Give attendees what they want

January 29, 2015

When planning your upcoming trade show exhibits, how much do you think about what attendees at that show want … or are you simply including all the things you (and others who have a say within your company) want to show off?

leadPerhaps you’re not even sure what attendees want in the first place. That’s where studies done by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) come in handy. Earlier this month, they released a report titled “Quick Guide on Attendee Preferences by Industry Sector”which includes answers from 421 respondents in 14 industries. And while the ranking of answers may vary somewhat by industry, the top two shopping-related reasons attendees go to trade shows are consistent across the board:

  1. See new technology
  2. Ability to talk to experts

Problem is, many exhibitors (and sometimes the shows themselves) fail on one or both counts. While there may be new technology, it’s either not featured prominently or not shown off to the best advantage. What if shows created a spotlight area for new tech, or perhaps even had a theater on the show floor where that technology could be presented more in-depth?

Now I know what you’re thinking … “What if we have no new technology because we’re not a tech company?” Well I’m sure you have something new to share … and new product introductions comes in as the third reason on that list. The key is to show it off with product demonstrations … or better yet, hands-on interaction with the product. (Both rank high on the list of show floor interaction preferences from the study, by the way.)

Now as for the ability to talk with experts … a lot of exhibitors miss the boat on this one. How many times have you seen a booth filled with only salespeople (or been guilty of this yourself)? It’s no secret that they are not necessarily the best option for booth staffers. (In fact, I wrote an entire blog post on this topic.) It’s important to have a mix of experts in the booth — technical, customer service, R&D, etc. — who can answer all kinds of questions because getting answers is another primary thing attendees want.

And don’t overlook the non-shopping reasons attendees also cited in the CEIR study, which include getting industry trend insights and improving their job performance. How can you assist attendees with those objectives?

You could offer education, either by offering to lead conference-wide breakout sessions or a session within your own booth. Show how your company is a thought-leader in the industry and on the leading edge of trends. Find out what specific topics your target audience is most hungry for, then address those in your presentations, or in reports you create to give to attendees who provide you with their contact information. Are they looking for a way to compare brands? Create a report on “How to Choose the Right ______ for You” … which of course, gives them all the data they need to see your company as the obvious choice.

Above all, don’t ever forget that face-to-face interaction is one of the key advantages of trade shows over other marketing methods. Be sure you take full advantage of that by providing attendees with the “live” aspects they can’t get elsewhere like hands-on involvement and the ability to meet experts they otherwise might not have access to.

For more in-depth insights on what attendees want, here are a couple more CEIR reports to check out:

Guest Blogger:  Marlys Arnold

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and theExhibitorEd Success System. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community. To request an “Extra Shot of Exhibit Success” go to


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