All Things Electrical for Your Trade Show Booth
by Jennifer Barham
Over a decade ago, a Forrester survey found that the average employee uses 2.3 devices for work purposes, whether personal electronics or company-provided devices. Of the nearly 10,000 information workers surveyed, 74% used two or more devices and 52% used three or more devices. And that was many moons ago. Imagine how that number has increased since then.When it comes to exhibiting, that means each person on your team will probably have at least a couple of devices with them, in addition to the booth’s main screens, counters, charging stations, and other equipment. That’s a lot of power output and outlets needed, and it’s also a lot of cables and chargers hanging about.
Not to worry, just like every other elephant, the electronic elephant can be taken one bit at a time. Along with your project manager, follow this step-by-step strategy to figure out how much power you need for your booth and how to organize it.
Step One: Make a list of everything in your booth that requires electric power. Brainstorm this for a few minutes with your team, trying not to overlook any small (or big!) items. Here’s a list to get you started, but you might have other electrical needs, as well:
- Lead-gathering devices
- Portable printers
- Backlit graphics
- Other lights
Step Two: Create an electronics folder where you keep a list of all devices and exhibit pieces that need power, how much power (watts) each element needs, and a CAD diagram of your booth. If you need to order wattage for your booth, you can use the WATTS = AMPS*VOLTS formula to determine that.
Step Three: Using your CAD diagram, mark your exhibit’s electrical scheme. First figure out your main electrical port, “the doghouse.” This is a crucial first step because depending on what type of booth you have (in-line, peninsula, island), you might be sharing electrical outlets with neighboring booths. Once you’ve determined your distribution point, you can determine how many outlets you need, where to place them, and which booth elements will be plugged into which areas. Safely share power where you can and consolidate devices because booths are charged per outlet installed. Final reminder to not forgot overhead lighting, large flatscreens, and signage that is powered.
Step Four: Your project manager can put in an order for your electrical labor to the show’s contractor. Each show’s regulations vary according to their local union jurisdictions (so check the specifics of your show) and the kind of electrical work required – floor, booth, ceiling. Some convention centers allow staffers to set up and dismantle certain pieces of the electrical layout, and some don’t. Some allow exhibitors to plug in equipment operating on 120 volts or more, and some don’t. Know before you go!
Step Five: Pack what you need on your end to make the electric piece of your booth run smoothly, seamlessly, and even a little bit invisibly. More on that last part in a minute. Print an extra (color-coded!) copy of your electrical diagram to have one hand, as well as extension cords, power strips, and surge protectors; these don’t take up much room in your bags and they are pricey to rent on site. Make sure the cords and outlets you bring have three-prong plugs and are UL-listed.
Step Six: Pack what you need to secure, organize, and hide electrical cords and chargers – you want your power sources to be your main event but also invisible. Managing all the dangling, snaking cords in your booth is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve your booth’s curb appeal, and it can transform a messy booth into a tidy one instantly. Here are some winning ideas:
- Adhesive hooks, clips, and strips (like Command brand) to run and hide cords up table legs or along floor edging.
- Zip ties, Velcro, or even a staple gun would work to secure cords, although it’s more permanent.
- Cord conduits are low-profile cord covers with a flat side and self-peel adhesive to keep them flush to any surface, and they are lightweight. Bonus!
- Elevated surge protectors. Instead of leaving power strips and surge protectors as clutter on the floor, attach them with Command strips to the back of a table or other stable surface in your booth.
- Tuck cords and chargers into a small vase, basket, or other container that looks “at home” in your booth.
- If your booth contains furniture with a drawer, consider converting one of them to a charging drawer equipped with an installed power strip and USB ports.
- If you’re in the market for a new piece of furniture for your booth, consider one with cable management features. Sleek and functional, everything electrical you need is well-designed to be not only hidden but also handy and efficient.
Step Seven: Last but not least, once you get to your booth, double-check all the electrical work to make sure it’s up to the task. If something is lacking, reach out to the on-site electricians ASAP. Ensure cords are plugged in, tucked away, and out of sight.
And with a flip of some switches, you’re ready for the show!
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng