Every time you exhibit on the trade show floor, people will judge your company based purely on the layout and design of your booth. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they’ll form a split second impression of your business – good, bad or indifferent – often from as far as 20 feet away.

If you are planning to develop a new exhibit for your company, or revamp an existing one, I strongly recommend that you begin the process by taking a stroll around a trade show floor. Spend some time exploring your own perceptions of other company’s exhibits. Consider which booths you are most drawn to visit, and why you find them so inviting. Conversely, are there any booths you want to avoid? What is it that makes you want to steer clear?

In designing your own booth, begin with the walls, or backdrop. Keep in mind that graphics speak much louder than words. This is because people respond to graphics first, and words second. Choose a graphic element or image that will connect your company to your target audience. There should be very little verbiage on the exhibit itself. If you do decide to use text, limit yourself to three to five concise selling points that relate your company’s offering to your audience. These should describe your solution or highlight key customer benefits.

Once you’re satisfied with your backdrop, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to put in your booth, and how you’re going to organize the available floor space. Remember that trade shows fall within the category of “teaser” marketing. Ideally, the meeting on the trade show floor will entice a qualified prospect to attend a second more educational presentation at your company’s offices. For this reason, only show the best and brightest of your offering on the trade show floor. Avoid the temptation to bring every product your company has ever made, or to display large pieces of equipment, both of which can overwhelm your visitors. If you really must bring it all with you, make sure you have booked a large enough booth.

In developing your booth layout, strive to create an open, uncluttered and inviting space. A table across the front of your exhibit gives a clear “STAY OUT” message. If one is supplied with your booth space, it should be placed to the side of the exhibit or removed altogether. Keep in mind that, just as many visitors will avoid a booth with an overabundance of product on display, others fear being trapped in a booth without an exit. Clearly-defined entry and exit points are a must.

The best booth layout is one that maximizes your exposure by appealing to attendees from several different angles. When you set up your exhibit on the show floor, be sure to step away and check that your key marketing message is visible from all directions. After all, you only get one chance to make a great first impression.