Trade Show Guide

A Guide to the Rules and Regulations of Trade Show Exhibiting

While there is no fail-safe substitute for reading and adhering to the show's exhibitor services manual, here are the most common exhibit-related regulations.


Line of Sight:

Exhibitors may not place anything taller than 4 feet in the front half of their exhibits, so they don't block the view from the aisle into adjacent booths. If you can get your neighbors to agree to overlook this rule, show management will usually grant you a variance. This rule is often not enforced at gift, apparel and craft shows.


Fire Regulations:

Your booth must be fire retardant according to the rules stated in your exhibitor services manual (rules vary depending on the specific venue and local fire regulations). To test your compliance, fire marshals can hold a flame to your exhibit properties for three seconds to see whether they are combustible. Any type of fire apparatus, such as hoses or extinguishers, may not be blocked or hidden from view. Any fire apparatus will be noted on floor plans as FHC (fire hose cabinet) or FA (fire apparatus). If you're building rooms in your exhibit with ceilings, depending on the size of the area covered, the fire marshal might also require smoke alarms, additional fire extinguishers, or full sprinkler systems.


Electrical Regulations:

Before bringing your own extension cords and power strips to a show, check with the facility's electricians to see if they allow their use or if you must rent theirs. Generally, the criteria for electrical cords is that they must be Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved, 14-gauge flat (not round) wire, and grounded with a third prong. Most UL-rated power strips with surge protection are allowed, but it's always safer to ask.



Vehicles on display should have less than one-eighth to one-fourth of a tank of gas. Additionally, the gas-tank filler cap must be sealed with tape to prevent vapors from escaping, both battery cables needs to be disconnected, and the vehicle must be driven on the floor by one of the general service contractor's material handling crew, who will keep the keys for the duration of the show. The fire marshal may also require that an extra fire extinguisher be placed near the car.


Confines of Booth:

Any and all activities you plan on conducting, such as distributing literature or demonstrating your product, must take place within the perimeter of the space you've rented, which your booth space contract and exhibitor services manual refer to as "confines of booth". This prevents exhibitors from distributing literature at the entrance to the convention center, in the convention center lobby or restaurants, or in the exhibit-hall aisles.


Sound Levels:

Sound coming from your booth space should only be audible as far as the center of the aisles surrounding your exhibit - 85 decibels or less. If you exceed this limit, show management will likely ask you to turn down the volume. If after being asked to resolve the problem, you continue to violate this rule, show management may choose to cut power to your exhibit.


Copyrighted Music:

Any music played in your booth, whether live or recorded, may be subject to copyright laws. There are three authorizing licensing organizations that collect copyright fees on behalf of the composers and publishers of the music: Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI); the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP); and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). After you have chosen a song, contact one of these organizations to find out which one owns the rights that specific song. You will then have to pay that organization to use the song, based on the frequency you will play it and other factors.


Exhibit Lighting:

Exhibit lighting should be directed within the boundaries of your booth space, not on the surrounding aisles, walls, or exhibits. Show management may require drawings of proposed lighting plans. Many shows prohibit flashing lights, spinning or pulsating lights, and lighting that could be potentially harmful, like lasers and ultraviolet lighting. Quartz halogen lighting fixtures can be a fire hazard and are banned in some convention centers. The show facility may even have a different set of lighting rules than the show manager, so be aware of all restrictions before you arrive on show site.

Structural Integrity:

Exhibits should be designed to withstand some contact, including wind coming through open freight doors and minor bumps from attendees and fork trucks. Exhibits with second stories and upper decks usually have to submit floor plans for approval by both a structural engineer licensed in the state where the exhibit will be erected and the facility's structural engineer to confirm their safety and assure conformance to the local building code. Such exhibits may also need to be rigged to the ceiling - at the exhibitor's expense - for structural stability. Some shows require drawings for any exhibits larger than 20-by-20 feet, so make sure you know if and when you need to submit your plans in order to avoid on-site hassles.


Food and Water:

If you are a food or beverage distributor, you will generally be allowed to provide small amounts (1 ounce of solid foods, 2 ounces of fluids) of your product. If you are not in the food business, check with the exclusive caterer for the convention center before distributing food items in your booth. The caterer will generally charge you a fee based on the amount of revenue it would have gained from selling the food or beverage you are distributing.


Insurance Regulations:

An increasing number of shows are requesting a Certificate of Insurance, not just from Exhibitor Appointed Contractors (EACs) but from the exhibiting company as well. They may request the policy to list as additional insured, the names of the show organizer, the facility, show management, and the official general service contractor. Standard policies are for $1 million comprehensive general liability and $250,000 in workers compensation coverage.


Suitcasing and Outboarding:

This rule prevents companies from soliciting trade show attendees without purchasing exhibit space. "Suitcasing" is selling within the exhibit hall without purchasing a booth space. "Outboarding" refers to non-exhibiting companies who attempt to piggyback off of the event by booking space near the convention center to hold meetings and events with show attendees.


Banned Items:

Show management may ban some items that are just downright messy or a nuisance to clean up, such as glitter, confetti, adhesive stickers, and popcorn. Don't plan on using helium balloons either, as they have a tendency to get loose and head straight for the ceiling. Mylar balloons are also generally banned, as they can actually short out overhead lighting and cause fires. If you violate this regulation and distribute balloons that end up floating to the convention center's ceiling, you may be billed for the equipment and labor to remove them after the show.

Booth Dimensions

The following booth display rules are typical for U.S. Trade Shows and Convention Halls. However, regulations vary by convention center and even within show halls. Contact show management for specific regulations.


Linear Booth.

Linear Booths, also called "in-line" booths, are generally arranged in a straight line and have neighboring exhibitors on their immediatete right and left, leaving only one side exposed to the aisle. Display materials should be arranged in such a manner so as not to obstruct sight lines of neighboring exhibitors. A maximum height of 8ft is allowed only in the rear half of the booth space, with a 4ft height restriction imposed on all materials in the remaining space forward to the aisle. When three or more Linear Booths are used in combination as a single exhibit space, the 4ft height limitation is applied only to that portion of exhibit space which is within 10ft of an adjoining booth.


Corner Booth

A Corner Booth is a Linear Booth at the end of a series of in-line booths with exposure to intersecting aisles on two sides. All other guidelines for Linear Booths apply.


Perimeter Booth

A Perimeter Booth is a Linear Booth that backs to an outside wall of the exhibit facility rather than to another exhibit. All guidelines for Linear Booths apply to Perimeter Booths except that the typical maximum back wall height is 12ft.


End-cap Booth

An End-cap Booth is exposed to aisles on three sides, backs to Linear Booths, and is 10ft deep by 20ft wide. The maximum back wall height of 8ft is allowed only in the rear half of the booth space and within 5ft of the two side aisles, with a 4ft height restriction imposed on all materials in the remaining space forward to the aisle.


Peninsula Booth

A Peninsula Booth is exposed to aisles on three sides, backs to Linear Booths, and is 20ft by 20ft or larger. The back wall is restricted to 4ft high within 5ft of each aisle, permitting adequate Line-of-Sight for the adjoining Linear Booths. A typical maximum height range allowance is 16ft to 20ft including signage for the center portion of the back wall. Double-sided signs, logos and graphics must be set back ten feet from adjacent booths.


Split Island Booth

A Split Island Booth shares a common back wall with another Split Island Booth The entire cubic content of this booth may be used, up to the maximum allowable height, without any back wall Line-of-Sight restrictions. A typical maximum height range allowance is 16ft to 20ft, including signage. Double-sided signs, logos and graphics must be set back ten feet from adjacent booths.


Island Booth

An Island Booth is any size booth exposed to aisles on all four sides. The entire cubic content of the space may be used up to the maximum allowable height, which is usually a range of 16ft to 20ft, including signage.


Extended Header Booth

An Extended Header Booth is a Linear Booth 20ft or longer with a center extended header. All guidelines for Linear Booths apply to Extended Header Booths, except that the center extended header has a maximum height of 8ft, a maximum width of 20 percent of the length of the booth, and a maximum depth of 9ft from the back wall.


Other Important Considerations


Canopies and Ceilings

Canopies, including ceilings, umbrellas and canopy frames, can be either decorative or functional (such as to shade computer monitors from ambient light or to allow for hanging products). Canopies for Linear or Perimeter Booths should comply with Line-of-Sight requirements. The bottom of the canopy should not be lower than 7ft from the floor within 5ft of any aisle. Canopy supports should be no wider than three inches 3in. This applies to any booth configuration that has a sight line restriction, such as a Linear Booth. Fire and safety regulations in many facilities strictly govern the use of canopies, ceilings, and other similar coverings. Check with the appropriate local agencies prior to determining specific exhibition rules.


Hanging Signs & Graphics

Most exhibition rules allow for hanging signs and graphics in all standard Peninsula and Island Booths, usually to a maximum height range of 16ft to 20ft from the top of the sign. End-cap Booths do not qualify for hanging signs and graphics. The distance is measured from the floor to the top of the sign. Whether suspended from above, or supported from below, they should comply with all ordinary use-of-space requirements. For example, the highest point of any sign should not exceed the maximum allowable height for the booth type. Hanging Signs and Graphics should be set back 10ft from adjacent booths and be directly over contracted space only. Approval for the use of Hanging Signs and Graphics, at any height, should be received from the exhibition organizer at least 60 days prior to installation. Variances may be issued at the exhibition management's discretion. Drawings should be available for inspection.



A Tower is a free-standing exhibit component separate from the main exhibit fixture. The height restriction is the same as that which applies to the appropriate exhibit space configuration being used. Towers in excess of 8ft should have drawings available for inspection. Fire and safety regulations in many facilities strictly govern the use of towers. A building permit or safety lines may be required.


Multi-story Exhibit

A Multi-story Exhibit is a booth where the display fixture includes two or more levels. In many cities, a Multi-storied Exhibit requires prior approval by the exhibit facility, and/or relevant local government agency, as well as show management because it is deemed to be a "structure" for building purposes. The city building department generally needs to issue a building permit based on an application and drawings prepared and submitted by a licensed architect or engineer. Exhibitors should obtain local building regulations early on to ensure that all time constraints are met. Exhibition organizers should be prepared to assist exhibitors in this application process. Issues Common To All Booth Types


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

All exhibiting companies are required to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and are encouraged to be sensitive, and as reasonably accommodating as possible, to attendees with disabilities. Information regarding ADA compliance is available from the U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information Line, (800) 514-0301, and from the ADA Web site


Structural Integrity

All exhibit displays should be designed and erected in a manner that will withstand normal contact or vibration caused by neighboring exhibitors, hall laborers, or installation/dismantling equipment, such as fork lifts. Displays should also be able to withstand moderate wind effects that may occur in the exhibit hall when freight doors are open. Refer to local building codes that regulate temporary structures. It is recommended that all 20ft by 20ft (6.10m by 6.10m) and over exhibits require a drawing, plans or renderings, preferably digital, to be submitted to the show organizer. Exhibitors should ensure that any display fixtures such as tables, racks, or shelves are designed and installed properly to support the product or marketing materials to be displayed.


Flammable and Toxic Materials

All materials used in display construction or decorating should be made of fire retardant materials and be certified as flame retardant. Samples should also be available for testing. Materials that cannot be treated to meet the requirements should not be used. A flame-proofing certificate should be available for inspection. Exhibitors should be aware of local regulations regarding fire/safety and environment which must be adhered to. Exhibitors should dispose of any waste products they generate during the exhibition in accordance with guidelines established by the Environmental Protection Agency and the facility.



Every exhibit facility has different electrical requirements. However, minimum guidelines are suggested: - All 110-volt wiring should be grounded three-wire. - Wiring that touches the floor should be "SO" cord (minimum 14-gauge/three-wire) flat cord, which is insulated to qualify for "extra hard usage." - Cord wiring above floor level can be "SJ" which is rated for "hard usage." - Using zip cords, two-wire cords, latex cords, plastic cord, lamp cord, open clip sockets, and two-wire clamp-on fixtures is not recommended and is often prohibited. Cube taps should be prohibited. - Power strips (multi-plug connectors) should be UL approved, with built-in over-load protectors.



Exhibitors should adhere to the following suggested minimum guidelines when determining booth lighting: - No lighting, fixtures, lighting trusses, or overhead lighting are allowed outside the boundaries of the exhibit space. Exhibitors intending to use hanging light systems should submit drawings to exhibition management for approval. - Lighting, including gobos, should be directed to the inner confines of the booth space. Lighting should not project onto other exhibits or exhibition aisles. - Lighting which is potentially harmful, such as lasers or ultraviolet lighting, should comply with facility rules and be approved in writing by exhibition management. - Lighting that spins, rotates, pulsates, and other specialized lighting effects should be in good taste and not interfere with neighboring exhibitors or otherwise detract from the general atmosphere of the event. - Currently, some convention facilities are not allowing quartz halogen lighting fixtures in exhibits due to potential fire hazards. Check with exhibition management. - Reduced lighting for theater areas should be approved by the exhibition organizer, the utility provider, and the exhibit facility.



Fire regulations in most exhibit facilities prohibit storing product, literature, empty packing containers, or packing materials behind back drapes or under draped tables. In most cases, however, exhibitors may store a limited supply of literature or product appropriately within the booth area, so long as these items do not impede access to utility services, create a safety problem, or look unsightly.



As a matter of safety and courtesy to others, exhibitors should conduct sales presentations and product demonstrations in a manner which assures all exhibitor personnel and attendees are within the contracted exhibit space and not encroaching on the aisle or neighboring exhibits. It is the responsibility of each exhibitor to arrange displays, product presentation, audio visual presentations, and demonstration areas to ensure compliance. Exhibitors should be aware of local regulations regarding fire/safety and environment which must be adhered to. Special caution should be taken when demonstrating machinery or equipment that has moving parts, cooking equipment with an open flame, or any product that is otherwise potentially dangerous. Exhibitors should establish a minimum setback of 3ft and/or install hazard barriers as necessary to prevent accidental injury to spectators. Additionally, demonstrations should only be conducted by qualified personnel.



In general, exhibitors may use sound equipment in their booths so long as the noise level does not disrupt the activities of neighboring exhibitors. Speakers and other sound devices should be positioned so as to direct sound into the booth rather than into the aisle. Rule of thumb: Sound and noise should not exceed 85 decibels when measured from the aisle immediately in front of a booth. (Refer to OSHA at for more information.) Exhibitors should be aware that music played in their booths, whether live or recorded, may be subject to laws governing the use of copyrighted compositions. ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are three authorized licensing organizations that collect copyright fees on behalf of composers and publishers of music.

Tips & Tricks

When selecting a booth location, be at the center of influence. Try to locate your booth near the center of the hall/event where most visitors' paths will cross more then once.

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When selecting a booth location, use the odd aisle rule. If a hall has an odd number of aisles, try to locate your booth on the second and next to last aisles. People will pass by these aisles more than once getting to and from destinations.

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When selecting a booth location, pick narrow aisles. If there are aisles narrower than others, try to locate your booth on them since the visitors will be closer to the exhibits, and easier to engage.

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When selecting a booth location, select corner locations. Corner locations give you an opportunity for cross aisle engage, so long as you take the drape in the corner down.

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When selecting a booth location, select booth locations on the right side of the hall. Most people are right brained, and therefore will tour a show from the right.

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When designing a display, break up the back wall with shapes, contours, surface variety and dramatic lighting, rather then using a straight flat wall.

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When designing a display, create a strong clear message by using fewer larger graphics and one message statement. One clear message will stay memorable for up to 14 weeks.

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When designing a display, keep the exhibit bright, simple, and uncluttered. Display the product most recognized by the show attendees.

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When handing out brochures at your booth, use discretion. Identity and qualify leads before handing out material to attendees.

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When handing out brochures, gain an understanding of the prospects needs. You are selling solutions, not pieces of metal, plastic and paper. Before you propose a solution, you must know the prospects problem.

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Bring attention to your booth by adding a splash of color with graphics, carpet or seating area. A dark, motionless display won’t draw show attendees in.

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Properly trained staffers are key! Outgoing, well-trained booth personnel can draw people to your booth with simple, open-ended questions and a smile.

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Trade show attendees typically fall into three categories: customers, prospects and suspects. Study the pre-show attendee list and qualify them up front.

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Pre-show marketing is key to a successful event. Identify groups within the attendee list and market specific messages to them, qualified leads equal better prospects.

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Interactivity is key to drawing in show attendees. Hands-on demos and activities attract far more attention then passive, non-interactive booths.

Educational Articles

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The 5 L’s of Exhibit Success

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The 15 of the Largest Convention Center Parking Lots

Source: Devanny Novak,

Attendees and exhibitors have plenty to worry about during a tradeshow without having to stress over parking. From planning the event to setting up the booth, parking should be the most hassle-free task during the show, but this is rarely the case.

Over the course of a three-day show, knowing the parking situation can save time, money and a little bit of sanity. After all, some convention centers have different rates for surface or garage parking. But that might not matter in Chicago or New York in the winter time, as having a roof over your head may be more important than a few extra bucks in the wallet.

For these reasons, Exhibit City News has put together a comprehensive list of parking information from the 15 largest convention centers in the U.S. Some locations, such as the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando and the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, offer services such as free shuttle transportation between the parking lot and facility. Although these amenities vary by convention center, each one has a little something extra to offer its patrons.

Other features ECN has included are details on the specific types of parking (lot, garage, underground, etc.), rate information and whether the facility is connected to a public transit system, such as a bus line or metro light rail.

As a courtesy to our local trade show exhibitors, we at FB have gathered information on the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center for your reference. As always, if you have any questions on a venue not listed here, we will do our best to help!

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