Designing Education Theaters On The Trade Show Floor

Education on the Trades Show Floor

Attracting and keeping quality attendees on your show floor isn’t getting any easier. The way we, as consumers and businesses, research and buy products and services has evolved — and so must the trade-show experience. The trade show of the future will focus on helping over selling, which is best accomplished by delivering valuable education in the exhibit hall.

Programmed presentations in show-floor theaters is nothing new, but in the past, it was typically pay to play. If exhibitors wanted to present, they would pay for that opportunity. That made education on the show floor something of a rarity, rather than a regular offering.

Enter The Learning Lounge

The more valuable experience for attendees takes a page from PCMA’s annual meeting, Convening Leaders. There’s no trade show component — but instead, a Learning Lounge where attendees can stop in and enjoy TED-type talks and hands-on technology education in cool theaters.

Soon, others followed suit, but not every attempt has been successful. Here are a few lessons learned that may help increase your chances of successfully offering education on the show floor.

1) Location — Some organizations have added this concept late in the game and placed the theaters on the perimeter or in the back of the expo hall. When located in a more central location of the show floor, not only does attendee participation increase, exhibitors compete to have their booths located near these theaters at next year’s event.

2) Design/Set-Up — Theaters should be kept intimate with a capacity of 30–50 people, max. Seating should be informal — couches, benches or curved theater seating — with room for observers to stand in the rear. Don’t use classroom or round-table seating. Large plasma screens work well for visuals. A portable sound system is recommended. Where possible, co-locate two to three theaters in a single area. Use plexi-glass to separate theaters from the rest of the show floor, so those passing by can get a glimpse of what’s going on.

3) Session Length — Content must be delivered in bite-sized chunks. Fifteen-minute TED-type talks work best. Allow five minutes between presentations for attendees to move in and out. Organizers that have programmed longer experiences have not seen the buzz or positive results. You want attendees to jump into the education experience and then get back to booth visits.

4) Threading — Each theater should have a theme for the entire show or timeframe programmed. Each presentation should map to that theme. Technology, new innovative solutions, or content that addresses attendees’ biggest challenges tend to hit the mark best. Replaying presentations on different days and times gives attendees the opportunity to fit sessions of interest in their schedule.

5) Monetization — Some organizers offset the costs by seeking theater sponsors that are interested in being viewed as thought leaders or investors in the attendee experience. Sponsors are more likely to jump in the second year around, when they see the buzz it generated.

View this slideshow to see how several conference organizers have deployed this concept.

Is education on the show floor a strategy you’re pursuing (or planning to pursue) to increase exhibit hall traffic? What other suggestions do you have for improving the Learning Lounge model? 

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2013.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. Miguel Neves says:

    Hi Dave. This is a nice summary of show floor education theatres on the show floor. It’s really nice to see how other shows use this format as we are using various versions of this at IMEX America. Despite some problems with the noise, we find these work quite well and aligns strategically with the core of the show, the business appointments. In our case all the show floor education is free to any registered participant and we have opted for 20 to 30 minute long sessions for all the education to keep the sessions short and dynamic. I would be really interested to see if and how this type of setup develops or can be improved.

    1. Dave Lutz says:

      Miguel, great to hear that IMEX is embracing this model. We’ve seen many attempts at it and are getting a much better handle on what works best. Keep observing, tweaking and re-inventing. Good luck this year in Vegas!

  2. As a speaker, I have participated in such “on the show floor” presentations. It is a little difficult to operate with the noise level, but it is well received by both exhibitors and attendees. Show producers should take note that exhibitors are asking for ways to keep attendees in the exhibit hall and this is a good one. One of the biggest complaints exhibitors have is when there is a mass exodus of attendees during scheduled educational session times.
    With a little creativity the education theatre on the show floor can add a great “buzz factor” to the show.

  3. Skyline says:

    Pretty much the only downside of these educational islands is the noise factor. Perhaps as these become more popular we will see higher and thicker plexiglass walls to alleviate that.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *