Weekly Insights: Rethinking the Trade Show Floor

TS-not-floorplanThe essential format of a trade show floor hasn’t changed for decades: long, straight aisles filled with box-like booths. But today’s audiences aren’t like those of our parents’ or grandparents’ generations, so why should our trade shows continue to look like those from long ago?

A few shows have attempted to rethink that basic floor plan. Some have experimented with a hub-and-spoke model, like the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) did a few years ago. Meeting Professionals International (MPI) tried a pods model with downsized, pie-shaped booths. But overall, things haven’t changed all that much. In fact, my podcast earlier this year about how trade shows could learn a thing or two from IKEA stores sparked a bit of controversy.

Sometimes shaking things up can be as simple as rearranging the expected order of exhibits on the floor. The Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) decided to incentivize large exhibitors to move to the far corners, freeing up space front and center for smaller exhibitors who are often lost in the back of the hall. (Watch this short video to learn more.)

But perhaps it’s not about the actual design of the show floor as much as it is the content. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) decided to create a simulated emergency room of the future on the show floor and have received positive feedback from exhibitors and attendees alike. To learn more about this concept, check out the article I wrote on disruptive learning for TSNN.com.

How are you rethinking the traditional trade show floor, or what other examples have you seen? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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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.


  1. By Jordan

    • By Marlys Arnold

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