Expo Decisions: Attendee Preferences over Exhibitors—Always

For those of you who organize large annual conferences and trade shows, there undoubtedly is a chicken-vs.-egg debate. On the one hand, your organization might receive as much as 50 percent (or more) of your event’s revenue from supplier investments in exhibits, sponsorship and advertising categories, making it a priority. On the other hand, you have the attendees or customers — the currency we use to get suppliers to invest in our events in the first place. Attract a smaller or a lower-quality audience, and supplier revenue will certainly plummet. Supplier revenue is a trailing indicator and relies 100 percent on audience quality and participation.

Here are two scenarios that may help you develop your approach for optimal revenue and attendee experience.

Give Attendees Options

Your team responsible for booth sales, and your exhibit advisory committee, will likely tell you that the floor traffic is slow when sessions are taking place. The exhibitor may even threaten to take a smaller booth or drop out if the program isn’t changed to allow for more session-free expo time.

Some conference organizers have responded by cutting 90-minute education sessions down to 75 minutes and then paring them down to 60 minutes. They open the show floor earlier and close later to provide an additional hour of non-compete expo time. A year or two later, they usually end up re-addressing floor traffic concerns.

But here’s the real challenge: Attendees vote with their feet first and wallet second. More exclusive open hours won’t necessarily yield more quality time spent visiting exhibitors. You can’t force it. It’s best to give attendees options so that they choose to spend time in the exhibit hall or in sessions. We need to make the show-floor experience more compelling so they experience greater value spending time there.

Reinvent the Make-up of Your Exhibit Advisory Council

Having an exhibitor advisory council or group that is made up of exhibitors makes sense, but I think we have it backward. It should be comprised of individuals and companies that represent the booth traffic your exhibitors are most interested in attracting. In my experience, when exhibitors are in a meeting of their peers, they tend to make recommendations that don’t put the attendee first.

The exhibit advisory group should be tasked with making recommendations on improving the value of the exhibit experience for both customer and supplier. Seek their advice on whether the opening reception or day-two lunch should be on the expo floor or in a different environment. Task them with helping educate exhibitors on how to design a booth experience that attracts, not repels, professionals like them.

Have them share what pre-show activities draw them to a supplier and what leaves a bad impression. Ask for their recommendations on who they would prefer to engage with at booths — sales and marketing staff and/or customers who can share their experiences using their products or services. Get the feedback of your exhibitors before making any changes, but err on the side of obsessing over your attendees’ on-site experience.

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2019.

What would you most like to ask your attendees about their exhibit hall experience? How are you making your show-floor experience more valuable to attendees?

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1 comment
  1. Mansi Mehta says:

    Very informative article. And yes agreed with the title. Floor traffic is easy to handle thru digital assistance. We often use RFID metrics to register floor traffic seamlessly.

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