Joe finds a booth location while wearing a blindfold.

How to Select the Best Booth Location at Your Next Trade Show

Convention Badges

Last week I received a call from a client. They were planning to exhibit at a trade show they’d never attended before, and wanted my advice on which booth location to select for the show. As an experienced trade show magician, I’ve performed at over 100 trade shows for major companies such as Dell, SoFi, Wells Fargo, and more.

We jumped on a Zoom call, looked at the exhibit hall map, and I shared with them all my strategies for picking the best exhibit space possible. Here’s my step-by-step guide to choosing the best possible trade show booth location.

Three things you should keep in mind before we begin:

Realize the best spots are likely already taken

If this is your first time exhibiting at this particular show, you should be aware the best trade show exhibit locations are in the highest demand. And at most conferences, the companies with the most seniority get first dibs on the best locations for the next year. Many of the top spots may have been confirmed during the last year’s show.

With the previous year’s best sponsors taking the best spots, new exhibitors are often picking from the leftovers. Therefore, it’s always recommended to commit to exhibiting at the show as far in advance as possible! And the more years you exhibit at the show, the better your choices will be in the future.

Know Your Minimum Size Requirements

Before you even start to look at available spots, you need to know the minimum size that you require.

Do you need to display large equipment or hardware? My client Lantech displays large factory equipment. Another client requires a large theater for panel discussions. Obviously, these use-cases require a large exhibit.

But if your product is intangible (services, software, etc.), then you don’t need a big booth! Assuming you don’t require a large space, put that money towards staffing, booth design, show marketing and giveaways. Size isn’t the only way to make your brand look amazing. However…

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

You want a GREAT booth… not necessarily a big booth. Most trade show experts would rather have a small 10×10 booth in a high-traffic area than a 10×20 in a ghost town. Location is almost always more important than size. Remember… a booth that is too large can look empty. And you NEVER want your booth to look empty!

Joe educates and informs in a large island exhibit
Joe gets a big crowd at a 10x20 booth.

Finding the Best Trade Show Exhibit Location

With those points in mind, here’s how to find the best trade show booth location. In general, you want to pick a high traffic area that will get your company in front of as many attendees as possible.

The more people walk by your booth, the more potential leads you can get! But how can you tell what areas are high traffic?

I have a few tricks to do this, but stick around until the end, where I reveal my super-easy map hack that will let you find the best location on ANY exhibit hall map.

Choose a Corner Booth or Peninsula

Corners have two aisles, which means more visibility and more booth visitors. These are often at a premium, but I believe the premium is worth it. Go for it if you can. Island booths can take advantage of 4 aisles of traffic… but only choose this if you know that you need the space.

Joe connects with attendees.
Joe gets attention at the convention

Stay in the Main Hall

Some larger show take up multiple exhibit halls, and some smaller shows take up multiple hotel ballrooms. If you have the choice, always choose the MAIN hall. This is usually the exhibit hall that hosts the main show organizer.

Be Next to a Main Show Sponsor

If you’re exhibiting at the National Association of Realtors show NAR NXT, then it would be GREAT to be near the official Realtor exhibit. If you’re exhibiting at Dell Technologies World, then it would be GREAT to be near the Dell exhibit. Main sponsors get lots of traffic, and you can piggyback on that.

Avoid a Dominating Competitor

Show sponsors are great. But I’d recommend against setting up next to a competitor that is significantly bigger than you. If you’re a local lender… don’t set up near the HUGE Wells Fargo exhibit… they’ll make you look teeny tiny. Instead, why not set up next to Zillow? And if you’re a competitor to Zillow, (looking at you… Redfin!) then choosing a space next to Wells Fargo would be perfect!

For In-Line Booths, Choose a Space on a Major Aisle

Are you exhibiting in an in-line 10×10 or 10×20 booth? Remember that many trade shows have aisles of varying widths. If possible, I’d avoid booths that are on very narrow aisles. People don’t like to walk down small alleyways, and it’s the same with aisles. By being next to a wider aisle, you’ll reduce your chances of a lonely experience.

Floorplan showing various aisle witdths.

Near a Wall? Face the Center of the Hall

Booth Location Example

Which is a better booth… 219 or 221?

219 is the better booth by far!!! Exhibits that face an empty exterior wall have significantly reduced traffic, compared to booths just one row in. If you’re near the edges of the exhibit hall, I strongly recommend facing the center of the room.

Why You May Want To Avoid Restrooms

Conventional wisdom states that booths near the restrooms will get lots of traffic. This is true… but it’s not always good traffic! Let’s face it: People heading to the restrooms aren’t in the mood to stop and chat about your new product or service… they’re on a mission!

Don’t get me wrong… these locations are GREAT for name recognition (assuming you have eye-catching signage). But they’re not always great for good conversation.

Choose a Space Dedicated to Your Industry

Choose a section that represents your business.

Larger trade shows like the NAB, PackExpo and Equip Exposition (I’ve worked all of these) will have sections of exhibit halls dedicated to specific sub-categories. The attendees who are walking in these areas are specifically interested in your general business focus, and therefore are much more likely to be potential customers.

Choose a booth space in your category section, and follow the above suggestions, if you’re able.

My Map Hack: How to Find the Busiest Section in ANY Trade Show Floor Plan

This example uses the floor plan of a very small exhibit hall, but you can easily adapt it to ANY floor plan. First, save this image. Then read on!

©2022 Skilton Productions, Inc.

Here’s how you make this with ANY prospective floor plan.

  1. Mark the entrances on your new floor plan.
  2. Draw two straight lines from each entrance to a corner of the room opposite.
  3. Do this for each entrance.
  4. This will create a triangle for each entrance.
  5. Shade the triangles.
  6. Now look at the image…

All things being equal: the darker the area… the more traffic you can expect.

Areas with NO shading are to be avoided, if possible. Areas with light shading are good. And areas with the darkest shading are best. Keep in mind that you always want to avoid aisles directly facing an empty wall.

This method can easily accommodate oddly-shaped rooms, but you’ll need to take other factors into consideration, such as load-bearing columns, meal areas, aisle layout, etc.

How to Make the Most of a Bad Location

What if you don’t get your first, second, or third choices on the exhibit floor? Don’t fret… there are lots of ways to maximize your presence, even if you’re in a less-than-ideal location.

Pre-Show Mailings

A targeted mailing can give prospective customers a great reason to visit your booth! Combine this with a special giveaway for VIP prospects for maximum effectiveness. See more about my favorite magic giveaways here.

A Lead Generation Activity

Raffle prizes and fun activities are a great way to stop traffic, and increase badge scans. And while an espresso station or popcorn machine can grab eyeballs… only one activity can draw a crowd AND educate prospects about your product or service…. ME!

Hire a Trade Show Infotainer

As a trade show magician, I entertain the attendees while educating them about the features, advantages, and benefits of my client’s products and services. At the end of my performance, I direct the attendees to have their badges scanned. My magic can generate buzz and excitement, increase visiblity, and generate more leads for my clients. Watch my videos here.

Thanks for reading. I hope this article helps you get the best bang for your live marketing buck. See you on the trade show floor!

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