Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Trade Show


Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Trade Show

Planning 1,200 Trade Shows Gives You Some Insight

Laurie Richardson has organized more than 1,200 trade shows in her 17 years of event planning. At one time, she was planning 200 trade shows each year.

She started her own event planning company, Nkilter, three years ago, where she’s managed hundreds of shows for a variety of tech clients. She knows all the secrets to success and has seen firsthand the common pitfalls of organizing a major event.


One of Richardson's trade show booths, made for client Varolii.

And, with all big events, there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong. With months of coordinating hundreds of details, all it takes is one minor miscommunication or oversight to go over budget, miss a deadline for paperwork, or misplace booth equipment.

Kelly Anthony, marketing communications manager at Smartsheet and resident trade show expert, has always organized successful trade shows, even when challenges arise (like when part of her booth didn’t arrive to the event). She knows exactly how to manage and organize critical information to prepare for the unexpected on the trade show floor.

Planning a trade show can be daunting, but with the right tips, tricks, and tools, you’ll be ready to handle anything. Read these best practices from trade show experts like Richardson and Anthony, and learn about the must-have Smartsheet template and app integrations to streamline your workflows and ensure a successful trade show.


Expert Advice: Richardson’s Top Three Tips to Avoid Trade Show Disaster 

Richardson has perfected trade show logistics. She says her advice may seem like common sense, but the most practical tips are also the ones least implemented. 

Here are Richardson’s best practices for planning a trade show: 

1. Book a Hotel in Advance

According to Richardson, most companies don’t know who they are going to send to a trade show until 4-6 weeks out from the show date. If you wait until then to secure hotel rooms, the show block will already be sold out.

“Securing a block of rooms in advance, then changing the names when the show staff is finalized, will save you the headache of searching for rooms away from the show hotel and paying a lot more than you need to!” said Richardson. 


2. Package Booth Pieces Correctly 

“I can’t tell you how many booth pieces have gone missing over the years, and what a hassle it is to deal with,” said Richardson.

If you are shipping a portable-style booth, she suggests getting a template made of your company’s logo and spray painting it in white on the outside of each black case of booth equipment. Then, order industrial-style baggage tags, secure them to each handle, and make sure the correct contact’s business card is clearly displayed. Finally, take a photo of each case.


3. Put Together a “Supply Kit"

 Richardson recommends putting together a comprehensive kit that travels with the booth and that contains supplies for the show staff members. This kit is made up of two parts: one is a bin with a lid that holds a complete set of office supplies (stapler, paper clips, pens, etc). The other is a bin with a lid that holds a range of cold and allergy medication, lint rollers, stain pens, mints, lotion, finger clippers, etc. 


Your Booth Didn’t Show up Correctly. Now What? 

No matter how many tips and tricks you read, something will inevitably come up that you’re not prepared for. For example, what do you do when an item doesn’t arrive, hours before the trade show is scheduled to start? 

According to Kelly Anthony, marketing communications manager at Smartsheet and resident trade show expert, “Having every single trade show detail in one master sheet, on my smartphone, has saved my bacon more than once.”


Steve Woodworth (left) and Kelly Anthony (right) representing Smartsheet at the
Colliers International Trade Show

Anthony was at the Colliers International Trade Show in Denver, Colorado last month, and a table that was part of her booth didn’t show up. Because she had stored every trade show detail in Smartsheet, which was accessible on her iPhone, she was able to quickly pull up tracking numbers to find out what happened and launch calls directly from the Smartsheet app to get in touch with vendors and colleagues. 

“Things go really fast on the trade show floor. And when something goes wrong, because that always happens, you don’t want to be hunting through your inbox or trying to remember who emailed you last,” said Anthony. “You need to know exactly where to turn to find the key information.”

So, instead of planning for every possible thing that could go wrong, your best bet is to organize all phone numbers, tracking numbers, vendor information, and trade show details in one easy-to-access spot, so you can quickly get to critical information when you need it most.


Anthony’s Best Practices to Save Time on the Trade Show Floor 

The day of the trade show can feel like a blur. The last thing you’ll want to think about is tracking metrics and proving the success of the show. But, as Anthony has learned, “the more detailed you are and the more information you track during the trade show, the easier it is to prove the ROI of something that can be pretty costly.”


Smartsheet's Trade Show Planner with Budget template.

Stay on top of trade show details with Smartsheet’s Trade Show Planner with Budget template. Then, connect to three Smartsheet apps to automate your workflows and make it easy to track leads, follow up with contacts, and organize signed documents.

Get Documents Electronically Signed With DocuSign


Quickly collect signed documents, like contracts, proposals, or NDAs, in just a few clicks with DocuSign. Get an electronic signature and then automatically upload the signed documents to the specific Smartsheet row to stay organized. Learn more about DocuSign


Take Pictures of Business Cards With Evernote

You’ll meet a lot of potential leads on the trade show floor. To save time, Anthony recommends taking pictures of their business cards instead of manually typing contact information. With Evernote, you can take pictures of business cards and it will automatically conduct Optical Character Recognition, digitizing the printed text. Evernote will also pull additional information from LinkedIn for each contact. Then, you can sync all this information to Smartsheet using the Evernote Integration. Learn more about Evernote 


Build Surveys With 123ContactForm


Create a visitor survey at your booth or send a post-show attendee survey, and collect all entries in Smartsheet in real time. Embed or share surveys in a blog, on social media, or within email campaigns. All the responses will stay in one centralized location so you can easily view and analyze the data. Learn more about 123ContactForm

Follow up Leads With Marketo


Compile a list of leads from the trade show in Smartsheet. Then, when you want to send a follow-up email to all leads, simply export the email addresses in Smartsheet to Marketo to manage the email campaign. Learn more about Marketo 

Information Management Is the Key to Trade Show Success 

The key to trade show success isn’t a never-ending budget or decades of experience. It’s really about information management -- streamlining and centralizing trade show details to help you when something goes wrong.

“Look for as many shortcuts as possible. You’re short on time, and the time that you do have, you want to be getting precious face time with potential customers,” said Anthony. 




trade show advice

wish to email to myself for future ref

RE: trade show advice

Emily Esposito's picture
Barbara, we're glad you found the post helpful! If you're looking to email this post to yourself for future reference, here's the link you can use: https://www.smartsheet.com/blog/everything-you-need-know-about-planning-trade-show

this is super in depth

this is super in depth article for trade shows. the marketo piece of software looks super awesome to use for after show leads. i will look into this.

RE: this is super in depth

Emily Esposito's picture
So glad you found the piece helpful! -Emily

these are great tips on how

these are great tips on how to have a great trade show!! Smartsheet's Trade Show Planner is a great planning tool to know what you need to do and when, so whoever like to plan things out can really make trade shows less stressful

Few more tips about trade shows

After going to a handful of trade shows, here's what I've learned. 1. Promote your trade show booth via email and Facebook. Instead of waiting for people to drop by, be proactive and market your booth. 2. Never ever eat in your booth. It looks unprofessional and will drop your conversion rate of prospects approaching your sales team.

Trade Shows

I appreciate this information about the tips for planning a trade show. It is good to learn that one should pack booth pieces correctly. It would be best for everything to arrive in tact. Something else to consider would be to dress to impress. Wearing something appropriate would bring you good attention.

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