Organize and Run a Booth

Whether at a Eat Well at a Convention, Enjoy a Festival, or fair, running a booth is a great way to promote your product, organization, or cause. Planning and preparation are key to coming across professionally and attracting the attention you deserve.


Before the Event

  1. Seek out the appropriate event for your booth. If you can attend a similar event as a member of the public, do so. Notice what other presenters are doing. Bring a notepad and paper, taking notes on what you appreciated in certain booths and what you thought other booths could have done better. As you do, keep your audience in mind. Activities, displays and giveaways for seniors are far different than those for boomers, x-ers and other groups.
  2. Sign up early. Find out well in advance what is required to run a booth at the event you wish to attend. Apply and pay any fees ahead of time, too.
    • Now is the time to contact event organizers with any special requests. If you need lighting or electricity in your booth, for instance, be sure to request it well in advance. If you need a sound system, refrigeration, vehicle access, or anything else besides your designated space, ask for it right now!
    • If you have a choice of booth locations, choose the one that will have the most traffic. Failing that, try to be near other booths or concessions that will attract the sort of traffic that you want.
  3. Keep track of all costs associated with the event, including booth rental, travel, hotel, giveaways, food, fees, etc. When the event is over you will want to compare its cost and results with other events to decide if you want to return.
  4. Make reservations. If you must travel to get to this event, reserve lodging, book flights, and secure a rental car. Large-scale events may completely fill the facilities near the venue, so secure these accommodations as soon as you're certain you will attend.
  5. Gather or produce your supplies. Your supplies will depend on the exact nature of the event and what you are promoting, but consider the following:
    • Displays and signs. At the very least, have at least one large Make a Small Banner stating clearly who or what you are promoting. Additional displays can help to inform your audience, too. Don't expect anybody to read large amounts of text while wandering by a booth. Instead, use large, eye-catching Choose the Correct Graphics File Format and save the details for your flyers. A consistent look and feel between your different displays will help give your booth a unified, complete feel.
    • Freebies. A classic way to attract people to your booth is to give something away. Samples of something related to your message are ideal. Usable items (pens, t-shirts, bags) with your name and insignia printed on them can act as long-term reminders and even walking advertisements. Even a few dollars' worth of candy or a plate of munchies can get people to approach.
    • Literature. If you want people to contact you and remember you after the event, plan to hand out Make Business Cards with Vista Print, flyers, or brochures relating to your message. Bring more than you think you will need.
    • Demonstrations. If you can demonstrate something related to your organization (such as a product or service) or display the results of a successful project or activity, bring it for show and tell. Better yet, allow your visitors to participate in some way, perhaps by trying out what you are promoting.
    • Activities. Bring these to draw people to your booth. Holding a drawing for a larger prize can net you a bowl full of contact information. Even if the activity is a beanbag toss or a portable putting green, it can bring people in for long enough to talk to them and let them know why you're there.
    • A canopy. If your event is outdoors, a portable canopy, tent, or gazebo is indispensable for keeping the sun (or rain) off. It will also help you look more official and professional. If it can match your organization's colors or just be brightly colored, it will help make your presence that much more noticeable. Be sure that you learn in advance how much space the event will permit you to occupy.
    • A table and chairs. Again, the event organizers may provide these, or not. If you're not sure, ask.
    • Weather proofing. If the booth is outdoors, you may need weights to hold down papers, clips or clothespins to keep tablecloths and signs from blowing away, and so on. Of course, also dress for the weather you expect.
    • Tie downs and tools. If you know you will be assembling your own booth, table, or displays, make sure to bring the tools you'll need. Screwdrivers, pliers, and an adjustable wrench could come in handy. Scissors, Tear Packing Tape Quickly With Your Hands, safety pins, and rope are good ideas, too. If you're not sure what you need to assemble your booth, do a dry run in advance at home or at the home office. Note: With current aviation restrictions, make sure that you pack assembly tools in your checked luggage, not your carry-on, to avoid hassles. Nothing worse than having any tools that will be useful at the show for assembly confiscated due to safety restrictions.
    • A cart or dolly. Especially if it is a large event, don't assume that you'll be able to park anywhere close to your booth. A handcart or dolly will help to bridge the gap.
    • Lights. If you think you will need lights, be sure you will have a source of electricity to power them.
    • Water. You'll be talking a lot, and it may be costly or inconvenient to visit the event concessions.
    • A vehicle large enough to carry everything you will need. If you need to rent a van or truck, make arrangements in advance.
  6. Get help. If your booth is doing its job, you'll have lots of people to talk to over the course of the event. Don't try to make it a one-person show. Even one other person can help to keep you composed and your voice intact. If your booth is fairly popular, you'll want help just to make sure that everybody who is interested has somebody to talk to without waiting in line. If at all possible, arrange the schedule so that people work in shorter shifts. It's tiring to stand for long periods of time and say the same things over and over.
  7. Prep your help. Let them know what they're offering the public, whom they're approaching and how, where the various facilities nearby are, and when to arrive. They'll be speaking for your organization as experts, and they'll come across more professionally if they're informed, even if they are volunteers.
  8. Dress for success! Try to staff your booth with attractive people who are attired appropriately, yet draw attention. This will set your booth and organization apart from the maze of other booths and make you part of the show.
    • If your organization has a uniform or even a t-shirt, wear it, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Customized t-shirts are relatively inexpensive to produce even in low volumes.
    • Dress alike. Even if you simply agree to wear jeans and a t-shirt in your organization's color, you'll look more like you are meant to be there.
    • Dress professionally. A business suit will show that you're serious and give your message that much more clout.
    • Wear costumes or dress thematically. If it's a festive atmosphere, or your group is theatrical, wearing clown costumes, ball gowns, or big, silly hats could attract a lot of attention.
    • Use professional spokes models if appropriate. Attractive people who know how to "work" a crowd can be a powerful force to draw attention to your booth and your organization. Make sure you use professional people who understand how to behave correctly.

During the Event

  1. Show up early. Give yourself plenty of time to set up the booth and scope out the facilities before the crowds descend. Being fully set up as soon as the doors open means that you will not waste event time fumbling with displays or boxes instead of communicating your message.
  2. Look at your booth from outside. Once you've set up, walk outside and see your booth from the point of view of your visitors. Are your signs clearly visible from the different directions where people will approach? Is your booth inviting? Do you have any distracting loose ends showing?
  3. Consider your traffic patterns. Do you want to be behind a table with your audience in front, or do you want the table at the back of your booth so that you can approach people and invite them in?
  4. Be friendly. Talk to your customers. When they walk up to your booth, give them a few seconds, then say, "Hello." They will most likely say hello also. Then smile, and tell them about your booth. Sometimes if you start to talk about something else, like how nice the day is, or how cute the child they have along with them will distract them from your crafts. When you are ringing everything up, you can talk about these things. Remember to smile and say "Thank you, come again!" Also hand them a business card if you have one and inform them of where you'll be next.
  5. Convey your message. However you draw people in, make sure that they leave your booth with some basic understanding of why you are there.
  6. Quiz people about their interests. It involves them in the conversation and it tells you which direction to go with your pitch, be it informational, commercial, or somewhere in between.
  7. Distribute your flyer, brochure, or other handout. These items will remind people of your organization, your contact information, and your message after the excitement and activity of an event has ended.
  8. Exchange contact information. Tell interested visitors how they can follow up and how you will follow up. Then, be sure that somebody in your organization does follow up promptly. Keep track of the source of leads so that you can compare the relative effectiveness of one event with another.
  9. Clean up your own area. Put yourself in the shoes of the staff for a large-scale event or venue. Then, dismantle your own booth at the end of the event and make sure any leftover litter or debris makes it into the trash. It's good manners and it will help to keep the event organizers and venue staff on your side for next time.
  10. Write down your experiences. If you will ever have a booth again, make some notes about your experiences this time. Write down what you brought, what you should bring next time, what you could have done without. Write down what was effective and what was not, and anything else you learned from this event. Next time, you can use your notes to help run things more smoothly. If somebody else runs the next booth, you can easily advise them on what you have learned.


  • Refine your presentation. Since you'll probably be repeating yourself to many different people, take the opportunity to adjust and adapt what you are saying.
  • Bring opaque draping cloths to cover the surfaces with any time you leave the booth unattended, especially when you leave for the day. This way, if you arrive late your product is far less likely to be casually stolen, and people wanting to talk to you have a clear message that you are temporarily away and won't get irritated trying to locate you nearby.
  • Wear as comfortable a pair of shoes as you can get away with. Most convention facilities have concrete floors; the upper end ones will cover this floor with a thin layer of industrial carpet. No padding. No give. After a day or three standing and walking, the wrong choice of shoes may make for sore feet at the end of the event.
  • Have rational expectations; don't expect that because you're at a Show you'll be the most popular/important presenter in the entire hall. Experienced 'show' presenters know that a 3-5% return on the investment is a good result. Meaning: earning roughly 5% of your show expenses (i.e. space/booth rental, giveaways, overhead, travel) is a good return. If you are selling a service, that seemingly paltry 5% should bring return sales down the line.
  • If you distribute contact information for your organization, do so with a plan in mind to answer inquiries when they come in over the subsequent weeks. Follow up promptly so that the people who care enough to inquire can form an ongoing relationship with your organization.
  • Where reasonable, bring backup equipment, e.g., monitors, projectors, computers, network or A/V gear. Equipment may be available for rent in town near these facilities, but usually at an outrageous premium, such as 50% of retail price for the three day event.
  • Keep stuff that's not part of the booth's appearance (the jacket you took off, a cardboard box full of extra flyers, etc.) out of sight behind your table.
  • Act like you're part of the show. Conduct yourself professionally, wear your best meet-and-greet smile, and be part of the event during its duration.
  • Try different approaches to see what works best and generates the most interest. Also adjust your discussion to your audience. As you learn that somebody is a curious newcomer or already familiar with your organization, adjust your presentation accordingly.
  • Get a booth that is "snap together" some events are in towns that are "Union" towns where you cannot even use a screwdriver yourself at an event and a union rep will charge you a premium to hold that screwdriver. In cases when you must pay "Union" fees, use a credit card.
  • Always make a skirt of fabric around your tables, with tape, pins or clips, to give yourself all that out-of-view storage space underneath.
  • Have fun. If you're enjoying talking to people, it will come out in your presentation and make you more approachable.
  • Cooperate with event organizers, venue and security staff, and neighboring booths. It's good form, good manners, and can help you create beneficial relationships!
  • Consider bringing nutrition shakes in bottles -- food will be as expensively marked up as water, and will run to the deep-fried end of the spectrum. A small ice chest is ideal for your refreshments and can be hidden under the table. Bring mints, and a mirror to check your teeth! You are talking to people!
  • Mark your equipment, visibly and indelibly. Don't leave your booth or equipment unattended. Tales of expensive gear "walking" at these shows, especially during the chaos of setup and breakdown, are so common, they are cliché. Insure your high value items and, for the particularly pilfer-able gear, e.g., notebook computers, consider taking them with you to your room at the end of the day of multi-day shows.
  • It's a good idea to have a friend or partner with you at an event! Just in case you need to run to the store, go to the bathroom, etc.
  • Read the event and venue rules. Large scale events run most smoothly when everybody does his or her own share.
  • Match your activities and freebies to your target audience. Are you trying to attract kids, professionals, or the general public? Is your flyer or giveaway suited to this purpose?
  • Bring boxes of presentation materials with you, personally. Carry it on, if you can; check it if you must. Deploy copies of presentation CDs or DVDs to several members of your team, in case one copy is misplaced or a team member is delayed. You may be able to get emergency shipments of materials sent to you overnight from your office, but you lose that day of the show and delivery can be iffy during conventions. If you must take delivery, always take delivery to your hotel room, never to the convention facility, where it must go through the convention facility's mail room. These are the same folks who won't let you wield your own screwdriver, see above. You will probably not see your package before the close of the show, if ever, if you send it to the convention facility.
  • Check your immediate obsession with collecting swag. For some reason, in the energy of the show, the tenth mouse pad, executive squeeze toy, or other corporate logo-ed piece of junk may seem attractive, like all of the cheap plastic necklaces and tin coins from the crew of Venus -- until you get home and wind up throwing it all out. Save yourself the hauling it around for the week; just say no.
  • Make sure to display the forms of payments you accept in a prominent location. If you accept cash, make sure to have a suitable lock box within easy reach and come prepared with plenty of change in each denomination. Also, make sure to deposit any large bills immediately after you end your day to ensure minimal loss if your cash box is stolen.


  • Don't assume your belongings will be secure in your booth. Take anything valuable with you when you leave. If possible, avoid leaving the booth unattended while the public is present. Always drape the tables with non-see-through cloth before leaving.
  • Don't get your feelings hurt by people who aren't interested, or are just mean. Accept every feeble excuse for not stopping at face value and turn your attention to the next person.
  • The inevitable people who want to talk at you, tell you inappropriate stories or harass you can almost always be dismissed by listening politely for a short time, giving them a firm end-of-conversation phrase such as "Well, how about that! Have a lovely rest of your day!", and focusing all your attention on another person, or in rearranging your items. Interrupt them if you must. Your lack of attention on them will nearly always make them go away. Truly evil people need a polite smile, a firm "Sir, I thank you for your insights, and I really must let you go now". The final step is "I understand that these events retain security officers", said loudly enough to attract attention. Nearby booth owners will almost always rush to your aid if things get that out of hand. If a booth near you is in this situation, dispatch one person to summon security.
  • Bells and whistles may draw people in, but make sure that they do not drown out what you wish to communicate with your booth.
  • Not every passer-by will take an interest in your organization. Rather than waste your time trying to drag people who aren't interested into your booth, simply let them pass by and approach the next potential visitor.

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