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How MR Conference Exhibitors Can Up Their Game

Under-performance by exhibitors matters as the revenue companies pay to have a stand reduces attendee fees and contributes to the financial viability of the events. If exhibitors fail to optimize their investment they'll be reluctant to pay what the space is worth.

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By Ray Poynter

I am lucky to attend a large number of conferences each year and at most of these conferences there is a trade-show or exhibition area. With a few notable exceptions many of the companies exhibiting at these shows are selling themselves short, they can and should do a much better job.

This under-performance by most exhibitors matters as the revenue companies pay to have a stand reduces the fees that attendees pay and contributes to the financial viability of the events. If exhibitors fail to optimize their investment they will be reluctant to pay what the space is worth. So, this post is a call to arms to improve the value that exhibitors gain from the events they attend.

How to improve stand/booth performance
There are a number of ways to improve the performance of a stand at an exhibition or conference, and here are a few examples:

Say what you do
When I walk around an exhibition I often play ‘Guess what that company does?’ This game involves looking at a stand from 5 meters away and seeing whether I can work out what service they are offering. In perhaps 50% of cases it is not clear what a company does from 5 meters away. For a few people the mystery of what a stand might offer will draw them in, but for others it will not cause them to even slow down as they pass the stand. As an exhibitor you want the people who are interested in what you have to offer stopping, and you are often keen that people who are not interested do not stop. If you area survey platform, say so, if you are providing semiotic solutions, say so, and if you are providing a new way to test concepts say so.

Have a demonstration
Some people will be happy with leaflets and bit of chat, but a demonstration tends to go further. If you have a survey app, let people take it on their mobile (offer choices such as QR-code, short URL, and email for them to initiate it). If you app has a nice management back-end, show it running. If you are selling video related services, e.g. capturing, storing, tagging, sorting, show it in use. If you have a translation service, ask visitors to submit text and have somebody (or something if it is an automated service) at the other end of the line reacting. Biometrics are a great area for demonstrations, people often find it hard to imagine (or believe) how the tech works, so you need an opportunity to demonstrate it.

If you have a demonstration, then one of the first things a stand staff member should say is ‘Would you like to see a demo?’ In a perfect world you would have a self-serve demo and a demo that the stand team can show – meeting the needs to two types of visitor.

Create a reason for people to recommend your stand
If you have something truly fun or different to show then people who see it will mention it to their friends, which drives traffic to your stand. Two good examples were the virtual reality demonstration by LRW at IIeX Amsterdam and the virtual presence that ZappiStore had at the MRS in London. Other good ideas include games, crowdsourced problem solving, and even serving the best coffee at the event (or chocolate, or champagne, or massage etc). However, to be fully optimized the ‘attraction’ should link people back to the product or service being marketed.

Benefits of visiting the stand
Create some reasons for people to visit your stand, ideally more than once. For example, you can offer a service such as phone charging, or snacks, or blank business cards (well blank on one side). If you are going to give away pens, mugs, notepads etc, do not just put them in the goody bag, but insert a card in the bag asking people to claim the item from your stand. On the card describe how to find your stand, and you can ask people claiming their ‘swag’ to jot down their email address etc.

Agree to meet people at the stand
Utilize the stand as your key geographic point of reference. If you have colleagues from other offices at the event, or friends you want to catch up with, or most importantly people you have met at the event, arrange to meet them at or by your stand. One cheeky trick done by some is to arrange for announcements to be issued mentioning your stand, e.g. “If Sue Jones is in the room would she meet Annie Businesswoman at the Integrated Futures stand.”

Mini-lectures at the stand
This is a technique I learned from Pete Comley who was a master of it when creating the agency that is now known as Join the Dots. Pete would post a schedule on his stand saying that at these times he would give a short presentation on X, or Y, or Z. This move was not always wildly popular with other stands, but did attract people to the stand, was time efficient, and created an awareness of what the company had to offer. Of course, these presentations have to be so interesting that people would choose to attend what could easily turn out to just be a sales pitch.

Use your senior people in conjunction with the stand
Very often the stand is staffed by marketing people, or junior people, or people on contract, leaving the more senior staff to attend the event, network etc. However, if somebody seems interesting it makes sense for the staff on the stand to try to book them a chat with somebody more relevant – using the stand as the place to meet. If you have some stars at the event, for example an Annie Pettit, Pete Cape, Jon Puleston, Fiona Blades etc, post a notice on the stand to say they will be at the stand at the following times. If you have stars, such as Melanie Courtright and Tom de Ruyck do not be embarrassed to offer the chance of joint photos – which you should tweet and pin.

Utilize social media
It is hard to go too overboard with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – not to mention other social media such as Instagram or Pinterest. Tweet quotes from the stand, post pictures of people who visit the stand (with permission), shout out about the goodies you’ve got, the demos you are giving, and the times of any stand-based events.

Use the session times to book meetings

If the event is a conference then there will be busy times, for example during the breaks and less busy times, when the presentations are happening. Try to book one-on-one meetings and demonstrations for the quiet times.

Other ideas?
I have listed some of the ideas I have found useful and some of the good ideas I have seen other people use. What would you add to the list? What has caused you to visit (and perhaps revisit) a stand at an exhibition?

Please share...

3 responses to “How MR Conference Exhibitors Can Up Their Game

  1. I love stands that have something fun to draw you to them and break the ice… one notable example was GMI in Dublin getting delegates to (try) and pull a perfect pint of Guinness. I always thought having a game console (such as PS) and dance mat at the stand with a leaderboard would be a hit.

  2. Great summary of ‘things that work’, Ray. Very nice. Thanks for sharing…

    A few that I’d add to the list:
    – Do your ‘homework’ before the conference. Build up momentum with your target audience and engage weeks ahead.
    – Use social media teasers to drive people to your booth at the venue. If possible, use humor, it works.
    – Position two ‘director chairs’ with a nice backdrop picture of the location. Visitors can use it to sit down during the demo or discussion. Encourage them to take a snapshot and tweet it, they will likely do it if the backdrop is nice. And it will be memorable.


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