Our Tried and True Small Business Trade Show Checklist

Like any out-of-town trip, the adventure of a trade show can feel like carrying a wobbly stack of teapots on your head. Don’t lose anything!

Though healthy nerves can certainly be motivating, an event as grand as a trade show will require far more preparation and confidence!

Enter the list--the trade show checklist, to be exact. Start this puppy as soon as you decide to attend a trade show. Its first section should be more general and conceptual. What does success look like? Its second section should be more specific. How do we make that clearly defined success happen?

The Importance of a Trade Show Checklist 

Without a trade show checklist, you’ll have to operate on instinct. If you’re really special, this might almost work. But even then, all results will be better if you start from an objective place of knowing. 

The week leading up to the trade show will probably feel one of two ways. It’ll either be hectic and overwhelming or it will feel easy--almost too easy, like you must be forgetting something or walking into a trap. 

Of course, a version of the latter is what you’re shooting for. And as you accumulate experience with trade shows and their checklists, the anxious edge of that easy feeling will get smoothed. 

Pre-Show Planning and Organization

Many articles about trade show checklists include an item about picking a trade show to go to. In this article, we’re going to assume you’ve got that part handled. We think going to a trade show more or less (but mostly more) implies that there’s a particular one that you’re… going to go to.

  1. Objectives: We will not, however, assume you’re clear on your goals from the outset. This item turns out to be interestingly easy to overlook. What specific objectives are driving you to participate in a trade show? Lead gathering? Sales? How many? It’s expensive to be a trade show exhibitor, but worth it. What will make it worth it for you?

  2. Budget: Keep a careful record of admission and floorspace fees, travel expenses (tickets, lodging, etc.) giveaways, and, of course, your booth. Take a look at this budget breakdown for guidance. It’s much easier to handle surprise expenses if you have all your fixed costs nailed down.

  3. Booth: There are lots of little, less-obvious items to include on your trade show checklist, but the obvious ones can’t be forgotten. Start planning your trade show booth early, months before the show. What you design will affect many other things, not least of all the rest of the budget.

Day-Of Checklist

Once you have your trade show booth designed, you can plan what and how you’ll pack. 

  1. Paperwork: Gate passes, exhibitor badges, and all the documents that prove you’re allowed to be there are, again, obvious and easy to overlook. It can be helpful to have one person in charge of all these things.

  2. Survival Kit: Chargers, business cards, and other backup supplies come in handy more often than one could ever hope. The goal here is to never open the survival kit, but to always have it. For extra efficiency, you can make lots of your survival kit items giveaways. Chargers are probably the best example. Building backups into your inventory is a great way to make sure you stay prepared; it also just might endear you to more than a few attendees. 

  3. It Depends: For more trade show checklist ideas, take a look at this sample inventory. What to include depends on who you and your company are and what your goals are for this trade show. Again, start compiling your trade show checklist very early.

Recap of your Trade Show Checklist

A trade show checklist is no substitute for experience, but it can sometimes come close. Stay organized, stay focused on your specific, measurable goals. A filled-in trade show checklist and a devoted team are the two best tools to use for avoiding trade show mayhem. 
If you’re looking to partner with an experienced trade show display company or simply have a few questions, feel free to contact us. With more than 30 years of experience, we’ll quickly get you up to speed and prepared for success!