Exhibit Booth or Classroom?

My company, Freeman, is very committed to improving live Face2Face Events.  Trade shows are a huge marketplace for Face2Face networking and education, as well as sales.

We’ve all walked through trade shows and watched where the crowds gather.  In the past, it was around exhibit booths that had attractive models, celebrity autograph signings, or some wild/crazy new product.  These tactics attracted a lot of bodies, but often, not a lot of sales after the show.

Lately, I’ve noticed a new trend that seems to be having a much greater effect on both traffic as well as follow-up in the relationship with the customer.  That trend is toward building educational environments into the exhibit booth design, versus just having “sales stands”.  The environments have ranged anywhere from a small plasma and a couple of stools to full fledged studios with incredible lighting and projection.

More and more associations and corporate meeting hosts are also utilizing the exhibit floor to create a variety of smaller, fast-paced, interactive classrooms and hands-on “experience” areas.  For years, exhibitors have bemoaned the show organizer for scheduling education directly opposite show times.  That was true, but in many ways was self-serving as it only addressed the attendee marketplace/purchasing role at the convention.  In professional associations, versus trade associations, historically education has been the primary driver.  The clash of marketplace versus education is inevitable.  This is especially poignant when continuing education (CE) certification is needed by the attendee.

Forward thinking exhibitors and show management have been incorporating moving CE courses to the exhibit floor…removing the clash, and increasing the amount of time and accessibility to the exhibit floor by the attendee.  This is similar to the long practice of gaming companies of putting the casino directly in the traffic pattern of all routes to meeting rooms, restaurants, and elevators that take guests to their rooms.  Instead of trying to beg attendees to walk the show, or getting exhibitors to understand that CE is the primary driver for the attendee visit, they have collaborated to create more robust environments that meld both.

Those exhibit booths that are busy are not just 1 – 4 sides with a hard counter/display between a salesperson and a potential customer.  They are staffed with subject matter experts, trainers, and educators helping to make their exhibit experience as robust a learning environment as the meeting rooms in other wings of the venue.  Attendees are more comfortable that they can enter these environments to learn without being “hard sold”; as importantly, they are open which are less intimidating and allow a passive visitor the opportunity to get a little or a lot of education, and be able to walk away at any time of their choosing, versus the traditional meeting with a hard start/stop.

Factoring attendee education in their ROI formulas allows companies to have more educated customers/prospects, who will have walked away with a greater depth of understanding, and be more knowledgeable and approachable in follow-up communication from the sales personnel following the event.

What are you all seeing, and how are you factoring attendee education in your meeting/convention/trade show/live event ROI?

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