Get practical: Forget these 5 exhibition basics at your peril

September 17, 2018


The glamourous parts of exhibition stand design naturally draw most attention. Cutting-edge tech or premium gifts are the big ticket items that attract, engage and convert visitors – and if you don’t do that, you won’t justify your exhibition spend (or next years’ budget. Or your job).

The thing is though, those big ticket items get the most attention but they’re not the whole story.

There are also some practical elements to consider. Practical elements which, if you underestimate, can put off visitors and send your ROI plummeting before you realise what’s happening.

Here are the top five – and what you can do about them.

1. Think about spacing when designing your stand

So your visitors can easily move around without feeling crowded

You want to design an exhibition stand that attracts attention, to get as many visitors as possible. As author Klaus Solberg Søilen notes, you only get three seconds to grab the attention of attendees walking past your stand.

It’s a valid concern, so the temptation is to include lots of features and design elements to ensure you stand out. But those elements can make movement around your stand difficult and cause bottlenecks and crowds.

Temptation is to include lots of features and design elements to ensure you stand out. 

So your stand might attract visitors but those same visitors may feel overwhelmed and crowded. Because it’s not just about attracting attention, it’s about holding it long enough to turn visitors into leads.

The longer you keep visitors at your stand, the more chance to build rapport, share product information, answer queries – and the more likely conversion becomes. But margins are already very tight. Sales reps don’t have long to make a mark.

If visitors feel crowded, they’re more likely to leave even sooner, making your sales reps’ role even harder and reducing the likelihood of conversion.

So make sure you consider the practicality of stand layout and create an inviting, flowing space where visitors want to spend time.

2. Consider the practicalities of transporting your stand

So you don’t eat up unexpected exhibition budget before the event even begins

Transportation is hardly an exciting topic but it’s a bit mistake to ignore logistics until your stand is built. Because the type, size and number of vehicles used to transport your stand depend on design elements. So too might the safety, testing and shipping licenses and documentation you need. Your exhibition stand design can even impact which logistics provider you use.

All these things can have a big impact on cost. Cost which you likely haven’t factored into your overall budgeting until it’s too late. Increasing your costs reduces your exhibition ROI by increasing your break-even point, but there’s also a long-term implication.

Søilen notes that most companies don’t have a dedicated trade show budget so much as a general marketing budget that exhibition spend sits under. So if you overspend on one exhibition, you either have to negotiate increased budget for the year or you have to limit your marketing activities elsewhere. Neither will make you many friends.

The solution is to consult with logistics people early, during design, to avoid costs spiralling and ROI plummeting.

One of the big benefits of working with a full-service exhibitions team is that they should spot any elements that could cause potential transportation issues early and prepare appropriately. And warn you if any elements are pushing your transportation costs up. That way you can make a more informed decision about your designs.

3. Ensure lighting is practical, not just mood-enhancing

So visitors can see your brand and products in the best light

Lighting can play a huge role in exhibition stand design, and with good reason. The right lighting can help differentiate your stand – a major advantage in getting more visitors to your stand. And it can help create mood, to reinforce your brand image, or atmosphere – like creating drama around a new product launch. Little wonder so many exhibitors think about playing with lighting during the exhibition stand design.

But, there’s a but. If you use lighting to enhance the design of your stand but neglect lighting for its original purpose, you can actively damage your exhibition ROI.

If you use lighting to enhance the design of your stand but neglect lighting for its original purpose, you can actively damage your exhibition ROI.

Because you want to attract and engage visitors, of course. But those visitors also need to be able to see. To move freely. To properly read and understand any product information. To trust they’ve been able to fairly assess your products. To stay safe from bumps and accidents.

Some retail stores make the same mistake. There’s one US lifestyle brand, for instance, that is known for very dim mood lighting throughout their UK stores. Which creates an ambience and a brand identity, but has also caused widespread online mockery from consumers. Not necessarily the brand reputation they wanted.

The upshot is this. When you’re designing your next exhibition stand, it’s definitely okay – more than okay – to incorporate elements of exciting lighting. But also think about the practical things like ensuring sufficient brightness, limiting glare, hiding ugly fixtures, finding electricity sources, and securing leads and wires safely.

4. Tread the line between volume and value when designing add-ons

So more visitors can engage better with your brand, to maximise leads

Many exhibition stands will include interactive features to help boost engagement and encourage visitors to spend longer at the stand. Things like a café or bar, or a gaming board, or an interactive panel, or a social media booth. There are lots of options, and they can all work fantastically.

But only when visitors can use them and find value from them. And that’s a fine line. We’re talking about balancing volume (lots of visitors engaging) against value (visitors having a high-quality experience where they engage deeply).

So you don’t want to build an awesome, on-brand interactive two-player game that takes 20-minutes per round. Those two players are likely highly engaged, but they’re still only two potential sales. Equally, if you design a speedy-but-shallow game you might turnover two players every minute – but you’re missing high-quality engagement so the sale becomes less likely.

Or say you have specialist mixologists making bespoke mocktails for visitors. That’s certainly a premium experience that drives a high amount of engagement – but realistically it’s so time-intensive that lots of other visitors miss out altogether.

You want a combination of both, to ensure your exhibition stand add-ons are neither too flamboyant or too superficial. That they’re not gimmicky.

So when you’re considering elements of your exhibition stand design, don’t rule out engagement-boosting add-ons – but do think about the practicalities of footfall versus depth of engagement.

When you’re considering elements of your exhibition stand design, don’t rule out engagement-boosting add-ons – but do think about the practicalities of footfall versus depth of engagement.

5. Don’t forget on-the-day details

So no administrative hitches stop visitors having the experience you envisioned

Elements such as exciting technology can have a huge impact on exhibition ROI, attracting more attendees to your stand, engaging more visitors for longer, boosting your leads and improving the quality of those leads to encourage sales.

But they’re the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. The cake is a group of little things, like having enough people to chat to visitors. Like having hand-outs ready on request. Like your internet connection working. Like the coffee machine working. Like not running out of free gifts.

The icing doesn’t matter much if the cake is crumbling. You could have the most innovative, unique, interactive panelling in the world – but if visitors can’t take a product sample because you ran out, they’re still not as likely to convert in the future. Your virtual reality product demo might be genuinely incredible, but if you’ve only got two virtual reality headsets, many visitors will leave before they enjoy the benefits.

So when you’re designing your next exhibition stand, it pays to pay attention to the practicalities. Don’t ignore the exciting stuff but don’t forget the Wi-Fi either.

Tether design creativity with practical understanding

When most exhibition teams start thinking about stand design, there are a few big ticket items that draw attention. And deservedly so, given how effective those things can be in delivering returns.

The problem comes when you focus on exciting design elements at the cost of practical elements.

Because the best mood lighting in the world won’t show your brand in the best light if visitors can’t see. And the most exciting new game won’t engage visitors who have to queue for an hour to play.

That’s certainly not saying you shouldn’t play around with mood lighting or design the cool new game; they’re both fantastic ideas. But take care to tether your design creativity with a firm practical understanding – to ensure your exhibition stand isn’t just cool but is also effective.

TGP is one of the Middle East’s leading design and production companies, focusing on exhibitions, events, interiors, graphics, and audio-visuals for various industries. For more information or to meet the team, please call +971 50 636 7774, send an email to, or click here.