Paying Attention to the Details Will Make or Break the Success of Your Next Show

By • November 5, 2012

By Charles Popper

While there are many factors that make a trade show successful, executing a show with an eye to the small things can make an exhibitor’s experience go from good to great.

Every trade show professional worth their salt will tell you that their No. 1 objective in putting on an event is driving attendance. Without strong attendance, the rest of the business of a trade show cannot be maximized.

As a professional who participates in numerous trade shows every year as an attendee, exhibitor and sponsor, I’m always on the lookout for ways to maximize my return on investment. Sadly, many show organizers forget that getting the most out of their shows isn’t a solo effort – it’s a partnership between the exhibitor and the trade show manager that requires a mutual commitment to success.

  • Driving attendance should be the top priority of your event-planning team.
  • Successful trade shows are built on a equal partnership between exhibitors and show managers.
  • Exhibitor satisfaction is typically based on what they learn at your show, how well you schedule your events and the foot traffic you generate on the show floor.

Let me share a quick story with you. One Friday night, many years ago, I was among 200 harried exhibitors on the trade show floor setting up for an event scheduled to begin the following morning. It wasn’t exactly my ideal way to spend a Friday night after an already long week, but I was pleasantly surprised when the show operators came down my aisle with a pushcart full of beer and pizza. After offering me the complimentary “refreshments,” they thanked me for my participation in the show and moved on to the next booth.

While this simple gesture was a welcome diversion and put a smile on my face, disappointing foot traffic by our booth over the next two days quickly made that Friday night “refreshment break” a distant memory. Although the show organizers announced record attendance that year, a host of small organizational mistakes kept attendees from fully interacting with the exhibitors and sponsors on the show floor – and left a bad taste in the mouths of many of my fellow exhibitors.

If you’re a show organizer, paying attention to a few small items can make all the difference in the world between having an exhibitor return to your event the next year or seeing them go elsewhere in hopes of a better return on their investment. While there are many factors that go into an exhibitor’s “re-up” decision, they can be categorized into three main areas: educating exhibitors, scheduling of events and creating a “sticky” show floor.

I began by saying that maximizing a show’s return on investment is a shared responsibility between the exhibitor and show manager. As an exhibitor, I look for as much information about the show as possible. The more information and resources a show organizer can provide, the more effectively and quickly I can do my job.

Benefits of a pre-show promotion planner

For instance, my colleagues at NaylorCMG have created a “Preshow Promotion Planner,” a binder that provides exhibitors with all the information and tools they need to “control their own destiny.” This planner, notes Ray Luca, vice president of NaylorCMG, is an exhibitor’s one-stop resource containing information on logistics, attendee information, advertising in relevant industry publications and other ways to gain booth exposure. In addition, the planner provides exhibitors with helpful exhibition industry resources provided by the Center for Exhibitor Industry Resources and the Tradeshow Exhibitors Association.

Conflicting sessions create lost opportunities

Regardless of whether I’m speaking, exhibiting or simply attending a show, I make some of my best contacts on the show floor. Like many attendees, I frequently take part in a show’s education and roundtable sessions, so I’m negatively impacted in several ways when planners schedule competing events during show hours. First, I miss out on the networking opportunities described above (see the related article on importance of networking in today’s issue). Second, scheduling conflicting education events prevents me from furthering my professional education. Third, I miss chances to keep my finger on the pulse of my industry. And perhaps most damaging, the competition for attendees’ attention will result in less traffic on the show floor.

Ask yourself: What’s in it for the attendee?

So, how do the savviest exhibitors attract and retain time-pressed attendees at their booths? It goes back to all the little things that add up to a great (or disappointing) show experience. They always keep WIFA in mind:  “What’s in It For the Attendee?” They make their information and demos clear and easy to find. They staff their booths with knowledgeable reps that can answer questions, not just collect business cards. They make their booths welcoming by providing food and drink “rest stops,” or small areas for relaxing, and they create an environment that fosters a natural dialogue between exhibitor and attendee without resorting to the hard sell.

Let’s face it. At a time when marketing and travel dollars aren’t exactly falling off the trees, you have to make every event – every hour on the floor – count. Be bold. Think big. But never neglect all the little things that make the difference between hitting a home run or striking out with the bases loaded at your next high profile event.

Charles Popper is Naylor’s vice president of association relations. He has more than 15 years of business-to-business and consumer publishing experience.


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