Trade Show Problem Solving On-the-Fly

By Ashlee Ricks, MBA, Marketing Events Coordinator, Pitsco Education

Every trade show has its “issue(s)”. I do not say this lightly. No matter how much organization, preparation, and planning you implement as a trade show manager or coordinator, some unforeseen problem is bound to arise at every venue.

Event planning not only has many internal “controllable” factors, but also various external “uncontrollable” factors. The latter can prove to be very challenging after arriving to the trade show destination, which is most likely unfamiliar to exhibit staff and/or the trade show manager. Being as prepared as possible for an issue and learning to problem-solve on the fly can help alleviate some of the stress in dealing with uncontrollable issues.

So I bet you are thinking, “How can I prepare for an unpredictable issue that is out of my control?” There is no right answer to this question, but my experience with planning approximately 50 shows annually, including many workshop presentations, has led me to the following realizations.

  1. Always have a “Plan B” and possibly a “Plan C” for workshops.

Workshop presentations conducted under your employer’s sponsorship are very important for potential customers, are a reflection of your company and its offerings, and are an expensive part the overall convention budget. All presenters are different with their preparations, knowledge, and personalities, so it is important to try to prepare for any challenges that might arise.

Here are some pre-planning pointers:

  • Always have a copy of the presenter’s presentation on an external drive just in case there is a technology issue.
  • Ensure a projector, screen, and speakers are being supplied for the presentation. Even if the convention is supplying for use, it doesn’t hurt to pack a projector and speaker. I have been in this conundrum one too many times.
  • Always pack a backup activity for presentation attendees in case something doesn’t make it to the show. This is especially important for hands-on workshops.
  • Communication is key with your presenter when preparing to ship supplies. Both the planner and presenter should double-check the pick list of items.
  • Familiarize yourself with the presenter’s content—you never know if you may need to assist during a presentation.
  • Pack a dolly, cart, or something with wheels to haul materials. Unless you are The Hulk, this is always necessary in large convention centers.
  • Always pack door prizes and giveaways and possibly offer to share the presentation electronically with attendees. Even if the presentation isn’t the quality the attendees were expecting, some negativity can be overcome with takeaways


  1. Items to keep an exhibit booth in good working order:
  • Toolbox including: super glue, a small first aid kit, tape, screwdrivers, box knife, extension cords, power strips, scissors, pens, pliers, Clorox wipe, batteries and any other necessary items to ensure a smooth booth installation
  • Plenty of signage with company branding/messaging
  • Extra table drapes
  • Supplies to repair items that damage easily in shipping
  • Return labels for your shipment
  • Reference guide for booth installation, layout, and best booth practices for exhibit staff
  • Lead retrieval paper pads or tablet with a lead form/survey
  • Extra chargers for electronic devices
  • Literature stands
  • Logo ink pens
  • Mints—because no one likes stinky breath
  • Tissues and hand sanitizer
  • Notepad or tablet for daily note-taking
  1. Ensure your exhibit staff is up to par with show happenings, expectations, and company policies by implementing the following.
  • Create and update a reference guide annually with exhibit staff training information including new company offerings and policies.
  • Produce a schedule for each exhibit day to keep in the booth with information about workshops; exhibit times; and other relevant events, activities, or meetings your company is participating in.
  • Make travel sheets with information for travel itineraries, exhibit booth numbers, workshops, exhibit times, etc. and send electronically two days before travel takes place.
  • Schedule a brief show preparation meeting with exhibit staff before each show—15 minutes.
  • Trade phone numbers with exhibit staff, workshop presenters, or other partners you will be working with at the show.


  1. Miscellaneous pieces of advice to avoid or resolve issues quickly:
  • Know the lay of the land.
  • FedEx/UPS onsite or close by
  • Kinko’s or other printing facility nearby
  • Nearby hardware, electronic, or superstores
  • Travel logistics from hotel to convention center
  • Make reservations ahead of time for business dinners, activities, etc.
  • Be prepared for booth staff to travel at any time.
  • Know where to obtain taxi cabs.
  • Download Uber/Lyft apps and create accounts.
  • Have convention shuttle schedules available.
  • Obtain subway/train maps.
  • Keep credit card information on file with show decorator.


Learning how to be a good problem-solver takes time, practice, and patience, but it does get easier. Always listen to the person who brings up the issue and think of two or three possible solutions before taking action when things go awry.

Sometimes the first problem-solving idea that comes to mind isn’t necessarily the best or most economical. Run ideas by your colleagues at the show for affirmation, if you need to. Things happen—how you react will set the precedence for exhibit staff, business partners, and potential customers. No matter what, always remember to smile! J



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