If your association exhibits at trade shows, or offers its own trade show, you know how exhibiting can make for powerful marketing. You also know how expensive exhibiting can be in terms of cost and staff time. That's why it's so important for you as an exhibitor—or the trade show organizer—to maximize the attendee-booth engagement.
To that end, Stevens & Stevens has compiled some of the best tips for engaging attendees from our client associations around the country, as well as our own experience and research. We have divided the tips into two categories: tips for exhibitors, and tips for event organizers.
Tips for Building Engagement as an Exhibitor
Be Cheerful: Perhaps too obvious a tip, but it’s so easy to forget to smile at people walking by when you've been in your booth hour after hour. Add a "cheerful reminder" in your booth, be it an emoji, a mirror or a sign. (All of tips below work better when your booth staff has an inviting, happy look about them!)
Be Visual: While this can take the form of signage and booth artwork, video is the real secret. Place an engaging or exciting or emotional video in your booth, and people will stop to look at it. While we're not suggesting that you should run an endless loop of "funny cat videos," you will want to create some sort of visual drama in your booth. Accompanying audio would be ideal, but that might not be allowed in many exhibit areas.
Be Visual Part II: There is no reason to restrict the visual element to the booth itself. YOU can be part of the visual drama. Most often this takes the form of a costume, but it can also take the form of lighting, messaging or performance.
Be Visual Part III: If you're too shy to turn yourself into a human sign, props can do the heavy lifting for you. Anything that can be used for a photo offers instant engagement. Ideas include jail cells, mad science labs, images with cut-outs for faces or holdable items such as fake boulders, picture frames or oversize objects.
Be Comfortable: The right trade show furniture makes people want to stop, sit down and have a chat. Add furniture with electric outlets and you'll be everyone's favorite!
Give It Away: Of course, giveaways are always popular. From candy to tchotchkes, this is a classic approach. The key is to require engagement the price of receipt ("Tell me your biggest problem when it comes to ______"), rather than creating a self-serve free for all.
Games: Everyone loves some type of game. The trick is finding some type of game that everyone loves, and that communicates your company's value proposition. For example, "Guess how much money we saved our clients last year—the closer you are, the bigger the prize!). Simpler is better, but make it a conversation starter rather than a "one and done."
Tips for Building Engagement as an Event Organizer
Game Part II: As suggested by Lois Kostroski, executive director of the American Software Testing Qualifications Board, games are even better when created by the event organizer: Attendees have to visit each (or many) booths to get a stamp, collect a gizmo, etc. Attendees who collect the requisite ‘whatevers’ are entered into a prize drawing. Tie the game into the conference theme if you can, and then it does double duty.
Sprint Sessions: Charissa Sharkey of the New England Grows trade show and conference is a fan of "Sprint Sessions." While the educational component of New England Grows is huge, it takes place on a different floor of the conference center. In contrast, the Sprint Sessions take place in the exhibit area, last just 15 minutes and feature educators, university personnel or exhibitors.
Show Specials: Charissa also recommends that trade show organizers encourage exhibitors to offer "Show Specials." Whether the exhibitor advertises these directly or through the conference communications, these are essentially coupons: "Visit us at Booth ____ to receive __% off during the show."
There are many great options for building engagement. But never forget the first rule: a little smile goes a long way!