Trade Show Rules and Regulations: Why Your Exhibitor's Manual is a Must-Read

Posted by Tom Hand on Jul 7, 2016 7:30:00 AM in Trade Show Success


Rules and regulations. Each trade show has a daunting list of them and they vary by show and venue. You can't assume the rules and regulations from one show carry over to the next.

This makes reading through each show's exhibitor's manual critical. It outlines space restrictions, contractor fees (hanging signs!), and even where things can and can't go. It's going to have deadlines, service fees, technology parameters. It will discuss mandatory federal regulations, like the Americans Disabilities Act, and how to comply with it. This isn't a step in the trade show process you can skip or assume you know. You must read through these documents,

The good news is there are a handful of standardized rules and regulations in the United States, like booth types, space limitations, music rights, etc. Below is a brief outline of the consistent few. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, merely an example of what you can expect to learn and look for.

Booth Types

There are three primary booth types: standard linear, island, and perimeter. Each has its own height restrictions, layout, and position on the trade show floor.

For instance, an island booth is typically 20 feet x 20 feet or larger and is exposed to aisles on all four sides. The maximum height for displays in this space ranges from 15-20 feet. And although these are the standard measurements for this type of booth, the specifics for each show and venue will be in the rules and regulations.

This is critical information you need when choosing a location and planning its design.

Space Limitations

This outlines what you can do with the space around your booth. It's meant to give all exhibitors an equal amount of working room. For example, typically you aren't allowed to block another booth's line of sight; everyone gets to be seen from the aisle. Sales pitches must be delivered within the confines of your rented space, not in the aisles.


Each set of rules and regulations outlines other space specifics, like height regulations for displays and hanging signs, specifications for the Americans with Disabilities Act, contractors' fees, move-in/move-out dates, parameters for requesting extra services, etc. It lists the price increases (usually 10-20%) if you miss any deadlines.

Lighting and Electrical Regulations

Lighting your booth has similar limitations to space use. Lights can't extend past your exhibit parameters, they must be pointed in towards your space, specialty lighting can't be overly distracting. Again, the goal is to ensure all exhibitors have an equal playing field and no one is being overshadowed by another's equipment.

Plugging things in at a trade show is not as straightforward as you'd think. For instance, many venues won't allow you to bring your own cords and power strips. You have to rent them. There may be regulations on how you secure cords to the floor, what wattage your bulbs have to be and how thick the power cords are allowed to be.

Your exhibitor's manual will outline all these parameters. Read it carefully!

Music Rights

As with space and lighting, the guidelines for music are to ensure all exhibitors get a fair shake. No one wants to be blown out by their neighbor. The exhibitor's manual will give specifications for volume levels and what is considered excessive noise. Depending on the music you choose, you'll need to be aware of copyrights. Any copyrighted music requires written permission to use it. Expect to pay a user's fee.

There are three authorized licensing firms for music composers and publishers: Broadcast Music Inc., SESAC, and The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

If you'd rather use royalty-free music, look on stock music sites like


It's prudent to check for miscellaneous categories. Are insurance certificates required? Do they allow helium balloons? Are there limits to serving food and beverage? Again, each venue is different. Each will have its own list of miscellaneous do's and don't's.

The show's rules and regulations are not to be taken lightly or ignored. Breaking any of them can result in fines and/or having your booth shut down. Definitely not good for your ROI.

The take away here is: read your exhibitor's manual. Closely! Preferably before you start planning your exhibit. Its information is key to having a successful experience. Not only will reading it facilitate your planning, it will also eliminate a host of unpleasant surprises, prevent incurring extra costs and educate you on your rights as an exhibitor. Have you ran into problems with rules and regulations at trade shows? How have you dealt with it? We want to hear your story. Share it in the comments. Alternatively, if you have questions or need help putting together a stellar display or learning about trade show regulations, contact us. Our experts are on-hand to help you succeed. You can Live Chat with them on our website: Or talk to them live at 844-204-2258.

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