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Event and Trade Show Checklist: Packing, Exhibit & More

Running an exhibit or booth at a trade show, convention, or other event is serious business. You don’t have a lot of space, you don’t have a lot of time, and you have to churn through guests in a fast but effective way to leave them satisfied with a memorable experience. It’s a tall order!

To an extent, there’s no way to have a perfect experience every time, or the first time, or with any guarantee at any time. Things go wrong, things get lost, things break, details get muddled, and your setup doesn’t work. The best you can hope for is to have backups for your backups and enough on-the-fly problem-solving abilities to make things work regardless.

That said, you can help a lot by planning appropriately. So, we’ve built this checklist to help you out. Here’s our most comprehensive list of things to pack for a trade show!

How To Use This List

This list is a suggestion. We’ve opted for volume over precision, so there will be a lot of things on the list that don’t apply to you. If you’re an entirely digital experience, for example, you probably don’t need a stapler, right?

The first step is to copy the list for yourself. We recommend making a spreadsheet (Google Sheets works great) and building columns for individual trade shows and expos. If you find yourself needing the item, you can mark it; if you find that it’s dead weight, you can mark it negative. If an item consistently doesn’t seem valuable, you can cross it off your packing list. Over time, you can refine the list down to what you need, and add anything unique to you or that we’ve forgotten.

Speaking of, if there’s a useful or prominent item we’ve forgotten, feel free to let us know in the comments! Adding to the list to make it as useful as possible is the goal, after all.

Creating a List

Our biggest recommendation is to over-pack for your first few trade shows. It’s better to have an item you don’t need than to not have an item you do, after all.

Either way, the goal is to give you every possible idea to help you remember something you might otherwise overlook. Don’t just blindly bring everything on the list; start with it and refine it to fit your needs. Now, on with the list!

Tools and Supplies

First, let’s start with the list of tools, supplies, and other items that help you out with ongoing tasks and emergency repairs.

Tools and Supplies

Most of this can fit in a decently-stocked toolbox, though we’ve also seen fishing tackle boxes used for great organizational effect. In fact, that’s item #1: a good and organizable storage box.

  • Box Cutter or Utility Knife. The utility of a utility knife can never be overstated. Even just opening the boxes of supplies you’re bringing will require something.
  • Extra Blades. Nothing is worse than a dull utility knife. They’re also a safety hazard!
  • Pens, Pencils, and Markers. When you need to leave your mark, you need something to write with. Bring plenty of spares; these are the most frequently lost and stolen items in the universe.
  • Stapler and Staples. When you need to attach two things to each other, staples are a great way to do it. In particular, it’s useful for attaching a business card to a pamphlet for attendees.
  • Superglue. While the need for superglue is relatively rare, and you can get by with other fasteners, it’s still good to have in an emergency.
  • Tape of Various Kinds. From masking tape to duct tape, having three or four different kinds of tape for different purposes can be very useful.
  • First-Aid Kit. Your venue should have medical supplies, but sometimes all you do is give yourself a paper cut, and it doesn’t make sense to hunt down a first aid station for a band-aid and some Neosporin.
  • Sticky Notes and Notepads. You won’t always have space to write on a business card, and taking notes electronically might not be convenient, so a scratch pad and some sticky notes are good to have.
  • Scissors. Much like a utility knife, scissors are an excellent tool to keep around. In fact, bring at least two sets.
  • Clips, Clamps, and Hooks. If you need to attach two things together but don’t want it to be permanent, clips and clamps can go great. Look for heavy-duty clips like heavy-duty spring clamps commonly used by photographers for the most versatility.
  • Compact Toolkit. One or two different kinds of toolkits can be incredibly useful. A screwdriver set with optional socket and wrench connections, a small kit with a hammer and other common tools, and a multi-tool or Swiss army knife can cover most of your bases, and if you find yourself needing another tool later, you can add it to the kit.
  • Extension Cords and Power Strips. Bring a variety of extension cords, ranging from a 50′ or 100′ cord to a 6′ cord for in-booth power routing. Just be mindful not to daisy-chain power strips to avoid the risk of overloading a circuit.
  • Cable Organizers. Some way to keep cables tidy and out of the way is essential both for the look of your booth and to avoid tripping hazards. Some people recommend zip ties, but the better option is Velcro cable ties. They’re reusable and adjustable.
  • Clipboards. If you find yourself filling out paperwork, taking down information, or otherwise writing while on the move, a clipboard can be essential.
  • Trash Bags and Baggies. Sometimes, you need to put stuff inside of other stuff, and it’s not appropriate to use a box. Whether it’s trash or just packing up at the end, baggies are essential. Try to focus on reusable bags for anything you’re keeping and eco-friendly trash bags for anything you’re not.
  • Totes and Boxes. We recommend plastic totes you can reuse indefinitely, rather than cardboard, which can and will soak up water and chemicals, break down over time, and end up failing at the worst possible moment.
  • Foam or Bubble Wrap. A lot of what you’re packing up, especially shipping to and from an event, needs to be protected. Make sure you have enough packing material to pack and repack it later.
  • Wire, String, and Fishing Line. Another way to secure things, especially if you need to hang them, is to tie them up with string, wire them up, or lace them up with a fishing line. All of these are good to have, and you can keep a ton of it on hand in a small coil in your toolbox.

Many of these items are useful for emergencies, so you might not need them every time. A small vial of superglue, for example, isn’t going to be necessary most of the time, but the one time something breaks and you need it, it’s critical. Don’t just plan for the best case; plan for failure.

Branding and Marketing

Next up, we have the items you have as branding and marketing materials. Some of these will be the core elements of your presentation so forgetting them would be impossible, but some might be easier to overlook than you might think.

Handing Out Items at a Trade Show

Either way, make sure you have them before you go.

  • Extra Business Cards. You can never have too many business cards to hand out to the people who attend your presentations or visit your booth. Yes, print more than you think. They’re small and don’t take up too much space, so you can fit more.
  • Informational Pamphlets. Again, unless you’re paperless, chances are it’s a great idea to have a bunch of pamphlets printed up to hand out. You can even design them yourself for free using a site like Canva.
  • Swag Bags and Gift Items. We’ve written before about all the cool things you can pack in a swag bag, so rather than list them all here, check out that post as well.
  • Signage. Let people know who you are by hanging a sign. Don’t forget to keep booth design and visibility in mind, though!
  • Raffle Tickets. If you’re going to be doing any kind of raffle or giveaway, tickets to manage it can be bought in huge rolls and will last you several events, but you always need to have a spare on hand in case you start to run out.
  • Technology. Are you showing social media feeds, advertising reels, or a calendar of shows? Having a few monitors or TVs set up to tablets or laptops can be a quick and easy way to manage it, so make sure you have all of the tech on your packing list as well.
  • Newsletter Drip Campaigns. While it’s not really something you pack, per se, having a new user signup drip campaign configured for the event can add a personalized touch for anyone who signs up at that particular event.

There’s a ton more than can go on this list, but it all depends on what you’re doing, what you’re bringing, how you’re setting up your booth, and more. Customize this section as necessary.

Personal Items

This set of items are the things that keep the people in your booths happy and healthy. They can also be part of keeping your crew presentable, depending on whether your trade show is a multi-day event or just a quick few hours.

Packing Personal Items

These items can include:

  • Mints. Mints help with fresh breath issues, for a quick refresher after lunch, and as a way to keep the throat moist through presentations.
  • Potato Chips. It’s a strange inclusion, but 2-3 of the most oily potato chips you can find are a pro tip for public speakers, presenters, media commentators, and anyone who has to use their voice for hours at a time without it going hoarse.
  • Safety Pins. While these could easily go under the tools section, having some on hand for wardrobe issues can be critical, and they’re surprisingly hard to come by when you don’t bring them yourself.
  • Detergent Pen. For any time you accidentally spill a bit of breakfast on your only shirt.
  • Shirts. In fact, make sure it’s not your only shirt. It’s even easier to do when you buy your branded shirts in bulk!
  • Cosmetics. Different people have different opinions on cosmetics, but anyone who needs to be presentable all day should have both the supplies they need and the items on hand to touch up as necessary throughout the day.
  • Deodorant. “Con funk” isn’t just for comic cons, and it pays to freshen up throughout the day.
  • Good Shoes. For the love of all that is good in the world, don’t try to wear heels or uncomfortable dress shoes for an all-day presentation.
  • Painkillers. If a headache ruins your day, make sure you have a way to handle it ASAP. It might even be a good idea to keep a couple of different kinds on hand. Optionally, include other common medications, like antihistamines, as well.
  • Hand Sanitizer. Chances are, you’re going to be shaking hands all day, so keep those hands clean.
  • Cleaning Supplies. From wiping down spilled drinks to cleaning off whiteboards, some basic paper towels, Windex, Lysol, and other cleaning supplies are a great idea.
  • Sunscreen. This is essential if your trade show or booth is outdoors but a little less necessary if it’s in a convention center.
  • Water. Please stay hydrated. Your body will thank you.
  • Snacks. Keeping your energy up while you present is also critical.
  • Phone Chargers and Batteries. Charging cables when you have power and battery banks when you don’t. Make sure to have spare cables as well. You can even spice things up a bit and have a branded charger.
  • Name Tags. While you probably have some kind of name badge lanyard as part of your convention package, having name tags for your crew can be helpful as well.

Some of this is stuff your individual attendees can pack in their personal supplies, but it’s not a bad idea to have a small personal kit alongside the general-use items as well, just in case. If nothing else, it saves having to make an emergency run to the nearest CVS.

So there you have it: as comprehensive a list as we can put together, at least for the moment. Do you have anything to add? If so, let us know in the comments below!