Posted on  by Mitch Cooper

Like many event, meeting and trade show professionals around the industry, I just returned from IAEE Expo! Expo! 2018 in New Orleans. Unlike many of them, however, this was my first rodeo on the show floor.

As a first-timer, all I can say is: WOW! There was so much to do and see at this show, and they tell me some can be even bigger? That is almost mind-boggling to me.

My two days in New Orleans, immersed in everything Expo! Expo! had to offer left my head spinning (in a good way!).

Now that I’ve had time to digest everything that I experienced this week (long flights and layovers helped spur the process along), I’ve come to a few quick conclusions about trade shows, all of which are seen through the lens of someone who has never had this experience before.

I can only imagine for so many professionals, this has become old hat; this is just how it always is. My intention here is to share my initial experiences so that even the most veteran trade show experts might think about how others might experience a show: namely their own attendees.

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1. OK… There are A LOT of People Here

Full disclosure: I have a tendency to be introverted, so walking into a show floor where thousands of people are hobnobbing and networking can be slightly intimidating.

I admire so many of you out there, and those on my own team, who can easily strike up a conversation with someone you just met, and walk away with the potential of a new client or prospect after 10 minutes. We say so often in our industry that face-to-face interactions matter, and that fact is never more evident than at a trade show.

On several occasions throughout the show, I made my way around the floor, working through the crowd in search of food, checking out the amazing booths and displays and seeing what”offerings” other exhibitors were showcasing. (Yes, I went searching for cool swag, I’m not too proud to admit it).

I learned quickly to keep my head on a swivel as I wandered. I wanted to see what each company was, what they did, how they presented themselves, and–of course–what cool gifts they had.

However, during my travels up and down the aisles, I had no desire to be trapped in a conversation. I wanted to be left alone. But if I made eye contact for too long, I knew I would no longer be an anonymous passerby, I would become Potential Lead No. 312.

This made me realize how challenging life must be for exhibitors. Their objective is to find the people who have a problem that they can solve. That’s hard to do when thousands of people are streaming by their booth every hour. I now understand even more why beacon technology can be so important for trade shows and exhibitors.

Knowing when one of your target prospects is near your booth is so much easier than hoping they randomly stop by because they like your…

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2. Swag! Do it Right or Don’t Do It At All

In my journey across the exhibit hall (strictly for research, of course) there was only one booth that I found myself drawn to because the freebie they offered was worth the sacrifice of my comfort in anonymity.

Other than a cool name-brand water bottle with a subtly placed logo, I didn’t see much swag that made me stop and go “Ohhh.”

This made me question the idea of “swag,” or more appropriately called, tchotchkes.

Pens, key chains and other miscellaneous trinkets with a logo plastered all over it won’t make people engage with you if they don’t already have a reason to. When time is so valuable to each attendee, any type of giveaway you have has to match that value level.

John Ruhlin, the author of Giftologysaid something on this topic that I’ll always remember:

“People love to be surprised with something and they love to get something that’s not part of the normal swag bag.”

Maybe it’s time to show prospects and customers that we understand their time is more valuable to us than what a simple pen can express.

Maybe it’s time to show prospects and customers that we understand their time is more valuable to us than what a simple pen can express.

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3. Creating an Experience Within the Experience is Crucial

There are so many things happening at an event like Expo! Expo! at any given moment.

From education sessions, to general sessions, cocktail hours, coffee chats and more, the whole week is designed to create an all-around beneficial experience for each guest, something I believe they did quite successfully.

But they can only do so much in this scenario. The rest is up to the exhibitors.

One of the cool things I found on the show floor was how different booths tried to create their own experiences for attendees too. Some booths had dance parties and DJs, others had giant video walls, and some built elaborate, swanky lounges for networking and conversation.

It was incredible how so many exhibitors created their own personalized atmosphere within a bustling environment where so many others were competing for the attention of the same people.

I fully understand the economics of the situation: some budgets are much greater than others when it comes to trade shows.

And while that can be a major hurdle, I also think it can be an incredible opportunity to find new, inventive and inexpensive ways to create an engaging experience that will attract attendees without the glitz and glamour.

The Bottom Line…

I must say, my first trade show was something to behold. It reminded me of that feeling when you walk into a baseball stadium and you come out the tunnel and see the field sprawling before you. Walking through the doors onto the show floor was similar to that, seeing the hall built up with incredible booth designs, lights, music and buzz.

When you pair the aesthetic component with the incredible opportunities for business and networking it provides, it is obvious to me why so many organizations find trade shows valuable.

Even so, it can be so easy for organizations to simply follow the status quo, continuing the same practices each year.

If that describes your trade show strategy, perhaps it’s time to go back to your first experience on the show floor, seeing the incredible possibilities through the fresh eyes of someone walking the aisles for their first time.

Posted by Shay Sibley

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