Does Your Event Need an Exhibit Floor Makeover?
Vendors and attendees are important to conferences. If you’re not building the right kind of energy on the floor, you could risk losing them.
However, these groups want very different things. Vendors want business, while attendees want information, fun, and awesome swag. Vendors often base their attendance at your conference on the number of attendees; from there they figure out what percentage of those people fit into their ideal customer profile. If the number is not high enough to justify the cost of the trip, they’ll pass. You need to ensure they’ll see the numbers and drive more attendees to the exhibit floor. But with a group who wants to see numbers and one who wants to have fun, how do you make both happy?
Most association have a designated exhibitor space or floor and exhibit hours. If you want to ensure a nice traffic flow, the exhibit hours must not compete with anything that will steal attendees from the floor. Without enough attendees visiting the exhibit hall, your vendors will complain about a lack of sales opportunities. Obstacles to attracting exhibit floor visitors include:
– A much anticipated speaker or activity scheduled for the same time.
– Bookended times. If you set exhibit hours at the beginning or end of the conference, attendees will use this as additional travel time, not exhibit time. One national meeting hosted exhibitor hours during a Friday afternoon in December after the session part of the conference was over. While the conference was national, many of the attendees were local. Attendees left the conference early instead of visiting vendors. Needless to say many vendors were reconsidering their participation for the following year.
– Poorly placed beverage or charging stations. If these important areas are positioned outside of the exhibition floor, guess where everyone will congregate? It won’t be where your vendors are.
Lure Them and They Will Come
Now that you’ve eliminated distractions, you need to give them a reason to come by. This should be a subtle lure because if you try too hard to get them to the floor, you’ll have a bunch of attendees who aren’t really interested in buying or hearing from your vendors. They’ll pocket the swag and your vendors will complain about not having “good quality” sales opportunities.
Do things that will encourage attendees to window shop. At their annual conference, the American Society of Association Executives often houses the food in the exhibition space so if attendees plan to eat, they’ll have to walk through. They’ve also housed some of their mini-sessions in corners of the exhibit hall, which creates a natural flow of traffic.
The Institute of Food Technologists built a “fishbowl” learning area with clear walls in the center of their exhibition space and hosts some of its learning sessions there. It creates interest on the parts of those going by and those who are sitting in the audience looking around. It’s easy to see a booth you’d like to check out after the presentation.
Some associations offer awards for most creative booth, best swag, and others as voted by attendees. Attendees fill out a card with their votes and are entered into a draw.
Ditch the Exhibit Hall Altogether
If you’ve noticed your vendor attendance, and quality of the booths and the exhibit experience is down, it might be time to try what the Yellow Pages Association (now known as the Local Search Association) did several years ago. They adopted an innovative idea from the National Association of Chain Drugstores. Instead of a giant hall where attendees run the gauntlet between vendors, they created the opportunity for individual strategic meetings between vendors and attendees.
Big deal, right? All associations offer meeting time.
But they did it differently. They allowed vendors more than just the average 8-person table in a conference room. They switched the locations to cabanas, suites, and other luxurious private spaces. Now the meeting location was as enjoyable as the strategic exchange. The cost of these high-end spaces wasn’t much different than what vendors spent on a booth and everyone enjoyed them much more. The conversations were richer, the sales opportunities better, and the experience more memorable. This new venue allowed for guaranteed meetings with great sales potential.
Happy vendors and happy attendees make for a happy conference, but often the two groups are at odds with what they deem as a valuable conference experience. In order to make sure your vendors get the interest they want to continue making the investment in your conference, you need to help them get quality leads. Do this by minimizing distractions at your conference, providing incentives for exhibit exploration, and making the prospect of talking with vendors more enjoyable for your attendees. In the end, creating a richer exhibit experience is all about giving everyone a little something of what they’re looking for.
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