Trade Show Turnout: 4 Tips for Attracting Visitors and Exhibitors to Your Next Event

by Samuel G. Smith  on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011 12:00 am  

Perks, easy accessibility and the opportunity to network with new contacts continue to make trade shows an attractive option, such as the 2010 Aces show.

In a world where more and more is being conducted virtually, the value compared to the cost and effort involved in organizing a trade show could be considered much less today than it once was. But with valuable opportunities for face-to-face networking and hands-on learning, many still find the trade show and similar events worthwhile investments.

“People have lots of ways to shop and do business these days,” said Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association. “At trade shows, you can really shake the hands of people and meet people and network.”

“Networking is extremely important,” said Ann Hines, executive vice president of the Arkansas Oil Marketers Association. “In our industry, if you need a product, you need to know who you call.”

“There’s a lot to be gained from the relationships that you rekindle year to year at your trade show,” said Anne Fuller, president of Best Association Management. “The trade show is the place where you see your vendors and talk to your group. Maybe its value is different than it used to be, but people will always have that need.”

Getting People to Come

Planning a trade show is only half the battle; people also have to feel compelled to attend. Here are some tips from seasoned trade show organizers on how to draw people in:

1. Provide perks. “You have to have something tied to it that you know your membership is going to want, whether it’s continuing education or the social aspect,” said Joie Ketcham, member services director for Brent Stevenson Associates, whose conferences and events include the annual convention of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. At that one, attendees can get all their continuing education credits in one weekend.

Mary Dandurand, executive director at the Arkansas Society of Association Executives, said one of her events held a random prize drawing for which only those who visited each booth could be eligible. One of McNulty’s events featured a culinary contest with cash prizes. Before naming the winner, visitors could sample the competitors’ creations.

Hines’ organization offers an online trade show in addition to the physical one. “If a company has a trade show booth, they get continuous advertising for the next year,” she said.

2. Make it accessible. The easier it is to attend a show, the more likely people will want to come. Keep costs for visitors and exhibitors low and make sure as many needs as possible are met. Larry Boccarossa, executive director for the Arkansas Timber Producers Association, provides lunch for trade show exhibitors during set-up for his event. “My whole point is to try to satisfy and make the expense worth their while,” he said. “You do all you can to accommodate them.”

Randy Thurman, executive director for the Arkansas Environmental Federation, hosts an annual trade show and convention. “Whatever you can do to keep them happy should be at the top of the organizer’s list, whether it’s floor location, drinks, private receptions, special recognition or special discounts,” he said.

3. Bring people together. Since in-person networking is a big benefit of participating in a trade show, making these lines of communication as open and useful as possible will ensure participants have a positive experience. Thurman said his trade shows offer a valuable opportunity for regulators to interact with businesses. “Conventions provide non-threatening venues that allow all parties to better understand the challenges faced by the other side,” he said.



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