3 Attention Hacks for Sponsors and Exhibitors: No more silly BINGO cards

By David Schaeffer • February 6, 2020

Let’s admit it, nobody likes exhibitor BINGO. Most attendees don’t participate and those who do are more often driven by completionism and their competitive nature rather than the desire for a generic gift card or conference registration that can’t be used until next year. At best, these games give your annual conference or trade show attendees and exhibitors an artificial sense of engagement. At worst, interrupting a quality conversation to scan a badge or stamp a card can result in a lost lead and a grumpy sponsor. Here are three things to advise your exhibitors about at your next trade show that will increase attendee engagement and boost their return rate.

3 ways exhibitors can maximize their trade show experience:

  • Attract high quality leads to your booth (large show)
  • Make the most out of every visitor (large show)
  • Build relationships in this alternative to BINGO (small show)

What’s the Goal?

Before employing any of these strategies, it’s important for you to understand your exhibitors’ objectives. For most companies, the aim of the show is either going to be branding or sales. Brand-focused vendors will be concerned with spreading the word about their product or service. They want everyone to come by and leave with a positive impression. Sales-focused vendors want to get in front of decision-makers.

By understanding each exhibitor’s goals, you can guide them to the best engagement strategy. This part is key. Not all vendors have a detailed event strategy and sometimes booth reps get selected or swapped out last minute.

Use the Right Bait to Attract High-Value Leads

To catch a big fish, exhibitors need the right bait. At a large show, it can be difficult to stand out amongst a sea of vendors all vying for the attention of top executives and senior decision-makers. Having a special giveaway or raffle for attendees shows that you value them and have put time into understanding their needs. Managing Directors and CEOs won’t be hooked by a $100 gift card and probably aren’t swayed by a cash prize at all. Instead, offer up something for their families like a Nintendo Switch or some premium headphones. Make sure to have a prepaid mailing label already filled out! There’s nothing worse than winning a great prize that won’t fit in your suitcase on the way home.

Alternatively, vendors could stop by the gift shop at the hotel or airport and pick up some destination themed souvenirs for their VIP guests. I remember when I was a kid and my dad would go away on business. I knew that he would come back with a t-shirt or hat from the city he visited. Encourage exhibitors to have a separate raffle container or spread the word that they have a special gift for attendees with certain titles. If the show is small enough, they could place an ad or call-out in the mobile app or on the attendee badges.

If a brand can show a high-value lead that much thoughtfulness, it could easily lead to a deal or at least a follow-up.

Tip #1: Use the right bait to attract high-value leads.

Convince Exhibitors to Plan Conversations in Advance

If you’re at a large show, chances are there are going to be people who stop at a booth and the attendee and exhibitor will have absolutely nothing in common. This is an excellent branding opportunity that makes the most of every visitor and lets them leave with a good impression. I was recently at a conference that featured vendors I really didn’t need or want to know about. When I inevitably asked the dreaded, “What do you do?” most gave me a canned answer and asked the same of me. This typically left us both stranded and stuttering for a moment, trying to find a way to turn it into a business opportunity. Perfect time for a bailout question:

“Who in my network might be interested in your product?”

Once I started asking people this question, it was amazing how it changed the conversation. First, people often took a step back and dropped their guard. It’s not something many were prepared to answer and their surprise helped to relax us. With the serious sales atmosphere clearing, we were able to have a normal conversation about the product or service. Second, asking this brought both of us back into a collaborative mindset. As humans, we are guilty of categorizing relationships and instantly sorting people based on whether or not we think we have a need for them. Finally, this approach gave me a positive feeling when leaving the booth: I was actively thinking about to whom I could refer this company, and I was more inclined to visit more booths.

Tip #2: Convince your exhibitors to plan ahead about how they will talk with people who enter their exhibit space but aren’t part of their target audience.

Make Business Personal by Rooting Out Mutual Interests

Smaller shows are unique in that they are often focused around a specific industry, product, or audience. Because of this, it’s possible attendees and vendors are all familiar with one another and the need for icebreaker-type interaction is not necessary. I’ve been at shows where I knew all the vendors and because my role didn’t interact with them, I wasn’t motivated to go mingle.

Instead of the dreaded BINGO card, suggest that booth reps submit a fun fact or hobby and have attendees try to guess who each fact belongs to. Yeah, it’s essentially BINGO, but attendees and vendors stand to discover mutual interests which lead to conversation, good feelings and eventually business.

People do business with people they like.

If you’re noticing that vendor engagement and booth traffic is declining, think about why that might be. In smaller industries, attendees might already know the vendors and have determined they don’t need to talk to them as business people. Perhaps you can convince them to talk to each other as friends.

Tip #3: Make business personal by rooting out mutual interests.

What do these three tips have in common? They all focus on treating people as people, not business cards or leads. Too many companies try to use their 30 seconds of face time to throw you into a funnel that hopefully spits out two to three qualified leads. By showing people that you took the time to consider their needs, talked to them as humans and cared enough to learn a little about them, they’ll be more inclined to interact with you in the future. They provide a referral, take that follow up call, or simply mark their calendar for next year’s event so the two of you can talk about mountain biking again. This results in happier attendees, happier exhibitors and of course, happier planners!

About The Author

David Schaeffer is an education innovation specialist with the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants. Reach him at [email protected].