By Michael Hart, Event Consultant and Journalist
People like to talk about innovation, but very few really enjoy implementing it.
The reality is that, even in this post-Great Recession era, profit margins have been regained in the event industry, making show organizers reluctant to rock the boat.
Only, exhibitors are ready to rock it. Attendees are ready to rock it. If organizers don’t begin to apply a bit more imagination to the way events are designed, exhibitors are left feeling invisible. They want results, they have revenue goals to achieve, and if you don’t supply solutions for them, they’ll go elsewhere.
Often when we think of innovation our minds wander off to visions of robots on the show floor, attendees wandering around with virtual reality headsets, artificial reality allowing us to…we don’t know what.
But face it, it will be a while before those technologies can have a ubiquitous impact on the average trade show. Your challenge is to innovate now to create an atmosphere in which the exhibitor is willing to invest.
Start with the basic story of your event. Are you even telling the story of your show brand? Do you even have one? Sure, all your signage has the same color scheme, but is your showfloor a mishmash of gaudy exhibit booths like it’s always been?
Think about the last time you took your family to Disney World or Disneyland. Is there be any chance you’d fall asleep, then wake up and not know where you were? Of course not, because event designers have worked the Disney brand into every inch of the environment.
Everyone remembers exactly how it feels to be in Space Mountain or Toy Store Mania! The entire environment tells a story. Organizing a show floor into content-related pavilions can similarly make the experience that much more memorable.
Reworking the stories surrounding and within your event can result in wholesale change in its layout and inspire innovation in activities and even timing. Demonstration theaters, attendee engagement activities, put it all on the table for consideration.
Ask exhibitors what they need to communicate their message; don’t just give them a list of exhibit booth sizes. If they say they need a way to demonstrate their vehicles, give them a racetrack (and charge them for it, of course). Whatever they ask for, figure out a way to give it to them, in a way that’s consistent with the event brand you have created.
Drop the iron curtain between on-showfloor and off-showfloor activities your exhibitors put on. If you know that every year an exhibitor has a big dinner and program for a select group of attendees at the hotel across the street, figure out a way to be part of the action. Turn your show into a big tent.
Understand some new ideas will work and some won’t, so commit to measuring results. Capture real data to inform decision making. And share those results with your exhibitors and the companies you want to have at your show.
Design thinking can be deployed to reimagine an event, an activation, an exhibit. Pull in what you and your partners know about societal, generational and global business trends. Think about the attendees, who have real human needs.
Think about the exhibitors, who are feeling invisible. Think about the exhibitors in this study who are struggling with the velocity of business, the lack of appropriate digital tools, the need to incubate new ideas. Exhibitors often struggle in silence until they simply vanish.
What your exhibitors still aren’t telling you can be harmful to the future of your show. And 75% of them think the show organizer can be doing more to help them.
Don’t let your exhibitors feel invisible. See them. Make the change.