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Your Exhibition Budget: Step One

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The challenge with a trade show budget is that it’s hard to know where to start.

One commonly used method to estimate your show budget is based on a ratio of your space cost times three. For example, if the average square foot cost for exhibits is $25.00 and, if you need 200 square foot (18.5 square meters), your estimated cost should be $25.00 × 200’ × 3 or $15,000. The validity of this estimate lies on the premise that you had calculated your space requirement correctly. So, the place to start is with a reliable formula for the actual amount of space you need. Once this is determined, applying a dollar amount to your exhibition budget becomes a lot more realistic. Let’s go through this calculation:

1. It is crucial to stay focused. If you aim to reach 100 percent of the visitors (which exhibitors should only rarely do), then you are spreading your resources very thin. As a result, you will likely neglect some wonderful opportunities. For example, let’s say the show has a projected audience of 20,000 people. After talking to show management or reviewing the audited information from previous shows, you determine that eight percent of this audience fit your profile, leaving you with 1,600 visitors.

2. Will all of these 1,600 people stop by your booth? Likely not. Every show is different. The number of visitors who actually stop at each exhibit varies. The Audience Interest Factor (AIF) calculates the number of highly interested people. If you don’t know your AIF, the rule of thumb is 16 percent. If you keep track of your show results, then over time you will learn your specific AIF. For now, use the 16 percent rule of thumb. Your potential number of visitors now is 16 percent of 1,600 or 256 potential high-value visitors.

3. Next determine the number of active show hours. Every show will produce a different flow of traffic. Often there are distractions where all delegates are drawn off the show floor to attend education sessions, hear a keynote speaker or watch a floor show. At some shows, more people arrive in the late afternoon than early morning. For our purposes, let’s say that the show is open for eight hours each day for three days, which means there will be twenty-four show hours. Based on a conversation with the show organizer you determine that the last two hours of each day and one hour during lunch are slow, so your calculations of active hours will be:

24 show hours – 9 (3 slow hours each day) = 15 active show hours

4. Now, divide the number of visitors by the number of active hours:

256 ÷ 15 = 17 visitors per hour

5. The next step is to calculate the human element. How long will your staff need to spend with each visitor in order to accomplish their goal? For the purpose of this exercise, let’s set a target for each booth person to talk to six people per hour. If we have the potential of seventeen visitors per hour, then in our example we need three booth people.

6. Another rule of thumb is that each booth person needs 50 square feet (4.5 square meters) of unoccupied space to work in. This means that in a 10-foot by 10-foot (3-meter by 3-meter) booth, two people can carry on two conversations simultaneously with two visitors. The key word here is “unoccupied.” You need to include your product, displays, demonstrations, furniture and so on. In our example, we would need 150 square feet (16 square meters) of space for three booth people plus 50 square feet (5.5 square meters) for product display. Therefore your total exhibit space is now 200 square feet (22 square meters.)

Booth Space Calculation

Total number of potential visitors  


Percentage that represents target audience


Total number of targeted visitors




Net potential booth visitors

256  (a)

Number of show hours


less inactive hours


Active show hours

15  (b)

Number of visitors per hour (a ÷ b)

17  (c)

Number of minutes spent with each visitor is 10 or 6  per hour

6  (d)

Number of booth staff (c ÷ d)

3  (e)

Amount of booth space (150 square feet + amount of space for hardware, furniture, products, etc.)


You have now calculated the realistic amount of space you need and can now move on to create your entire show budget.

© 201q by Barry Siskind