Beginner's Guide to Trade Show Displays

Beginner's Guide to Trade Show Displays

How to Understand the Options & Choose the Right One


While trade shows can be traced back to medieval Europe, they remain highly relevant in modern times as a way for members of a specific industry to showcase, exhibit, and demonstrate their company's products and services face-to-face. Some of these events including business expos, auto shows, and conventions are closed to the public and require credentials to attend, but many are open to the public.

Trade Show View
photo credit: Charles & Hudson

Because of the specialized nature of trade shows, the people in attendance and the exhibiting vendors have a common connection. Given this niche attendance of many trade shows, they can be highly effective events for marketing and promoting sales of products or services: whether business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) depending on the type of event. The potential to grow business contacts, sales leads, capital investment, take wholesale or retail orders on site or deepen brand awareness, make it an attractive marketing opportunity.

The centerpiece of any trade show is the exhibition hall where companies reserve booth spaces to meet contacts, showcase their products, offer giveaways, and more. Each booth is a company's headquarters for the duration of the event where they will generate the bulk of their business leads and their performance will determine the return on investment. There are high stakes to performing well as the company has invested in the booth space rental, internet/electricity, staffing, marketing expenses, and any other cost of hosting . This all must be done in a crowded expo hall while representatives in every other booths are also vying to attract, retain, and impress attendees.


Competition for attention becomes particularly important in creating inviting booth spaces, effective graphics, and memorable social experiences with staff. This is why companies invest so heavily in their trade show displays. It creates the atmosphere, provides the practical tools (shelving, brochure holders, media stands), meeting space, graphic display, and inviting space to deliver your company's message. The trade show display is the framework within the booth space for all of the day's outreach and engagement.

photo credit: Collision Conference
photo credit: Collision Conference

Booth space and location is critically important. A standard booth space in the USA is 10' x 10'. However, most trade shows offer a variety of sizes and formats for companies to display. Sizes may vary in different countries, boutique fairs, and marketplaces within larger trade shows. These sizes can range from 6'x8' to 8'x10' depending on the location. Knowing your booth size in advance allows you to maximize the space through planning how to layout your trade show booth.

If the trade show offers an option to submit special request, use the opportunity to request a desirable area of the trade show floor. Determine the type of booth configuration you're looking for and always be sure to know what booth size and configuration you're been assigned. There are growing advantages to each level of configuration, which generally include increased investment. Your company may wish to invest more in certain events based on how closely aligned your company's mission is to the particular trade show's audience.


Each type of trade show booth configuration comes with an increasing price tag from Inline to Island. Inline is the most common and Island is the most premium of booth configurations. Be sure to review your pre-show booth assignment information so you can be prepared based on the configuration your booth has been assigned. Each configuration requires a different strategy and layout.

  • Inline - booths with one side facing an aisle
  • Corner - booths with two sides facing an aisle
  • Peninsula - booths with three sides facing an aisle
  • Island - booths with all four sides facing an aisle

inline booth diagram
inline booth diagram


The standard configuration at trade shows, inline booths are open in the front with three sides (left, right & backdrop). Visitors to an inline booth can enter the space from the front side of the space from an aisle. Since this booth type has three sides, it provides a lot of usable space for product shelving, storage, and multiple configurations of desks or display units. It’s greatest disadvantage is that it only receives traffic from one side, and at busy times during the event may prevent or dissuade people from gathering or entering the booth. However, that can be overcome by strategic planning of the space or setting up deeper in the space or along the sides.  

corner booth diagram
corner booth diagram


Open on two sides, corner booths allow visitors entry into your space from a much wider opening and from two separate aisles, which helps capture a broader range of trade show visitors who may have taken an alternate path through the event. Because a corner booth is at an intersection, there’s more foot traffic and thus more opportunity and frankly more time to impress a show-goer. Less walls does reduce your options for how to exhibit your marketing and does reduce your storage space. However, this layout can be a cost-effective way to stand out from the crowd of inline booths at a show.  

peninsula booth diagram
peninsula booth diagram


This booth configuration is open on three sides with one backdrop side. Foot traffic can arrive to the booth from three different aisles hence amplifying your reach to the variety of attendees. This triples the time in which you can impress with your display and brand messaging. You will want to be strategic with your display panels placement as you can squander the impact of the booth space by visually cluttering it. Be mindful of how to incorporate storage into this space or rent off-floor storage.  Normally, this booth type will be for a 10’ x 20’ or 20’ x 20’ booth space. However, some may vary. Take the opportunity to experiment.

island booth diagram
island booth diagram


When you absolutely must dominate the show floor and provide a completely distinct experience, an island booth will be your choice. Standing alone, it will have entry from all four sides receiving attendees browsing from eight directions. Storage will be your greatest challenge and if you need small team meeting space, you may want to allocate an area in the center of the booth. Your show display must be sizable or you’ll have a messaging problem in reaching attendees.  Island booths are generally four booth spaces combined so at a minimum this space will be 20’ x 20’ but can be larger.  


Once you know your booth's configuration, also make sure you know the exact space dimensions. 10'x10' is an industry standard for many events. However, some events will have reduced sizes and may assign you into a smaller or larger space based on availability. Do not take anything for granted. Do your homework before arriving. It's better to plan accordingly than to try to adapt on the fly when you're not able to procure anything last minute when onsite.

10' x 10' booth example from Lindie Lou children's book
10' x 10' booth example from Lindie Lou children's book

10’ x 10’ BOOTH SIZE

Some events will only have 10’ x 10’ booth sizes due to size, staff, or location. Usually either inline or corner booths, these sizes - specified in feet - give the dimension of your floor space. Many shows have regulations requiring booths to be less than slimmer than the width of your floor space, since your space begins exactly where your neighbor’s ends. So while on paper you have 10’ deep by 10’ wide, you may really only have 9’ x 6” or less. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easiest to plan for less and be surprised by the extra footage. Some savvy companies will make sure their trade show displays or panels are 7’ or 8’ wide and then can adjust where they orient themselves in the space to take advantage of traffic flow. Many trade show display providers take in to consideration that spaces are never exactly 10’ x 10’ so their “10x10” displays are slightly smaller for this consideration.

10' x 20' example from G&G LED Lighting
10' x 20' example from G&G LED Lighting

10’ x 20’ BOOTH SIZE

This size is always 20’ wide and 10’ deep. The additional expense is made up for with, of course, the extra space, but also the additional time you have to impress a show attendee as they walk by. If an exhibitor in a 10’ x 10’ space has just 3 seconds to impress an attendee walking by their booth, then you can venture a 10’ x 20’ space has at least double the amount of time and possibly more since the wall separating the next booth is small in comparison to the space frontage. It also allows you to avoid logjams at the front of your booth space, and allows for more configurations of booth furniture and display.  

20' x 20' island booth example from Shinagawa
20' x 20' island booth example from Shinagawa

20’ x 20’ & UP BOOTH SIZE

The dimension of your floor space is given in feet, once again, but booths this size are usually peninsulas or islands. Not only are these 20’ x 20’ spaces high visibility and exposure, but these spaces are usually also given premier position, since exhibitors are paying more. They’re showcase booths and because of this will have a high visual impact and experience that show promoters like to capitalize on. It also can’t hurt for retention purposes to give the highest payers the best real estate at an event. But beware, this is not a booth size to simply allot a budget for the trade show fees. You need a display and strategy that can command this amount of space. Otherwise, it’s a huge waste of money and time.


Now that we have the foundation laid for booth sizes and configurations, we need to understand what your goal is for participating in the trade show. It can vary wildly from company to company or industry to industry, product to product.   

There are generally three common strategies at trade shows. Each will vary based on the connected objectives and implementation, but they include:

  • Meet and greet
  • Product Demonstration
  • Brand Awareness
Example of meet and greet booth from Feedvisor
Example of meet and greet booth from Feedvisor


Either you’re hoping to connect with your existing clients or building new ones. Either you’re attempting to groom your personal connections or you’re going a 1,000 mph to collect any lead. Either way, you’ll want to position your booth in a way that is inviting to both existing or new contacts, and will want to allot booth space for a semi-private meeting space. Even two chairs and a small table will work or you could invest and rent/buy loveseats, etc.

If you’re looking to collect leads, a giveway of something of interest to the type of client you’re hoping to reach is an easy tactic. If you’re a college that is trying to showcase it’s adult evening classes, you could giveaway enrollment in one of those classes or a steep discount. Not everyone is going to want the class, so it will sort out potential interest. If you’re a mobile phone app maker, maybe you giveaway a tablet or if it’s a paid service, provide a year of free service. The giveaway should be positioned at the front of the space to grab the attention of attendees walking by. The meeting space should be positioned deeper into the space to avoid distraction.

Product demonstration in Cimquest's booth
Product demonstration in Cimquest's booth


You have the latest gadget or product that you want to show off to crowds. A larger booth space may be necessary depending on how popular it may be, and if you are planning to demonstrate it for the first time. In lieu of physically demonstrating the new product, you could have a setup that has TVs or monitors to display a promotional video that demonstrates the new item. This would allow you to showcase the product in a smaller space, but make sure your booth staff knows how to talk about the item as well. Not anticipating possible questions with hired staff is asking for trouble.

Bring your experts - preferably the most charismatic. You want to connect with attendees, which will be a mix of other experts as well as leaders in the industry. You’ll want to both be able to explain the technical aspects of the product, but also resonate with the audience.

Example of brand awareness booth from GivftBack
Example of brand awareness booth from GivftBack


This can go in so many different directions.  There’s an underlying strategy of brand awareness in any event marketing, but if it’s your sole purpose you can get creative. At the heart of any brand awareness campaign is your message. Bold, visible, and memorable. On the one end is the cliche of putting as many branded promotional items into hands as possible. On the other end is the experiential campaigns that are providing an unexpected experience that will be remembered long after the pen runs out of ink.

This could be creating a theme for the booth that connects back to the brand. Let’s say you’re a sports drink company, you could have a physical challenge for attendees that ends with a quenching, cold sample of your drink. Or perhaps you’re a golf course, you could setup a chipping range that attendees could attempt to chip the ball into hoops for a variety of points. The backdrop that they’re hitting balls towards could be the vistas of the golf course’s 18th hole providing an experience of being there.

Pale Fire Brewing booth
Pale Fire Brewing booth

Regardless of which strategy you implore, the greatest challenge for any trade show exhibitor is cutting through the clutter and get their message down to an elevator speech but also down to a sound bite. The sound bite is what will resonate most immediately to hook attention. Then once you have their attention, what’s the introduction, what’s the brand’s personality.

If the sole purpose of the trade show is sales then you absolutely need your best sales person at the event otherwise you’re not accentuating your greatest assets. If you’re there for a new product in a highly technical field, you probably want your engineer or designer onsite to explain it as fluently as possible to other experts.

Outlining your strategy is critical for then expressing to your staff, both full-time, part-time and/or temporary, what is expected and the purpose of the event. This provides guidance that can then be improvised as the event unfolds.

Many companies will already have a trade show display that’s travelling all over the region or country with them, and they’ll simply repurpose as needed. If you do not already have a trade show display. There’s an opportunity to outline your booth strategy in advance and then procure your event display based on the greatest advantages it will bring to your plan. But you can always adapt any display to your strategy especially if it’s evolving or in a period of discovery.


It might be an exaggeration, but there are millions of varieties of trade show displays. Deciding which display generally comes down to three things: your trade show strategy, your staff, and your budget. Somewhere between these three competing needs, will be an ideal display choice.

  • If your strategy is meet and greet, then you’ll want to make sure you have a central location where attendees can sit comfortably to talk. If you’re hoping to demonstrate a product, you may need more room or TV monitors to show your video explaining the product.
  • If your staffing is limited, you may want to make sure your display can be setup by one person. If you tend to send a small team to every event, then you have more options to choose from. Perhaps your staff are doing regional outreach so you want them to spend as little time as possible at a location. Or maybe setup time does not matter, but size is king, you’ll want to choose something that commands attention.
  • If your trade show display budget is small, you may feel compelled to purchase a banner stand wall or tabletop display. Both of which are versatile choices. However, many times there are other full booth display options for a similar price that may meet your other needs as well.  

MODdisplays makes the online ordering process easy but also knows that if we can talk with you to understand what your goals are, we can help guide you towards the right trade show display.

Portable trade show displays are popular because of the low cost of shipping and drayage, but picking the right exhibit for your company can be a tough project. There are hundreds of different models available online, and which one you pick will depend on your marketing budget and what types of accessories you need. No matter what type of trade show display you choose, the goal is to make a huge impact with your exhibit space and leave a lasting impression on visitors.

There are many types of portable trade show displays, and below is a list of the most common styles:


Tabletop displays

Tabletop displays are typically used at small, local trade shows. Companies that exhibit locally tend to devote their marketing efforts toward small display systems that provide a large graphic area. Tabletop displays are often complimented with table covers branded with a company logo, which helps companies to identify themselves. Tabletop displays can cost anywhere from $300 – $2,000, but most systems cost around $800.


Exhibitline modular trade show display

Modular trade show displays like Exhibitline and XVLine can be used in multiple exhibit spaces with the exact same hardware. There is no need to purchase different displays depending on the size of the booth you need to exhibit in, modular displays allow you to quickly change out your hardware and use your booth in multiple settings. If you know that your company will need to exhibit in multiple spaces, modular trade show displays are definitely the way to go. Modular displays typically range between $5,000 and $15,000.


Banner stand wall

Banner stand walls are an economical way to exhibit in a 10 x 10 space. These simple systems are very lightweight, but have a very large graphic area. The graphic retracts into the base when not in use, which allows it to remain protected in transportation and shipping. The banner stand wall as pictured can be fully set up within 10 seconds, making it one of the easiest displays to use on the market. Typically banner stand walls run between $800 and $2,000.


Tension fabric displays

Trade show exhibits like Waveline and OneFabric use the latest in printing technology. Using a process called dye sublimation, your graphic is transferred to a durable fabric that you can clean in your washing machine. The fabric is put under tension across an aluminum frame for a smooth and wrinkle-free appearance. Typical tension fabric displays range from $700 to $1,500.


Backlit tension fabric displays

Backlit trade show displays like the Wavelight are guaranteed to attract attention to your booth. Using a thin-profile LED system, our backlit exhibits are designed to keep shipping and electricity costs down while maximizing the impact of your system. Our backlit systems have a wide range of available accessories. Typical backlit systems range from $2,000 to $3,000.

Now that you’re familiar with some of the most common portable trade show displays. You can make an educated decision about which display is the right investment for your company's needs.


Purchasing a trade show display can be a big step for a company, but the investment can pay off big.

If your company is currently doing trade shows on a small budget and you've decided you're ready to up your game, there are some things you should consider when purchasing a trade show exhibit:

  • Make sure your portable display is approved for the show you are attending. Trade shows have strict regulations and policies, and many exhibitors arrive only to find out that their type of trade show display has been banned by the show organizers.
  • If you do not have a design department in-house, spend the extra money to have your display professionally designed. MODdisplays offers a flat rate design service that we're confident is top-quality and less than you'll find anywhere else. Amateur design will come off as unprofessional in a highly competitive trade show aisle.
  • Choose a display that fits your company's personality. If your business is a videographer, for example, choose a display that is multi-media ready with tv/monitor mounts such as Waveline Media displays.
  • Make sure you save money for accessories. Literature racks and product shelving are important parts of any display system, so don’t forget about these items when ordering your trade show exhibit. Also, always spend the extra money for a shipping case since they can double as storage for your display.
  • Earmark funds to renew your display graphics every year: if not, at least every other year. Your company's marketing messages may evolve over time, and you want to stay on message. Also, if you're an active trade show vendor, your display's graphics may begin to show some wear over time.
  • Take the extra time required to put away the display properly every time. This will ensure that your graphics and display parts will last as long as possible, and if you're using tension fabric displays or table covers, this will reduce wrinkles in your fabrics. You don't want to be worried about how your display looks when you arrive at your next trade show.

Now that you know some of the options and strategies in selecting a great portable trade show display, you're better armed for your next purchase.

April 17, 2018
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