net you the highest return on your investment. But how do you know which trade shows are best for your company? Before booking a booth space at a particular event or conference, be sure to ask yourself — and the show organizer — the following questions.

1. When Is It?

If you’re like most businesses, there are certain times of the year when your business is booming and it’s literally “all hands on deck!” If a particular show falls during your busy season, can you afford to have your top salespeople away from the office? You’ll have to weigh the value of supporting your existing customers against the possibility of obtaining new ones.

2. Where Is It?

This one is important not only because of the airfare and hotel expenses associated with sending your sales staff to attend, but also because the further away the event is, the more it will cost you to ship your display across the country.
Miniature businessman on map of Europe.
On the other hand, even if a particular show or conference is halfway around the world, you may be able to justify the cost of the trip if one of your key partners, premium vendors, or top customers also happens to have an office in that same city. You can split your time between nurturing an existing business relationship and prospecting for more opportunities.

3. Who Attends?

It doesn’t matter if a particular show or conference is historically attended by 10,000 people if only 50 of those people are good prospects for your product or service. Find out from the event organizer whether the attendees match your ideal target demographic and what percentage of them are actual decision makers.
If this will be a totally new show for you, or a show that’s only been in existence a couple of years, ask the event organizer or show planner for a list of references from previous exhibitor companies.

4. How Many of Your Competitors Will Be There?

If it’s still early in the registration process, you may have to rely on previous years’ exhibitor lists for this information and just assume that certain competing companies will likely show up again for another year. If your top competitors are exhibiting, can you afford NOT to? On the other hand, if it seems like a lot of your competitors have mysteriously decided to skip a particular show this year, maybe they know something you don’t. Hold off on committing to a booth until you find out.

5. What Is The Cost?

When it comes to display booths and bang for the buck, every show is different. Find out what you get “out of the box” (electrical outlets, etc.) versus what costs extra (for example, a reliable WiFi connection). Also, carefully read through the list of display limitations, as many convention centers and exhibit venues have heavy restrictions on lighting, signage and sound.

6. Is Your Existing Display in Good Condition?

Banner stands and backwalls don’t last forever. Have you taken the time to get your display pieces out of storage and inspect them for damage? If they’re looking worn or the messaging and branding is outdated, do you have the budget to replace with new?

7. What Are Your Goals for the Show?

Depending on your position in the market and your particular industry, the way you define trade show success may differ a great deal from other companies in your same vertical. Getting additional brand exposure, closing deals, identifying new prospects, or even gaining competitive intelligence are all good reasons for attending a trade show. Whatever your goals, just be sure to define them numerically so that after the fact, you can properly determine whether it was in your best interest to attend or not.

8. What Is Your Projected ROI?

Calculating your trade show ROI is a little bit like walking a tightrope, where you attempt to balance cost and budget on one side with and value and opportunity on the other.
Woman writing and planning business strategy
A general guideline for anticipating trade show expenses would look something like this:
30% = renting floor and booth space
10% = designing and purchasing a new exhibit
20% = travel, accommodations and entertainment
10% = exhibit shipping and drayage costs
20% = trade show services (Internet connectivity, on-site labor, storage space, etc.)
10% = other miscellaneous on-site expenses on the day of the show

9. How Can You Gain More Visibility Than Your Competition?

Find out if the event organizer offers sponsorship packages and what level of additional exposure you’ll get in return — and see if you can negotiate for a bit more. Depending on the options being offered, just simply signing up for a low-level “bronze” sponsorship could net you twice as many prospects as your closest non-sponsoring competitor.
Bonus points: If your sponsorship package includes speaker or presenter opportunities, or the ability to participate on stage in a roundtable discussion, so much the better!

10. Do You Have Enough Staff to Handle This Event?

If the show spans multiple days and/or it takes place during the work week, you may only be able to take a few key personnel with you. First, you’ll need to calculate your trade show staffing needs. If you don’t have enough bodies in-house, or you simply can’t have that many people out of the office for several days, you might consider hiring temporary trade show staff.
In addition, consider the manpower needed for exhibit setup and tear-down. If your display is large, heavy, complicated, or requires skilled laborers to assemble it, you’ll need to factor into your expenses the cost of hiring additional workers to handle this.
Lastly, if you’re just getting started and you feel a little overwhelmed, you might even consider hiring a trade show manager or consultant. They can ensure that you don’t overlook any important details.


Before picking your next trade show and booking that booth, make sure you ask the right questions. The right research and planning can go a long way towards having a successful show and not wasting your money. Now it’s time to go forth, ask those questions, and book your next booth! Happy exhibiting!
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