Where Are the Signs?

Have you ever been lost? If so, I’m sure you remember the frustration of wandering around looking for a way to wherever it was you were trying to go.

Recently, I experienced that feeling. I was with a friend in a building where I know my way around well, but there was an event going on and they were detouring people around the main hall. “No problem,” I assured my friend. We asked an employee who pointed and said, “Just go out the east door and around the back of the building.”

Easy enough, right? But the problem came when there was no sign indicating where we were supposed to re-enter the building. We went all the way to the end of the sidewalk and ended up at a dead-end fence. Another group was not too far behind us, so together we all began backtracking until someone discovered an unlocked door. When we opened it, we discovered a sign with an arrow … attached to the inside of the non-glass door!

It’s really amazing how many times trade shows and events make this same mistake. It often involves directional signage (like the example above), where attendees start along a path, but end up being forced to make a decision at an unmarked fork somewhere along the way. (One clue: You’ll often see a crowd of people with deer-in-the-headlight looks gathering in those areas.) As event planners, it’s important to walk the same path your attendees will, noting each decision point along the way. Every one of those spots needs to have a sign of some kind. If nothing else, at least an arrow pointing straight ahead that says “XYZ Event this way.”

A different type of signage mistake is common to exhibitors. This comes in various forms: too small, too unreadable, or too busy, among other things. Any of these issues could be easily resolved if exhibitors would simply remember some simple rules for good signage:

  • Use a simple, bold font that is easily readable from at least 10-20 feet away (depending on the size of your booth).
  • Choose a color that is in high contrast to the background (no light blue on gray, for example).
  • Don’t fill your signs with lots of information. Think of those classic green highway signs — they don’t try to fit three paragraphs onto one road sign. They just convey the most important information.

By following these guidelines and looking at everything from your attendees’ viewpoint, one of the biggest challenges at many trade shows and events will now be one of the simplest to correct.


© 2011 Marlys K. Arnold  (Reprinted from the August 2011 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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About the Author:
With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. She travels the country consulting and training both exhibitors and show managers, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image (2002), host of the Trade Show Insights podcast and creator of the ExhibitorEd training kit. She can be reached at 816-746-7888 or www.imagespecialist.com.

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With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.

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