These days, lots of companies are turning to trade shows to make personal contact with potential customers. There's really no better way to generate a big list of interested prospects than to have a great booth at a trade show that draws people in, engages them, and gets them interested in doing business with you in the future.

In order to get the biggest bang for your buck, though, and make the travel and booth rental fees worthwhile, you've got to get creative and have a really fabulous display--that's the only way to ensure those prospects will be lining up to talk to you and sign up for your list. What's more, with many companies having the same thought (that trade shows would be a great place to drum up business), you're going to need to be especially outstanding and remarkable to stand out.

Fortunately, there's a relatively foolproof system for designing creative trade show displays that attendees will adore. As someone who's been responsible for building displays, I've developed a system over the years that works really well for everyone I've taught it to. And now I'd like to share it with you!

Step One: Immerse yourself in inspiration.
Before you can decide precisely how to build your trade show display, you need to get the creative juices flowing. It used to be that the best way to do this would be to look up any local trade shows and attend them, paying careful attention to what people did right... and wrong... with their booths. Nowadays, spending some time on Flickr or browsing other picture galleries will yield even better results because you won't be limited just to the best booths in a local show but rather will be able to see the best in show all around the world.

Take notes as you get inspired--save screen shots of the best booths, write down what in particular catches your eye, and just generally record what you're finding. Also, as you're browsing other people's displays, write down or sketch any ideas that come to you--often you'll have completely new ideas and you want to capture them during this step so you don't forget them.

Also, be careful not to make a big mistake as you gather inspiration. Too many people think they need to stick within their industry but that's the worst choice you could make. After all, if you only look at what people inside your industry are doing it's like playing a game of monkey see monkey do and that's not going to lead to a creative, compelling, stand-out booth!

Step Two: Brainstorm like crazy.
Once you've gotten completely, thoroughly inspired, it's time to write down any and every idea that your research inspired. Write down every detail, no matter how silly, insignificant, or "wrong" it might seem. Remember, while you're brainstorming, you're not bound to any of these ideas, so it's always safe to write it down and consider it later.

After you've made endless lists of your ideas, it's time to narrow things down a bit and get some feedback. So, share your very favorite ideas for the trade booth display with your boss, or a colleague or friend. Bounce your ideas off one another and strengthen those standout ideas you had.

Make sure that you get feedback during step two instead of moving too far forward with any plans--there may be easy ways to make your ideas even better and why not get that feedback now before you spend too much time creating the display.

Step Three: Finalize the concept and add the details.
Now that you've bounced your ideas off someone you trust and respect (and gotten your boss's approval!) it's time to finalize the concept so that you can start ordering supplies and building the final product.

Once you have your complete plan, make sure you haven't forgotten: a list-building mechanism (like a drawing or raffle or valuable free gift); a get-attention mechanism (something that'll get people talking about your gift--this can be anything from chocolate chip cookies to a celebrity guest); and a stay awhile mechanism (comfy seating, glossy brochures, whatever it'll take to make your guests feel welcome and encourage them to stay and ask questions). With these three elements added to the plan you've drawn up, your trade show display will be both enticing for attendees and will also boost your business by getting those potential customers interested in what you're offering and on your list for future follow up.

Step Four: Build the trade show display.
Make absolutely certain you do this at least two weeks before the trade show (completely). Set it all up, bring people through it, and see what happens. This will help you know if your booth is ready to go and it'll also help you see how people are likely to interact with it.

Even with years of experience doing this, I still find I've often forgotten something important (like a pen at the sign up sheet), so that's why the walk-thru is so important to your success. You don't want to get there the day of the show and discover that the gorgeous brochures you ordered all printed with the register off.

Step Five: Enjoy the show!
On the day of the trade show, you'll be ready to roll out your trade show display--congrats! You've worked hard and have earned every bit of success you're sure to have. If you're working the booth, make sure to be friendly and welcoming to everyone who stops by your booth. A warm welcome makes all the difference in the impression your trade booth display will make on attendees, so relax and enjoy yourself.

Also, don't stay chained to your booth if possible--get out and mingle and network. Take a look at the other booths (for future inspiration), and make as many connections as possible. By balancing your time in the booth with time out and about networking, you'll have the most success meeting people and making the most of your time at the trade show.

Good luck with your trade show! If you follow these steps, you'll not only enjoy the day, you'll also have great success meeting new customers for your business and getting to know some great folks.