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You have spent months preparing for a trade show and have invested resources in your booth and promotional materials. Now the big event has arrived and other people are infringing on your booth space because they are not playing by the rules. What should you do in this sort of situation? This article about trade show rules and regulations will explain what to do when this type of situation arises.


Know the Rules

It is important to begin by making sure that you know and follow the rules yourself. Carefully read any materials provided by the trade show, including contracts, terms and conditions and manuals, then comply with the rules when setting up and running your booth. Each trade show has its own set of regulations and specific limits, but the following are some common rules that frequently apply.


Federal Rules

Trade shows fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 because they are considered “public accommodation.” This means that exhibitors must provide equal access to their booth for individuals with disabilities, including physical, visual and hearing impairments.


Music Rights

Any use of copyrighted music is subject to applicable laws. If you want to use copyrighted music in your booth, contact the licensing firms to pay copyright fees. Otherwise, choose open source music that is available for public use. When using music or anything creating a lot of sound in your booth, remain under the decibel limit for the event; the standard limit for trade shows is 85-decibels.


Confines of Booth

Your booth rental contract will usually include a “confines of booth” clause, which means that your marketing and promotional activities must occur within your designated space. Sometimes exceptions for this may be granted by show management if you request prior approval.


Exhibit Height

Trade shows have limits for exhibit height based on venue ceiling height, desired aesthetic and the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) Guidelines for Display Rules and Regulations. Become familiar with the height limits before planning your booth; if you are over the limit, show management will ask you to reduce the height of your display resulting in last minute difficulties and expense.


Line of Sight

This rule applies to the front half of your booth space and states that you cannot have items in that area over four feet or anything that would obstruct the view of the other exhibits. Again, sometimes there are exceptions to this rule, but you must obtain prior permission from the show management.


Electrical Regulations

Check the show’s electrical regulations before bringing any electrical equipment, including extension cords and power strips. You may be required to rent these items from the venue, and some conventions prohibit certain electrical items.


Insurance Certificates

Trade shows are increasingly requiring exhibitor-appointed contractors (EACs) and exhibiting companies provide a certificate of insurance (COI) that proves comprehensive general liability (CGL) coverage. If you are displaying at such a show, work with an insurance company to complete the necessary paperwork prior to the show or you may not be allowed to set up your booth.


Food and Beverage

Exhibitors in the food business are typically allowed to provide one ounce of food and two ounces of beverages to show attendees; those not in the food business must contact the venue’s caterer to obtain approval before offering any food or beverage samples.



Outboarding is when non-exhibiting companies host competing events without the approval of the show management. Sometimes they even use the show name to promote their own events, confusing attendees into thinking they are attending an event associated with the trade show. This is extremely damaging to the show management and everyone who is paying to exhibit at the show. If you want to host an event during a trade show, check with the show management to receive permission before scheduling.

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A company or individual is suitcasing when they register as an attendee, but then distribute promotional materials as if they were an exhibiting company. This hurts everyone who has paid for a booth by taking the attention of attendees without paying for it. Avoid suitcasing by registering as an exhibitor and following the “confines of booth” clause.


What To Do?

Knowing the rules of a trade show puts you in a position to follow them and have a positive show experience and relationship with show management and other exhibitors. But what about the people who do not play by the rules?

Unfortunately, violations such as outboarding and suitcasing are common at trade shows. If you notice anyone breaking the rules, notify the exhibit manager or conference security immediately. Anyone distributing materials without a proper badge should be reported. The management can then investigate the situation and take proper action. Exhibitors often see more of what is happening on the floor than the show management, so their assistance in spotting violations is vital to make sure that the show runs as smoothly and fairly as possible.


Nimlok Louisiana offers a team of experienced trade show specialists who are well-versed in the ins and outs of all things trade shows. Not only can our team provide trade show products and services customized to suit your company, but we can also pass along our knowledge and expertise to help ensure you have a positive trade show experience.