Get More Out of Your Live Events

By Hank Berkowitz • July 22, 2013

Hank Berkowitz
Hank Berkowitz, Editor in Chief

It seems the more you know these days, the more you have to refresh your memory. Case in point: A new report released last week from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) recommended that everyone on your exhibit staff should take a “refresher course” before arriving at your shows for two important reasons:

  1. Staff members may not have their in-booth “acting” roles as sharp as they could be.
  2. “Even exhibit staffers who are well-versed in your products and services do not know everything about the exhibition, the attendees, the exhibit hall, the target market, and the finer points of the exhibit layout and promotional props available for their use.”

  • Nothing breaks down barriers between members like live meetings.
  • Emphasize the networking experience your live events offer—not only at the meeting space, but at the restaurants, lounges, hotels and shuttles in the convention vicinity.
  • Talk to your members about the issues they are facing. Then deliver solutions or answers to those challenges at your event.
  • Provide exhibitors with year-round exposure and connections through your website, in your publications and at your local chapter meetings.

Camille Stern, vice president and group show director of NaylorCMG, agreed that exhibitor training is a necessity, but maybe not for the same reasons cited by CEIR. According to Stern, most companies go to several, if not many, tradeshows a year. The notion of staff members not performing the “acting function often enough to be comfortable,” is only relevant if the person you are sending is completely new to trade shows and hasn’t been trained on the “do’s and don’ts.” Stern added that companies often send their regional sales person from the area where the show is being held (to avoid travel costs). “While the sales rep may understand their product—they may not understand, or be comfortable, in the market in which they have been sent.”

Making the live event more valuable for attendees

According to Rick Brown, executive director of conventions and meeting services for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), “You really need to emphasize the networking experience that occurs at your live events. It’s not only at the meeting space, but at the restaurants, lounges, hotels” and anywhere else near the venue event where a great chance meeting can occur. (This reporter has personally made some of his best contacts on shuttle buses between hotels and convention centers. Maybe I’ll sit next to you at ASAE next month.)

“Having a live meeting really helps break down barriers between members,” Brown continued. “There are more ways to talk about issues they’re having in a more casual atmosphere. In our case, it’s not just about construction issues, but things like cyber security, HR and future technology.”

Phil Russo, CAE, executive director of NAFA Fleet Management Association, said you need to be on top of live event trends and technologies and apply those trends and tools to your meetings in ways that are valuable specifically to your members. Also, you need to keep costs down and give attendees options, Russo added.”We offer multiple registration packages and hotels at different price points to [prevent] price from being a hurdle for anyone.”

Leverage social media, advised Karl Kirsch, CAE, vice president of Meeting Expectations, who said you can offer an app, such as MyShowPlan, that helps attendees manage their engagements. “As people build their agendas, you can see which sessions are going to be more popular and it helps you manage the room seats.” Also, if you engage attendees on Twitter prior to the show, you can manage the crowd almost instantaneously by sending them tweets from the exhibit floor, directing them to a particular booth that has an interesting giveaway, Kirsch added.

Solve a problem

Talk to your members about the issues they’re facing, advised Russo, and deliver solutions to those issues at your live event. “We did this successfully this year because we asked our members last year what problems they faced,” he said. “We learned that their issues fit into four main categories (cost-cutting, safety, technology and professional development). So we delivered sessions that provided solutions to those areas.” Long story short: “Attendance was up 20 percent from last year!”

Optimizing the exhibitor experience

Keep drayage costs down, avoid “schedule bunching” and add value for your anchor exhibitors, recommended NaylorCMG’s Stern. To avoid schedule bunching, you have to know who your competitors are and make sure you don’t slot your event too close to theirs, she added. “Otherwise attendees may have to choose one show over the other, reduce staff at your event, and incur overtime and lost productivity.” In terms of adding value for anchor exhibitors, Stern said you should assign a staff person to “coach” exhibitors through the marketing process.

AGC’s Brown suggested creating events in the exhibit hall (social activities and networking opportunities), but not creating large events outside the hall that coincide with exhibit hours. He predicted that like AGC, more associations will make their exhibit hours shorter, but more concentrated. “Make sure exhibitors feel they’re the most important thing at your show during expo hall hours.”

In terms of keeping exhibitors happy, Russo said only three things really matter:

  1. Bring in the customers they want to see.
  2. Provide them year-round exposure and connections through your website, in your publications and at your local chapter meetings, and
  3. Help exhibitors showcase their expertise outside of the expo hall.

“The fleet business is all about relationships, and it takes more than just two days on an expo floor to connect,” noted Russo. “The more exposure an exhibitor has throughout the year, the better his or her chances of being recognized and accepted by the industry.

Factoring virtual events into the equation

In an unscientific online poll we conducted last month, the majority of Association Adviser readers (59.4 percent) believed “virtual attendees” of their live events virtually should pay at least half of what full attendees pay. In fact, one in five respondents (20.2 percent) believed virtual attendees should be the same registration fee as live attendees.

See “Did You Know?” in today’s issue for more about the poll results.

According to Russo, NAFA has talked about streaming content such as the annual convention keynote address or other single sessions (but not the entire conference). “We’ve also looked at pricing for similar one-hour webinars as a benchmark. You have to consider the value of the session and the information being given.”

Dan Stevens, president of WorkerBee.TV, recommends “pricing at market” by factoring in the total cost of attending the event (registration, hotel, travel, etc.), and dividing that total by the number of sessions you expect to attend. You will have to discount that number since you won’t have the networking experience that you would at a live event—but if you can offer accreditation or professional certification, that can substantially raise the price, said Stevens, whose company provides video streaming platforms for corporations and not-for-profit organizations, and partners with Naylor to produce association videos.

Horizontal or vertical?

Looking a few years down the road, should associations be thinking more horizontal or vertical? In other words, should they be holding more broad-based mass audience events or more tightly focused niche events?

NAFA’s strategy is to be the broad-based event at which everyone and anyone who has anything to do with fleet is expected to attend, said Russo. “Under that umbrella we cover all the pertinent topics for each of the segments we serve. This has been a conscious decision because our members have told us there are already too many conferences/meetings in the industry, and they can’t afford to be out of the office that many days, nor can they afford the expenses for all of those meetings.”

Stevens said that it’s hard to generalize. You have to continually poll your members and continually look at your stats. “What articles and videos are being consumed the most? That will tell you what topics they value the most? What are the most attended sessions at your live conferences and events? It doesn’t mean broad content can’t fit. Members join association because they want context [to that niche topic].”

Getting it right before and after the event

Before the meeting, it’s important to connect buyers and sellers by encouraging them to make appointments with exhibitors, said Russo, adding that you can also go through your program and, for each session, list the exhibitors that relate to that particular subject. “This encourages attendees to seek out those exhibitors. After the meeting, we provide members with an executive summary of all the ‘takeaways’ from each session during the event. They can edit the document and send it to their bosses to show what they learned and the value they got from attending.”

“Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!”

According to Naylor CMG’s Stern, exhibitors who believe that attendees will come to their booth simply because they’ve shown up will be sorely disappointed. “That’s why exhibit managers need to prove the ROI for an exhibitor and the exhibit marketing program. And that’s why an exhibit marketing program is so important when evaluating shows. On the space application, ask the exhibitor ‘What do you want to achieve at the show?’ – then help them achieve it,” Stern added.

Russo agreed. “Gone are the days when you can expect exhibitors to flock to your show simply because they [will fear] being ‘conspicuous by their absence.’ Gone are the days when you can simply cut the ribbon on opening day and expect buyers to flock to exhibitor’s booths. Gone are the days when attendees will come to your event simply because it’s what they’ve always done. You have to constantly prove your value to everyone you want at your show and prove why your value is better than everyone else’s.”

So grab a fresh cup of your favorite brew and enjoy the rest of today’s issue. Hillary Levitz shares tips for helping your younger staffers prepare for the first major conference experience. And, speaking of coffee, don’t underestimate the power of delivering a hot beverage to a tired, travel weary exhibitor on a cold day. Evan Brown explains more in today’s From the Front Lines column.

About The Author

Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser eNews.