Bandwidth island trade show exhibit at Enterprise Connect 2024 - interior area

Size Matters: 9 Ways Island Trade Show Exhibits Are Different

Exhibiting at trade shows takes a combination of talent, teamwork, and effort to succeed. The endeavor doubles when you expand beyond backwall inline displays into island trade show booths. The investment is bigger, the attention is larger, and the stakes are higher, in so many ways.

1. Island exhibits allow for greater height and overhead branding.

While inline exhibits are limited to 8 feet in height typically, that’s rarely the height of an island trade show booth. Most island exhibits are at least 12 feet tall, and they are often 16 feet tall and taller, and taller still when you hang a sign from the ceiling above your booth space. That height creates a bigger impression and gets you seen from across the show hall. And you can use 100% of that height (limited by the show hall and the show owner’s regulations), unlike backwall exhibitors (in the USA) who can only go to their full 8-foot height when it doesn’t obstruct their next-door neighbors. However, be careful not to only put your name up in the rafters on a hanging sign 20 feet above your booth, so that people walking closer to your booth won’t know who you are unless they crane their necks to look up.

People gather at CaptiveAire NAFEM custom trade show exhibit designed and fabricated by Holt Environments

2. Island exhibits provide more aisle frontage and attendee engagement.

A 20 x 20 island exhibit has 80 perimeter feet of aisle space, twice the aisle space of an equivalently sized 10 x 40 backwall. That gives you twice the opportunity to engage attendees as they walk by your trade show exhibit. Be conscious that, as an island footprint, your exhibit doesn’t back up against a pipe-and-drape back wall, so it no longer has an automatic front side. Now your exhibit can be seen and approached from four sides. It’s up to you to decide if all four sides should be treated equally from a design and branding standpoint, or if you expect one or two sides to be visible to greater traffic, and thus be designed more as the “storefront” of your exhibit.

3. Island exhibits yield a greater variety of booth sizes if designed with modularity.

When you reserve an island exhibit space, it’s usually not one-size-fits-all. At one show you may only be able to book a 20 x 40 space where you want to be located on the show floor – and then at your next show, you may have to take a 30 x 30 space, and still use the same exhibit components. Just as likely is the need to peel off parts of your booth for either a smaller island or a 20-foot inline exhibit. Your island trade show exhibit needs the flexibility to adapt to all these spaces if you are going to avoid excess spending to fit all those booth sizes.

4. Island exhibits allow for private meeting spaces.

Whatever you do in a backwall inline exhibit is there for the world to see. But island exhibitors can free themselves from that restraint. With opaque walls and even double decks, island exhibitors can host private meetings that allow them and their guests to converse, negotiate, and make deals more privately. Exhibitors can show off their newest products only to trusted buyers behind closed doors, without tipping off competitors.

5. Island exhibits are more likely rental exhibits.

When you have a backwall display going to 5, 10, 15 or more shows a year, it makes perfect sense to own that display. But when you only go to one or two shows a year where you require a larger presence with an island exhibit, you become more likely to choose exhibit rental. Rental gives you the ability to change your look, booth size, and message more easily than an owned exhibit does – and at a lower cost if you only do one or two shows a year.

6. Island exhibits have more complex design requirements.

Not only do island exhibits have greater height, more aisle frontage, and multiple booth spaces to fit, there are other reasons that make their design process even more complex. Island exhibits will inspire more stakeholders to weigh in during the design process. You’ll have more functionality requested (presentations, product demos, interactivity, conference rooms, lead stations, storage, and more). Thus, island exhibits require more of another thing: time to design and build.

7. Island exhibits require more booth staffers.

You need more booth staff to cover and work an island exhibit. That can mean getting staffers from all over the country, or from more departments of your company — which puts even more emphasis on booth staff training. When the booth staff comes from all over, you’ll either need train to them with virtual meetings or set aside enough time at the show site before the show starts. Staffers who don’t know your products or clients well will need even more training to speak intelligently and know how to refer prospects to the right people.

8. Island exhibits demand hired local labor for installation and dismantle services at show site.

If you’ve been exhibiting previously only in inline spaces with portable displays, you may have never had to hire labor for installation and dismantle. But once you exhibit in an island booth space, it’s all about either labor from the show contractor or from an Exhibitor Appointed Contractor (EAC) that you choose. If you choose another show labor company or your exhibit house to act as your EAC, you will likely have to fill out an EAC approval form with the show organizer, usually at least 30 days before the show date.

9. Island exhibits demand a higher profile vendor selection.

It’s a lot more likely that your CFO will want to be more involved when you purchase an island exhibit than a banner stand. As island exhibits can cost many times more than a backwall display, the purchasing process involves more people and greater scrutiny. You (and perhaps your boss) will have to justify both your island exhibit’s initial buying (or renting) decision and the total operating costs, compared against the opportunities at trade shows to build your brand awareness, profitably generate sales leads, and meet your other sales, marketing, and operational objectives.


While these 9 things make island exhibits different from backwall displays, no matter what size they are, your exhibits must still get attention, help advance your sales and marketing objectives, and support your booth staff. That’s something that never changes!

We hope this article helps you better understand how island exhibits are different than smaller inline exhibits, so you can make more informed decisions about your marketing strategy, exhibit design, budget, and booth staff. Let us know if you have any questions, and contact us if you’d like our help in creating an impactful island exhibit that achieves your sales and marketing goals.