Things I Wish Somebody Would Have Told Me About Exhibiting

September 25, 2017

Candy Adams

Candy Adams, aka “The Booth Mom®,” is a hands-on trade show exhibit project manager and trainer. She helps exhibitors maximize the return on their exhibit investment using the best strategic, tactical and training practices. 

No. 1: Always have a “Plan B”

One of the questions I’m often asked as a trade show industry veteran is, “What do you wish you’d known back in your first year of managing trade show exhibits that you know now?” To answer this question, here is the first in a series of posts addressing the most important lessons I’ve learned, mostly as a lifelong student of the University of Hard Knocks.

If you’ve ever heard of Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”), I can tell you that I think Murphy was an optimist when it comes to trade show exhibiting. In addition to having a “Plan B” just in case something goes wrong, you may also need a “Plan C.”

Plan B

Since most of our co-workers (and some of our bosses and clients) don’t understand what we really do on the show floor, I wrote “Adams’ Law of Exhibiting.” I framed it to hang in my office after a couple of years of exhibiting – and too many run-ins with Murphy:

If ANYTHING goes wrong at a trade show

The problem will appear at the LAST moment

In a FAR-AWAY city

With an UNYIELDING union environment

On a weekend when your exhibit house is CLOSED

With a widget SPECIFIC ONLY to your booth

When you DON’T have a rent-a-car


Your credit card is MAXED to the limit!

Yes, Murphy is alive and well – and still resides at every exhibit hall where I’ve ever exhibited at a trade show. But having a Plan B (or C) in place allows me to break Murphy’s Law with impunity.

Regardless of how well we plan our exhibits, communicate with our stakeholders and vendors in writing, and implement the thousand details associated with every show, there are too many unknowns – too many players, too many glitches and too many gotchas – to have everything run 100 percent of the way we originally planned it.

The biggest unknowns are what will happen to mess up your best-laid plans and when. Will you get to the show and find your exhibit is missing in transit, irreparably damaged or lacking critical parts? What if a forklift skewered your graphics crates and the forklift driver covered the holes with “FRAGILE” labels but you didn’t find out until the night before show opening that your graphics look like Swiss cheese? Will one of your most knowledgeable exhibit staff who’s to do in-booth presentations come down with a strange malady at the last minute? Or will you need the services of a local bail bondsman to spring your I & D lead out of jail?

Don’t laugh – all of these have happened to me!

So, plan ahead. Remember that hope is not a strategy! Be a “Master of Disaster!” Try to visualize every, “OMG… now what?” moment that you can imagine.

Have everyone’s phone numbers you can think of programmed into your cell phone. Double-check the manifest of what was shipped by your exhibit house. Have access to the files of all of your exhibit graphics. Pack an extra set (or two) of full-sized, readable blueprints. Have copies of all your pre-show service orders and confirmations. Make sure you have weekend phone numbers of your transportation agent and exhibit house account executive (AE) – and that they will answer their phone on weekends and evenings if you need them. Verify that all of your freight has arrived when it’s supposed to. Reconfirm your onsite labor orders. Measure the placement of any under-carpet wiring twice to make sure it’s where it’s supposed to be and with enough above-carpet cable to reach what it needs to.

Then do a mental walk-through of the options you’d have if your exhibit didn’t show up at a show. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “The worst show is a NO SHOW,” sitting alone in your empty concrete booth space while praying to the freight gods for a revelation of where your freight might be hiding, this experience will give it new meaning.

Could you rent an exhibit from the General Services Contractor? Do you know the name and phone number of a local distributor for your system exhibit that’s sold nationwide who might be able to cobble together an exhibit for you? Do you have all of your graphics on a thumb drive, on your laptop or accessible for download from “the cloud” in case they’re damaged or there’s a last-minute change? What exhibit properties, graphics and equipment could you borrow from a local distributor?

And if you think lost freight can’t happen to you – guess again! Freight gets misdirected, loses its labels and is stuck in godforsaken places based on truck and airline mechanical failures more frequently than carriers would lead you to believe (and any carrier who says they’ve NEVER lost any freight is a liar!).

Be smart. And be ready – with a solid “Plan B” for every show (and having a “Plan C” isn’t a bad idea either!).



Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on Thu, 10/05/2017 - 08:05

Thanks for that advice and for sharing those tips Candy. That comment about those unexpected events really was an eye opener because they are usually so off a person's radar you don't contemplate them happening.

Add new comment

Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.