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How AI is Powering the Tradeshow of the Future

By EventMB Studio Team

The future is now. That’s what they say. But what exactly will AI bring to the future of trade shows and how will you apply those opportunities?

Whether your view on AI is colored by the cartoon from the 60s, the Jetsons, or the movie Terminator, chances are you understand some of the incredible capabilities behind it. What you might not have a good grasp of is what artificial intelligence (AI) could mean for trade show and business expo events. AI can bring a new world to you, your attendees, your vendors, and your sponsors.

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How AI is Powering the Tradeshow of the Future

What Is AI?

Artificial Intelligence is a very broad subject and it means different things in different industries. However, in events it most often refers to machines or technology that can perceive their environment and respond to it using words and syntax. Most of us use AI on a daily basis with Siri, Alexa, and Ask Google. Chatbots are probably some of the most common uses for this entertaining technology.

With advances in computer size and AI techniques, there’s been a widespread use of artificial intelligence. SXSW, for instance, used a chatbot to field 56,000 questions at its conference in 2016. Calculate the time saved in man hours!

AI has contributed to the growth of another area of technology - autonomous things, such as drones, self-driving cars, auto-braking systems, and self-adjusting home devices. But how can we use this technology at trade shows and what will it bring to us?

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What Opportunities Does AI Provide at Trade Shows?

Sure, we all love asking Siri and her AI friends funny questions, but AI can be used for a lot more than telling us jokes. From a trade show perspective, AI helps streamline operations and takes care of basic processing tasks. It can help with a host of other activities including:

1. Virtual Sales Assistants

If your vendors have any sort of process for identifying ideal customers, they can hand that off to AI. With a simple list of things that they are looking for, an AI system could qualify people as good leads or those that should be called last, or not at all.

2. Networking

AI can help match attendees who are looking to do business with vendors without wasting anyone’s time. It could also look at both sets of calendars and schedule a mutually beneficial time for their meeting. This technology could also be used for matching attendees and those looking for recommendations on services or products.

3. Chatbots

While some vendors may approach this with trepidation, because of the novelty of chatbots and other forms of AI, attendees often think it’s fun to converse with them. Sometimes these conversations can be more enjoyable than talking with a salesperson. For vendors with multiple tiers or options, a chatbot could work alongside a salesperson to assess a potential customer’s needs and share best fits with them.

Upsells are charming coming from a “robot.” (Just don’t let the AI hear you refer to them as a robot. I asked Alexa once if she was AI and she said she preferred to think of herself as brightly colored photons dancing through the atmosphere like the Aurora Borealis. Who wouldn’t want to converse with that over a salesperson?)

4. Crowd Draw

While this may not always be the case, today people are drawn to AI exhibits and use. If attendees knew your trade show was adopting AI as part of its theme or structure, you may have crowds you’ve never imagined.

Robotics Tomorrow Magazine proclaimed recently that Japan has “AI Fever” as it welcomed 40,000 people to its first AI Expo.

5. Improved Security with Image Recognition

Unfortunately, security issues are essential in today’s events. In areas where it’s of top concern, image recognition can help notify security personnel of people who pose possible security threats.

6. Speech Recognition

Speech recognition could ensure that only certain people could access your AI technology. This would keep anyone from garnering private information through voice commands.

7. Smarter Shopping Suggestions

If you’ve ever ordered anything on the Internet, the online store probably gave you a few “you might also like” suggestions. AI has taken that idea and expanded it. Robot concierge carts that are equipped with cameras can make suggestions when you’re physically shopping based on what you’ve placed in your cart.

These suggestions may include complementary items or ways you can use the item in the cart. For instance, at a home show, if the technology registered the purchase of patio furniture it might suggest that the attendee would also want an awning. AI could then instruct the attendee that there’s a vendor in the next aisle who could help. Going along with that is...

8. Relationship Building

It’s conceivable that AI could continue to learn based on merely being with an attendee. Think of the images snapped within a day, the items purchased, the questions asked, and the phrases used. You can learn a lot about someone from following them around all day.

Since this AI technology doesn’t even need to follow attendees around to find out what they’re most interested in, event planners can gain a lot of information from it. AI is a lot more enjoyable and intuitive than using apps. People are more likely to share with it and those shares can help you and your vendors understand your attendees in a much deeper way than previously possible. (Or at least with much easier access.)

9. Lead Follow-ups

Now it would be possible to easily personalize a message to each and every lead based on interests. Sorting data could be as easy as asking the question. No difficult data queries or strings that you have to type in. Plus, the data would be available at any time to anyone who had permission. This could be established through voice recognition.

Vendors could also follow up indefinitely without wasting salespeople’s time. AI can free up salespeople to sell and form relationships with attendees, not simply handle the administrative tasks behind sales. AI becomes their sales virtual assistants.

10. Assess Tire Kickers

If you use AI as a greeter for the booth, one that could assess an attendees’ purpose behind the booth visitation, then AI can provide instantaneous answers to the sales team later about whether the lead was interested or just wanted a giveaway.

11. Traffic Flow

AI and drones can give vendors and event planners equal access and ability to assess current traffic flow patterns. If the booth is slow, they can easily find out where the crowds are.

If you rely on your mobile phone for many of your work and personal activities you know that downloading an app for each event you attend, store you shop in, and business you have dealings with, can become tiresome if there’s no added value beyond the few occasions you interact with the organization.

AI and voice interfaces make getting an answer as simple as asking a question. If attendees are getting their information quickly and easily, your trade show is likely to stand out in their minds. Friction impedes the experience and AI reduces that friction to a conversation.

12. Be More Green

With AI and voice interfaces likes chatbots, even people who dislike navigating technology can find their answer easily. This quick access means your paper holdouts may be more likely to adopt a paperless environment, assuming they have a smartphone or are able to clip on a wearable device.

13. Better Displays

It’s difficult for some vendors to show their operations or what makes their product special without being able to bring people back to tour their operations. Unless they are lucky enough to have an operations hub in the same town as your event, this is not likely to happen. However, through cool interactive options that use a combination of AI and virtual reality, you could allow attendees to see the parts of your company that are most interesting to them. The interaction is also a lot of fun. “Show me the company cafeteria.”

14. Instant Smarts

Your vendors may often wonder if they’re talking to a decision maker. With AI, this could be a quaint problem of the past. If your AI tech is connected with your attendee database, the tech could subtly tell your salespeople what job title the person in front of them had. No more time spent chasing down people who don’t have purchasing authority. For these situations, a chatbot could answer whatever questions they may have.

While this sounds harsh, and would certainly not be necessary for smaller shows, in large trade shows where salespeople have a hard time speaking to everyone who comes to their booth, this would allow them to make smart decisions about their time, Which brings us to easily-mined...

15. Data

The questions attendees ask chatbots can be tracked and quantified to gain some of the best insights as to what attendees really want and need. Sure, some of those attendee questions will just be asked for fun to see how the chatbot answers, but much of what they ask will provide insights into the attendee experience. This could become just as useful as exit surveys. Speaking of…

16. Painless Exit and Session Surveys

A great session or trade show is often followed by a disruptive request to attendees to share their thoughts (usually on paper) about the vendors or speakers. What if an AI bot could “approach” someone as they were leaving a hall or session and ask their opinion about their experience? It would be more like a conversation with a friend and less stilted than a question which reads “circle the number that corresponds with what you think.” This may be the closest we will come to receiving honest feedback and it certainly would be a lot less painful and disruptive for the attendee.

17. Concierges Outside of the Trade Show

If AI became personal with events as it is on our phones, meaning we each carried our own little helpful trade show friend, this technology could serve as a personal concierge outside of the trade show floor. It could include things like calendar reminders, reading off our schedules to us as we prepare in the morning, and even making suggestions about which entrance to go in for quicker access or closer proximity to the first item on our schedule. It’d be like each attendee having their own personal information butler. Which means…

18. Replace Search

It seems only natural that people will begin to gravitate towards the convenience of speaking their request rather than typing it. As voice recognition improves, the search button/field may soon be a thing of the past. As will trade show floor maps. If GPS technology continues to improve so that it is accurate within feet, there will no longer be a reason to publish maps of the floor. Attendees will merely request a specific vendor or a service/product and will be given directions to that location. AI could help them find it even if they weren’t exactly sure what they were looking for.

The Detroit Auto Show used this technology to a minor extent to ensure attendees weren't getting lost on its vast show floor. The show’s app traced their steps so they could easily know which areas they had already seen.

19. Problem Solving and Logic

AI can be used for narrowing down choices of vendors through questions and data-driven suggestions. For instance, if your trade show boasted 20 vendors that sold management software, they’re likely not all the same. Some may be enterprise consumer management software designed for Fortune 500 brands while others may cater to the small-staff association.

AI can be used to narrow down choices and save attendees time. As mentioned earlier, this also helps vendors by ensuring the people who come to see them are better fits and closer to their ideal customer.

20. Language Translation

As the economy continues to become more global and your trade show attracts a global attendee base, voice-activated AI technology can be used to assist with language translation. These means vendors needn’t worry that they don’t speak the attendee’s language, nor do they need to stall until their salesperson who does is available. AI can do it for them.

A Final Word About AI

As this technology becomes more widely embraced, we need to consider all of the privacy and data security ramifications with it. As much as event planners may enjoy the idea of easier access to important data, there may be some groups who simply refuse to embrace it. You need to know if your attendees are among these groups. Figure this out before you launch a new AI push at your next event.

In Conclusion

AI technology has made tremendous leaps over the past few years with improved voice recognition and smaller and more agile processors. We can expect this to continue in the years to come. But where will the events industry take artificial intelligence? The opportunities are vast. How will we use AI for events in the future? Maybe we should ask the machines.

Additional Information on Artificial Intelligence and Events

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence in Events (webinar)
Swapcard: Matchmaking by Artificial Intelligence (review)
Artificial Intelligence and Events (infographic)
3 Hotels Using Artificial Intelligence to Improve Guest Experience

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EventMB Studio Team
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