Designing And Setting Up A Booth Or Event

Event Planning Quick Links

Designing And Setting Up A Booth Or Event

Are you going big and planning a booth at a conference or even running a whole convention yourself? Event planners could write whole novel length pieces on best practices, ideas, and trends for setting up booths or events but I don’t have that kind of time! Instead I want to mention some simple common and not so common things to consider when delving into this area of event planning.

The below will mostly help those who are running a booth or workshop in conjunction with a convention or conference, but most of it is valid even when running larger events. Feel free to contact me if you have questions specifically about running full events – like seminars, weddings, or multi-day conferences.

It’s All About The Customer/User Experience

The key thing to remember is that most of your energy spent planning the event should be to ensure you’re creating the most enjoyable, satisfying, and stress-free experience possible. As someone who is a huge proponent of customer experience design this is an area I tend to harp on a lot when working on events.

By taking the goals and vision you have for the event you can make sure that when it comes to this aspect of your event planning you are looking at all the potential user interactions and touchpoints you are building into your event. To make sure you are heading in the right direction check out my 3Gs of customer experience: Get In, Get What You Want, & Get Out!

Location, Location, Location

Whether it’s selecting a city or venue for your seminar or determining which booth spot you want at an expo hall there’s a lot of factors you may want to consider to gain maximum effectiveness:

  • Attendee Demographics: Where are your attendees coming from? Who are the people that attend the convention you’re exhibiting at? The kind of tactics you take planning your company’s booth for a business conference versus a consumer convention should be different (even if you can borrow a bit from both). If you have a large out-of-state/out-of-country contingent try to put your event near major airport hubs.
  • The Perils Of “End Booths”: Common wisdom says you should always take an end/corner booth spot when possible but there are times that may not be such a great idea. First, end booths generally cost more and if the jump in price is ridiculous or that money could be used to really boost your chances of having a successful event through branded materials, event sponsorship, or other options sometimes it’s best to consider saying no. Second, although end booths may sometimes see more eyeballs they aren’t always valuable ones. If you’re right near the entrance, on the outside/main aisles, or in the back corners there’s a good chance folks will just walk past you in a hurry to get where they want to go (or get away from the crowd).
  • Who Your Neighbors Are: If you’re not new to the conference/convention circuit (or as you go along in your first year) you’ll probably notice the same companies exhibiting over and over again at the same ones you are – there’s a reason you’re going there after all! If you know your booth setup will be nicer and more eye-catching than the nearby booths (some shows let you see whose reserved what booths already)  tend to be you may have an easier time drawing people to your middle of a section booth than that prime corner spot.
     
    Sometimes being next to a big name company’s humongous booth will mean more foot traffic past your stall which can be helpful if they run scheduled events and people might hang around your booth while waiting for things to get going. Other times all it means is that people are crowding up your space because they can’t fit in their booth. In addition, if you don’t have ways to stand out sometimes being next to the behemoth booths just makes you look ‘smaller’ than you are. For flashy, loud trade shows and conventions being next to the anchor booths ends up with your attempts to interact with fans lost to loud music or light shows.
  • When The Force (Of Motion) Isn’t Strong With This One: Many industries have that one event where there are clearly more people allowed in the space than should be allowed – not for safety reasons but overall enjoyment. You can tell it’s that kind of event when it takes you 30 minutes just to move 30 feet (or less!) down the main pathways often due to too many attendees or large lines for special events. This is where the location of the booth you pick can either help or hinder your efforts to have a successful event.
     
    For some exhibitors they find that if they are on an end booth that people don’t really have any choice but to stare at their booth as they slowly work their way from one end of the hall to the other, some may even just stop at your booth for a bit because they just can’t take not being able to move for minutes at a time. On the other hand, maybe staring at your booth for long periods of time – especially if you have a fairly static setup – could make them equate your booth, company, or product with boredom.
     
    There’s many ways you can work to counteract this besides just having extra content on your video displays.  If you’re large enough to have a ‘lounge area’ or an interactive area they may take a break and check out your product or company just to pass the time.  If you’re able to pass out snacks or refreshments (check with show guidelines!) you can really make yourself memorable.
     
    Even worse, the people that want to come visit your booth just can’t get to you and you miss out on talking with your loyal and dedicated fans. If things are really crazy at those events sometimes taking secondary aisle booths can really help out when people give up trying to get farther along on their current route and head off down your row. Those folks are just waiting for a great opportunity to be distracted or get calmed down – this is where those stress ball or ear plugs giveaways can really come in handy!
  • Recognizing Basic Human Needs: Everyone has to eat, drink, and pee. If you are lucky enough to be getting a booth at a show where you can reserve your location when you order think about how that fact can help you. If a booth is near the bathrooms then you can get more visibility as people stream in and out, if it’s too close then you’ll turn people away from the potential smells. If the booth, even a middle booth, faces out towards the food area then attendees who are sitting down for a meal or meeting will often have no choice but to stare at your booth and what’s going on there. Look to see how you can take advantage of things like proximity to food, washrooms, and seating areas for tired attendees to rest.
Go With The Flow

You’re already taking into account the flow and dynamics of the event when deciding where to exhibit and place your booth. Once you’ve ensured you have the right traffic flowing by your booth make sure you have the right flow IN your booth.
 
Especially critical if you’re having a big enough booth for people to walk around in (versus just a table they come up to) really look at the pathways and setup of your booth. Are you putting the spaces between the demo tables too close to each other so it’s hard to walk around? Did you hide your info table way in the back? Did you block the visibility to what’s in your booth by huge signs along the outside?
 
Try taking a piece of paper and mapping out the size of your booth and notating where you may have access to power (if you aren’t paying to run power to parts of your booth). Then look at all the items you’re putting in your booth and what you want to have happening in your booth and cut out pieces of paper representing the various items and their shapes/sizes and move them around until you get a layout you feel works for you – then have others look at it and provide feedback. (You can do this digitally as well if you prefer.) Things to consider:

Do your staff and your visitors have enough room to walk around, see your products, and not feel cramped or blocked?

Are your A/V displays near the power outlets or do you need to run cords to get to them?

Is it best if the majority of your booth faces a specific direction? (For end/corner/in the round booths)

What is most likely going to catch someone’s attention and draw them into the booth and did you put that up near the front?

Did you make sure to have your meeting or 1-on-1 demo space away from your speakers or music and videos?

Does the layout and furnishings in the booth space convey the feeling you’re hoping to achieve? (Especially critical for booths trying to create ‘lounge areas’)

Note For Large Event Planners: Most of the above questions count for you too – if you hide registration/badge pick-up in a corner you make it difficult for people to get started. Try to make sure you have information or help desks near main pathways and entrances.

Take It Up A Notch

Some of these items were mentioned in the materials and branding page but here’s a few things that smaller budget companies can do to step it up and create a fantastic booth setup:

  • I Saw The Sign: Many shows where you can have a booth will offer a standard booth package – often a table with draping, two chairs, and…well that’s often about it. From there you can often choose from a bunch of upgrades including custom graphic booth counters and signs. Unless restricted due to rules, budget, or expertise consider getting signs or banners custom made that you can own and travel with. Having signs or small retractable banners that you in your booth helps people see who you are and what you’re about before they can get close enough to see the up front stuff. It also means you can reuse the same sign over and over without paying the event for something you can’t keep when the show is over.
  • Booth Pop-Ups, Kits, And Packages:  Whether it’s medium floor displays, large displays, or mini-booth packages these items can make a big difference. Often cheaper than you think when you consider how often you can reuse them if you exhibit (or run) at many events this is a great way to help ensure you have always have the setup you want, that’s custom branded, and ensures you have a unique look. For many of the booth pop-ups you can even get a case that can have a custom printed cover created for it so once you’re done taking out the parts and setting it up you can put the cover on and use it as a makeshift table or counter. Bonus: Many of the 10′ or smaller displays come in a rolling case that’s often small enough for you to roll in yourself to the show floor without having to wait for your items to get unloaded (but again check the rules!)
  • Go Big Or Go Home: If your event budget starts to grow and you continue to do the con circuit year after year, consider designing and ordering a full-scale modular booth structure. Although it requires a bit of assembly work that’s more intensive than the pop-up displays the end results can be well worth the effort. I’ve helped staff multiple booths where we put tBonus: By having a booth setup you always use it makes setup and tear down easier, allows you to create easy, consistent routines for those who staff the booth, and brings a familiarity to your customers who instantly recognize you even from a distance.
  • What To Do When You’re New Or Short On Funds: The above clearly not in your budget? Still deciding if the ROI for exhibiting at booths is worth it? Not sure you’re ready to settle on a booth look and feel yet? Consider ‘splurging’ on a table cover. Easy to pack and travel with, they come in a variety of standard sizes, styles, and functions and add that ‘extra touch’ when you’re wanting to personalize your booth. After a few shows you may get a good feel for what you’re looking for/need in your booth and then can find ways to enhance and upgrade your booth design.
  • Carpet, Electricity, Internet – The Extras That Shouldn’t Be Extras: These items are definite things to look at when making decisions on what to order for your booth space and they can do more than just add to your customer experience. Sometimes paying for carpet, electricity, or internet just seems ridiculously expensive. Other times you feel like taking a chance on using the conference’s free wifi (more than once I’ve offered up my personal MiFi/mobile hotspot to help a booth have stable internet). But we’ve all seen that booth where the TVs shorted out, the online demo won’t connect because the Wifi was overload, or other similar issues. There’s two sides to these kinds of items: the external experience and the internal experience.
     
    External Experience – When you have the nice plush carpet, when you paid for the internet and you have a solid connection to let you sign up users right on your website, when you can hook up all of your devices and monitors because you got a high enough AMP electrical service it can really provide a solid impression for those visiting your booth. It’s heartbreaking to have someone ready to sign up for your service, demo your game, or pay for your product right then and there and suddenly everything fails. Don’t let that happen to you if you can afford to consider adding some of those items to your event budget!
     
    Internal Experience – Yes, sometimes getting that all setup can be a pain. Yes, sometimes it feels like your being robbed by paying hundreds of dollars for carpet (just wait until you go to order furniture!). But it can really help you create that professional, smooth experience you’re looking for – especially when it doesn’t look like your staff are always scrambling around the booth trying to ‘fix’ stuff. But there’s more than just an outward image to all this to consider. When you have solid internet access your staff can easily look up information and service your (potential) customers instead of having to put them on a ‘I’ll get back to you list’. By getting the right amount of electricity they don’t have to decide what is the most important stuff to hook up and worry they didn’t do the right thing.
     
    Even more importantly, as those who regularly staff booths can tell you, if you splurge on the plush carpet and padding it can make a TREMENDOUS difference in how you feel after a long, grueling day on the show floor. The contrast between how someone feels at the end of day 1 standing for 10 hours on a concrete floor vs one with lots of cushion for their feet is huge. The sore feet, pain in the legs and back, etc. when you hit day 3 with crappy carpet and no padding is a huge blow to health, morale, and the ability to plaster that smile on your face and act like you’re excited to be there.

    One extra to rule them all!  If you’re looking at the above and your budget and going outside of the table cover I can only really upgrade one thing my recommendation to you is splurge on the carpet. Get the nicest, plushiest, carpet (and padding, if possible) you can afford and the feet of you and your booth staff will thank you. Seriously. You can find ways to cope with standard service on everything else but having even just a bit of comfort added to your long hard days is priceless.

  • Security: Some venues or exhibitor service companies will also offer you the option to purchase security for either a set number of hours after the show closes for the day [or until the doors lock] or overnight watch from show close to show open. If you have a lot of merchandise you don’t want to ferry back and forth or a complicated electrical setup that would be a pain to re-setup every day consider if the value is enough that this may be worth it to you to add to your event budget.
     
    Bonus: For those of you who are running a booth – especially at industry conferences – and then needing to quickly make after event meetings, dinners, or parties this can be a huge benefit as you’re not wasting time or missing opportunities because you need to worry about getting everything packed up and back to your rooms.
     
    Extra Bonus: It can add a bit of polish/professionalism if the attendees don’t have to see you sweating it up from all the work or watching you drag all your stuff down the street.
  • Furniture: I’m unfortunately not really able to help you out much here. Unless you consistently do the same event and use the same setups and you have the ability to purchase, store, and afford to transport items it’s generally not cost effective to purchase much more than a shippable, constructable booth.
     
    If you’re able to take nicer foldable chairs or the ‘common in tech and games’ bean bags please do, but about all I can do here is warn you to expect big bills if you want to order furniture. Yes, you could probably buy the chair, couch, or table for the same price as you’re renting it, but the additional costs for transportation and other fees just may not be worth it (especially when you’re the one that needs to keep it in good shape).
     
    You do have two options to look at when it comes to wanting some furniture in your booth without always feeling like a sucker. 1) If the event is local and you can rent a truck or have nice friends (and you have storage space) look at buying some furniture you can take to the venue and back. Even just bring in some more comfortable office chairs can help a lot. 2) Buy the furniture you want and then give it away.
     
    Sometimes the furniture in the size, color, and shape you want doesn’t always exist through the approved vendor and other times it does exist, but you can purchase it for the same price or cheaper at a retail store. Look at the feasibility of purchasing the furniture and having it delivered to the venue and then offer it up to friends, colleagues, fellow companies, or even charities like Goodwill to be picked up at the end of the show. You get to get exactly what you want, potentially for cheaper, in a brand new state, and help someone out in the end with getting them new furniture. If you’re willing to go through the work it can sometimes be a win-win.
It’s The Little Things

So you decided to get a booth, you figured out the vision and goals for you booth, you created a nice flow and design for all the large items and then you forgot to do something as simple as bring a power strip with to plug in all your laptops. Uggh! Here’s some of the obvious – and maybe not so obvious – items to put on your checklist of things to bring with to your event:

  • Label Everything: Where you can try and inconspicuously label the items so as your booth or event is getting dismantled no one has to guess things like did you bring the nice folding chairs or did you order them from the exhibitor service company. A simple label from a labeler will do here.
  • Power Strips And Extension Cords: If you paid for electricity but your computer’s power cord won’t reach to the provided outlet it doesn’t really matter. Make sure you bring long enough extension cords and power strips to ensure you can run the power to the locations you need with as little wires running through the middle of the booth as possible. If you do need to place a cord in the middle of walkways get a cover or tape down the cord so no one will trip as easily.
  • Trash Cans: One key to having a polished look is not having little pieces of trash spread around the booth. In some venues the nearest trash can be quite a bit away from your booth. Having even just a small trash can under your table reduces the amount of trash just left or piled up in places as well as the time lost for people having to keep walking trash to the receptacle and back. (see more below)
  • Cleaning: Bring with basic cleaning supplies, have a vacuum or pay for the ‘cleaning service’ some venues offer. You can have the nicest booth ever but if someone spills a drink and your whole table is sticky no one is going to want to use it. Don’t rely on the venue to help you out. (see more below)
  • Pelican Cases: Look at getting a Pelican Case with or without foam. They come in all shapes of sizes, are quite sturdy, and some are designed to fit specific airline travel requirements as well. For a large booth I designed for a nonprofit org I ended up getting the two linked above. In one we took the foam and sat and cut out indents to each booth supply we were putting in there. This gave us padding, more secure placement, and easy to organize storage for our laptops, power cords, easels, and even business card holders.
     
    In the other one that didn’t have foam I placed the collapsible vacuum I purchased inside the small trash can and surrounded it with other booth items like the box of remaining badge ribbons, additional easels and extension cords, etc. ensuring we had all of our main booth items in one place ready for transport.Bonus: Many Pelican briefs/cases come with extendable handle and wheels like a rollerboard making things a lot easier to move and saving your arms from the uncomfortable-ness that comes with lugging boxes around.
  • The Power Of Wheels: Never underestimate the convenience and ease of being able to ‘roll’ in some of your booth items. This is especially true when it’s on day 6 of your trip and you’re tearing down the booth and having to get all your stuff to the local FedEx or UPS store to ship it back home. When you’ve ordered 10 boxes of t-shirts and have to lug them to and from your booth bringing with something as simple as a Magna Cart (a foldable hand truck) can be a lifesaver. Toss some bungie cords or straps in your pelican case and you’ve got a match made in heaven. [This is especially helpful if you have to haul items back and forth to your room for security reasons!]
Some Final Touches

Whether it’s your newly branded giveaways or the little things that help you function once you’ve covered all of the above don’t forget to add the bits of polish that’ll really help you cross the finish line.

  • Fishbowl: Why have your visitors drop a business card or sweepstakes form into one of the boxes your stuff got shipped in when they can put it into the more traditional fishbowl setup?
  • Pop-Up Brochure Stands: If you want to put out lots of flyers or brochures but don’t want to waste a lot of table space look at getting a pop-up brochure stand. It allows you to constantly have a nice amount of printed items for people to grab without spreading them all over. Some of the collapsible literature racks even have  added bonus of creating a ‘table top’ to put more items on or to use for demos/sales pitches.
  • Business Card Holders: A common tactic is just to have stacks of business cards or small post cards just placed around your table. Although this can serve the purpose just fine it’s not always an optimal solution if you have lots of different cards you want to hand people and one wrong jostling of the table can send them flying all over. Instead consider getting business card holders (or stealing the ones from your office!) to help keep those items in check – here’s a quick primer PDF that shows a few examples of business card holders and why you’d want to choose one format over the other. [PDF]
  • Giveaway Holders: Just like with the fishbowl if you have a bunch of stressballs, keychains, or flash drives look at getting a basket or other container to neatly hold them so they don’t get all over the place. If you’re giving out valuable items to select visitors/customers don’t put the gadget giveaways on the top of the counter or place signage next to it telling folks how to qualify to get it. Lastly, if your giveaways come in sizes, like t-shirts, try and find a way to organize them (and get ladies versions of t-shirts!) so you can quickly and easily find the size to hand out instead of trying to check them all until you find the right one.

The above items listed in each section are not exhaustive lists showing everything possible to look at, but hopefully it gives you some ideas of things to consider when designing and setting up your booth.

 

Indie Game Devs: Also check out http://indieboothcraft.com/ for more info to help you plan your booth!