How to Plan a Trade Show Exhibit

How-To Tips

Developing a trade show program can be overwhelming. To make things easier for you, here is a universal guide on what it takes to get an exhibit built. Each section represents a chronological step that you are involved in. Find explanations and tips for each step below.


The process of creating a trade show exhibit should start with an RFP. Some companies choose to skip this step and are usually met with communication issues, cumbersome progress, and confusion. Avoid potential disappointment by taking this step to learn about different exhibit companies. An RFP exposes an exhibit house’s abilities, prices, how they work, quality, and individuality.

Tips for preparing an RFP

  • Ask questions that let you understand your choices, such as: 
    • Describe what differentiates you from competitors.
    • Detail the steps your company takes when developing an exhibit from inception to completion.
    • How does your company handle design changes during production?
    • Ask for case studies for comparable projects that include exhibit details, challenges, and solutions. The examples will help prove if the company does what it says.

Inviting companies to submit an RFP

  • Typically, companies invite 8-10 exhibit fabricators to ensure variety. Before you do that, think about this – do you have enough time to get to know each one of these companies? 
  • Picking 8-10 companies can be difficult, we recommend having two rounds and choosing 4-6 to start. Then cut down the field to 2 or 3 contenders.
  • Here are some ways to help build your list: 
    • Browse Exhibitor Magazine’s Find It – Top 40
    • Ask for recommendations around the show floor
    • Reach out to colleagues in other industries

Tips for reviewing RFP submissions

Depending on how many RFP responses you receive, the process of going through each of them can be overwhelming; below are some tips to streamline the process:

  • Create a scorecard listing your priorities – in order of importance – and assign a score to each item.
  • We highly recommend a live presentation. Online or in-person, for a more insightful evaluation beyond written responses.
  • Identify companies that align with your corporate objectives for a better fit.
  • Shortlist 2-3 companies you would be comfortable working with to submit designs.
  • Create a spreadsheet to guarantee you’re comparing apples to apples.
  • Prioritize solutions aligned with your mission over focusing solely on price during the evaluation process.


trade show design renderings

These design renderings are ready to pitch.

This step in planning a trade show exhibit can be the most fun for both sides. Results depend heavily on the information you provide, communicating your marketing goals, selling process, functional needs, and vision. Not to mention the importance of spending time with potential partners to make sure your chemistry aligns as well. Take note of these tips to help exhibit houses exceed your expectations.

Prepare a Design Overview

  • Establish a turnkey budget for your exhibit.
  • Find other budgeting tips here.
  • Give your exhibit partners an idea of the functional components your exhibit needs, including: 
  • Conference Rooms
  • Workstations
  • Presentation spaces or theaters
  • Reception counters or bars
  • Storage rooms
  • Other things your design overview should include:
    • Marketing materials and brand standards
    • Logos
    • Additional exhibit configurations, if needed (example: modular design for an exhibit that will need to break down into different sizes)

Set up the design presentations for success

  • Give your exhibit companies a chance to present their solutions whether in person or online.
  • Plan for each presentation to take an hour. This allows time for explanations and conversations.
  • Make sure all of the decision makers from your company attend the presentation. This helps avoid having to pass along information (which risks misinterpretation) and could save time. 

Selecting a Trade Show Exhibit Partner

Completed trade show exhibit

A completed trade show exhibit should reflect your company’s goals and personality.

All steps lead to this. Choosing the right trade show exhibit for your program affects your company’s marketing success.

What to take into consideration

  • Remember the RFP. While design, communication, and budget should be the heaviest influencers in your decision, insights from the RFP will help determine which partner will work well with you.
  • Remember, like in House Hunters, that you can change finishes, colors, and graphics, so these are not the most important aspects of the initial design. Instead, base your decision on exhibit flow and functionality, placement of graphics, and budgets. These elements show the creativity of the exhibit house and demonstrate that they understand your trade show needs and image.

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