Q & A: What Goes Into an Award-Winning Trade Show Booth? | LexJet Blog

Q & A: What Goes Into an Award-Winning Trade Show Booth?

Every trade show display is unique in its design, construction, size and technology, but what makes a great booth stand out above all of the others? Each year, Exhibitor Magazine hosts the Portable Modular Awards honoring the best of the best portable and modular exhibits, celebrating their excellent structure and design.

The displays are chosen based on their outstanding performance in a range of categories such as Best Use of Technology and the Best Use of Graphics, as seen above in this 2014 Sun Chemical Corp. booth built by E4 Design. We asked Travis Stanton, editor of Exhibitor Magazine, to give us the inside scoop on what’s hot in trade shows and what goes into creating winning designs. Check out his advice below. And if you’ve got what it takes to compete, the deadline for the 2016 Portable Modular Awards is Oct. 14, 2016.

Q: What are some current trends in trade show displays?

TG Therapeutics Inc.'s 2015 display designed by Access TCA Inc., won Best Fabric Exhibit.
TG Therapeutics Inc.’s 2015 display designed by Access TCA Inc., won Best Fabric Exhibit.

TS: Fabric and other lightweight materials continue to be popular among exhibiting companies, because heavy exhibitry results in higher shipping and drayage fees. Lightweight, portable system exhibits are also easier to install, which is one reason they’ve become increasingly popular in recent years. That heightened popularity has been fueled by an expanding marketplace of myriad options, including modular and customizable systems that are almost indistinguishable from custom exhibitry.

Q: What three elements do the most effective trade show booths have in common?

TS:  1. Pre-show promotion is a must. Exhibiting at a show without first reaching out to your customers is a little like throwing a party without inviting anyone. Many companies rely exclusively on email and social media for pre-show communiques, which is all well and good. But direct mail is an excellent way to cut through the digital clutter, and it is proven to achieve significantly higher response rates than simple e-marketing campaigns.

2. Give attendees a reason to visit your booth. That might include distributing branded giveaway items, holding a drawing for a high-value prize, offering an at-show discount, or hosting some sort of traffic-building promotion such as a live presentation or in-booth game or activity. Half the battle is getting attendees to stop and see what you have to offer, but setting up shop and assuming people will flock to your booth is unrealistic. So capitalize on your exhibit-marketing investment by proactively answering attendees’ question: What’s in it for me?

3. Once you’ve got visitors in your booth space, what then? Don’t forget to train your staffers on your company’s key messages, and how to integrate those messages into casual conversation without the interactions feeling like sales pitches. Also make sure they understand how to quickly and efficiently collect visitors’ contact information, as well as how to qualify a lead and obtain the details necessary for personalized post-show follow-up.

Q: What are some vital questions printers and installers should ask their customers during the planning process in order to deliver a successful display?

WorldPay Ltd.'s 2014 display, designed by Deckel & Moneypenny Exhibits, won Best Reconfigurable Exhibit.
WorldPay Ltd.’s 2014 display, designed by Deckel & Moneypenny Exhibits, won Best Reconfigurable Exhibit.

TS: Get to know your clients, and take your role as a trusted adviser very seriously. Sure, some purchases are one-time transactions, and that’s perfectly fine. But if you’re courting a client who is looking for a long-term relationship, it’s essential that you take the time to get to know their brand, key messages and objectives. That way, instead of simply printing graphic files onto the substrates of their choosing, you’re able to be a more consultative partner, making suggestions and offering advice that can help them increase their returns and decrease expenses.

Q: What are some ways the print provider can help their customer stay on-budget?

TS: Exhibitors often know what they want, but sometimes they don’t know what they need. Your job is to help them understand the difference. Bottom line: What they ask you for is not necessarily the right option, given their budget and objective. For instance, instead of a handful of small, identical graphic panels, a single larger banner stand or back-wall graphic might offer more bang for their buck.

Similarly, helping them choose between one-time-use substrates or reusable options with a longer lifespan can help to cut costs and optimize their investment. Sometimes a higher-quality option is going to be better because the company exhibits at several shows and rarely changes messaging. On the other hand, low-cost options might be best for exhibitors who tend to change messages for each event or companies seeking more of a disposable solution for one-off or one-time use.

Q: For the Portable/Modular Awards, what are, generally speaking, some of the key differentiators for the top contending displays? 

TS: The winners of our Portable/Modular Awards competition prove that the best exhibits are functional, focused and eye-catching. Large, impactful graphics with minimal text seem key to creating focused spaces that are on brand and can convey key messages effectively. Lighting helps attract and direct the eye, even in small 10-by-10-foot booths. And just because the structures comprise exhibit systems doesn’t mean that they look flimsy or ephemeral. On the contrary, the winners demonstrate how lightweight materials and interlocking components can still offer a big visual presence and a sense of enduring permanence.

You can read more about past winners at ExhibitorOnline.com.

Winner for Best Rental Exhibit was this 2015 Samsonite International display by Hill & Partners Inc.
Winner for Best Rental Exhibit was this 2015 Samsonite International display by Hill & Partners Inc.

Shellie has more than 20 years of experience in the print publication industry as a content strategist, editor and writer. She has partnered with printing, photography and graphics professionals on a wide variety of publications and printing projects. At LexJet, she writes about customer experiences, industry trends, new products and the latest inkjet printing innovations.


  1. I see you described how the two categories they are judged on are ‘best use of technology’ and ‘best use of graphics’. I bet a huge part of the judging for these categories is organization. An exhibit can look flashy or pretty, but if it is hard to follow, the point of it all is lost. No doubt the winner of these two categories has extremely organized exhibits.

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