With more than 70 education sessions on and off the show floor, over 265 exhibitors, and networking sessions primed for idea sharing,  Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition offers attendees a wealth of information they can take straight to their own exhibitions and events. Although there is no such thing as too much information, how do show organizers decide which new technologies and innovative solutions to apply when organizing their own unique experiences? Here, IAEE speaks with Benjamin Rabe, CEM, Events Director at SmithBucklin, who shares how he makes the most of the valuable information he takes away from Expo! Expo! each year.


IAEE: Why do you attend Expo! Expo!?

I have been an IAEE member for over 10 years now, and I have attended probably eight Expo! Expo! meetings so far. My number one reason for attending is the networking. It’s good to hear a bit of what people outside of SmithBucklin are doing with their events. Also, I enjoy the education sessions and just learning about new trends and topics that are being done by people other than my colleagues here.

Check out Expo! Expo! Featured Networking Opportunities

IAEE: Tell us a little about the shows you manage.

I manage four different teams here at SmithBucklin, and some of them organize multiple shows. For example, KeHE Distributors is a corporate client of ours who puts on three shows a year: the KeHE Summer Selling Show, KeHE Holiday Show and KeHE Natural Show. I oversee the team for the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction in March as well as its Annual Conference in July. Then, I work on the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) Show as its exhibit director. The NAFEM Show is held every two years, and it is a large Top 100 trade show in terms of square footage. I also manage another smaller show.

IAEE: Given your experience, the sessions that caught your attention at last year’s Expo! Expo! were Innovative Floor Plans to Drive Engagement; When Data Met Strategy: A Love Story; and Beacon Gamification and Matchmaking. Were you able to extract key takeaways from each and apply them at your different events?

Yes! The innovative floor plan session definitely opened my eyes to new approaches to floor plan design. The facilitator covered over half a dozen different ways to approach floor plan design. I knew of a couple of them because we were already doing them, but it did help me to have an official name to some of the things we were doing so that I could use the right terms and technology when discussing how to innovate a redesign of a floor plan for the clients that I work with.

For example, with KeHE Distributors, they always had one pavilion toward the center of the show floor, which is what you would call the “central hub approach.” Next year, we are going to have five different “neighborhoods” throughout the show floor instead: a KeHE Kitchen, a Power Up Pavilion, an Entre Pavilion, a Fresh Pavilion – which we have never done before – and a Flavors of New Orleans Pavilion.

We are also working on how we are going to drive traffic and map out the attendee’s journey. We want attendees to visit all those different spots on the show floor, which was a strategy covered in that session. The concept of the “attendee journey” is hot and trendy right now.

Learn more about Expo! Expo! Education Sessions!


IAEE: With regards to the “attendee journey,” did you find that technology is going to play a huge role on how you create that journey? For example, will you be using iBeacons on your floor? If so, did you learn a lot from the Beacon Gamification and Matchmaking session to help integrate those two strategies – the floor plan design and beacons?

As a matter of fact, yes! We are going to be starting with one beacon in our registration area and are definitely exploring the idea for a couple of other events. I am applying this with both KeHE and NAFEM, so I am working with Marketing to incorporate it.

With KeHE, for example, we have done a lot of traditional marketing pieces such as the invitations to attend and the brochures, etc. But now, it’s really about working with how to connect everything. We must connect the dots from the invitation to branding the show at the hotel check-in, to moving it through the curb of the convention center all the way to the front door of the trade show floor, to the entire map of the show floor experience and, finally, the five places that we want every attendee to visit. Basically, we want attendees to connect when they go to each of those areas – not only to the show, but also to our brand – so that they want to come to our event next year. It’s an effective way of making our event more “sticky” so that it becomes a “can’t miss” event in the attendee’s mind.

For NAFEM, it is really important that what they see before the show – all the pre-show marketing and what’s popping up in attendees’ Facebook feeds and all the other social media – is also tying into the “wow” factor that we are planning to have in the lobby and leading all the way to the convention center. As soon as attendees get off the curb, the concept we want to convey is that this show is like no other show on earth. So while walking up the steps, attendees will feel they are coming up to this world that ties into all the marketing and pre-show promotion they’ve received. We want to portray this virtual world made out of food service equipment – an entire city or village that is all those pieces put together – that is our show brand.

IAEE: That is quite the concept!

Yes! You have to check out www.thenafemshow.org to see what I am talking about for this virtual world, but the marketing piece looks like the front of the Orange County Convention Center is made out of food service equipment. And, I want to stress that this is a much higher and more elevated thought process than “oh well, let’s design a pretty sign” and then not have it connect to that registration brochure. We have truly integrated what we want attendees to feel, think and do, after they get a message from us or hear from us.

I would say, from the perspective of having attended the sessions at Expo! Expo!, that the information I took away really helped my team to engage in the dialogue needed with our counterparts in the marketing and advertising departments to realize our design vision, and successfully integrate all the components.

IAEE: One of today’s big trends is augmented reality and virtual reality. And, from a best practice and show manager’s perspective, how it will change the exhibition floor. Questions arise as to what the show floor will look like 5, 10 and 15 years down the road, and whether there will still be a need for a physical experience on the trade show floor. Is this a topic of discussion at SmithBucklin?

It is, but I think it all does come back to the power of face-to-face interaction and the networking. In our marketing messaging to attendees, we focus on the education and the new products/solutions that they are coming to see and touch. We also talk about the networking but attendees need those two things first, because that’s what they will use to convince their boss or supervisor that the company should support their coming to the event. Networking will also play into the equation, because it still is one of the top three reasons cited in research as to why people attend events. Still, you can’t state that as your number one reason when you go to your boss’ office.

IAEE: Another hot trend is data analytics – whether a show is collecting the right data and how to use it. If you do get the right data, how do you analyze it? Organizations with smaller staff may not have the resources to devote to data analysis, so how does SmithBucklin use data to drive attendee experiences?

With some of our trend pavilions, for example, we look at not only the results from the survey data, but also the badge scanning in those pavilions to see who checked in and who clicked through the mobile app to look something up. We then look at it how many tips we are getting and how they relate to survey results. We look at qualitative and quantitative feedback to decide if this is something that we should continue to do, tweak or change. We bring all this to the debriefing of the strategic review meeting because sometimes we see that ‘Wow, we spent all this time and energy on this one pavilion, but only 10% of the people went there.’ and sometimes, we’re thrilled that our ideas and hard work paid off just as we planned.

The When Data Met Strategy: A Love Story session really helped me understand how to create a data road map, and evaluate all the different spots you get your data from. Then, you must think your way through this process to decide what end result you want to get to. In my case, I have used that entire “road map thought process” to map out a new process for us to collect all our internal data for our meeting statistics and then get all our buying power.

We had a lot of different sources until I started to put everything together on a piece of paper. I realized we didn’t have a central place to collect it all, so this past year I worked with our IT department to create our own proprietary system to collect all the data from all of our different show leads and event leads, and then to collect all the data post-event or to capture and report all the business that we are doing. This is definitely something that we need to do in order to collect the data, analyze it, and formulate dashboards so that we are able to report it quarterly to our senior leadership. We are doing this with all our clients.

IAEE: It sounds like last year’s Expo! Expo! led to quite a few breakthrough ideas and practices that have taken you down some interesting new roads this year. Will you be attending this year’s meeting in Anaheim?

Absolutely; I’ve already got my eye on sessions that I plan to attend and look forward to hearing what others are doing. I will definitely be in Anaheim!


Posted by Elizabeth McQuade

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