3 Features of a Highly Effective Exhibit: #2 Meaningful Engagement


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated for relevance and accuracy.

Ranking closely in importance to your exhibit staff is the challenge to provide attendees with meaningful engagement. Obviously, the right staff is critical to meaningful engagement, but the staff needs a plan, a strategy, to begin the process of engaging attendees.

What do we mean when we use the term “meaningful engagement”?

Let’s use a simple example. Suppose a product manager attends an event where the entertainment is a very skilled magician. The product manager comes to you and says, “We have to have that magician in our booth at the next trade show.” The magician would surely draw a crowd, but would it be the right crowd? On the other hand, the magician might work a message into the act that ties to your brand promise, which in turn could lead to meaningful engagement.

Now let’s look at a different example. The event industry is buzzing about finding applications for virtual reality (VR) to, for instance, deepen attendees’ understanding of products. VR can be effective, but ask yourself: are your attendees coming to your exhibit only to be invited to wear VR goggles and shut out the environment—or are they coming to talk to people, to have a face-to-face encounter? There is no single answer, but before you embrace cool new technology for its own sake, think about the type(s) of engagement you want to provide.

How can you provide meaningful engagement in your exhibit? 

The goal for any show-site activity should be engagement, and as such, the tactics for achieving this should have a beginning, a middle, and an end—like any good story. Again, rely on a simple scenario. 

The beginning:

  • Attendees come to the trade show and walk down the aisle.
  • They may or may not have your exhibit on their must-see list.
  • The first encounter should be with a staff member who asks an open-ended question. For instance, at a medical show, your staffer could ask, “Doctor, what are you currently using to treat (insert condition)?” At a technology show, the question could center on the connected home: “Who is winning mindshare? Amazon, Apple, or Google?”
  • 99% of attendees will not initiate a conversation with a staff member—your staffer has to make the first move.

The middle:

Once the interaction begins, a guided activity is a good next step. Product information lends itself to conversations or interactive experiences. Technology and medical equipment demand demos. In a world that runs on electronic communication, the human factor sets the trade show experience apart from anything else the attendee has been exposed to, so be sure that your staff doesn’t abandon the attendee to solo explorations. If you have a live presentation (like your magician),  devise ways to identify prospects from the audience for the presentation.

The end:

Hospitality is a good way to wrap up an exhibit visit. Invite the attendee to continue the conversation over a cup of coffee. Caveat: simply providing food and beverages to the masses is not meaningful engagement. Too often, long lines form in front of the yogurt station, and staffers don’t approach attendees waiting in line. The result? A wasted tactic and a wasted investment in yogurt.

As the encounter ends, confirm next steps, contact information, buying plans, and other relevant details. And of course, you have determined in advance how this information will be collected and disseminated to the field.

Why is meaningful engagement critical?

No matter how small your booth space or your exhibit, trade shows are expensive. They are generally the first or second largest expense in your budget. Can your company afford to spend this much money and not connect with the target audience in a way that will produce revenue? You may have other goals and objectives to measure the success of your program, but if your trade show results don’t have a positive impact on your company’s bottom line, your budget could be in jeopardy. In the best case scenario, you are cutting the time it takes to close a sale by engaging prospects at a trade show. Consider:

  • According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), the cost of an initial face-to-face meeting with a prospect is $96 for an exhibition lead but $1,039 without that lead. (That includes $443 to identify the prospect before the initial sales call and $596 for the field sales call). Meeting a prospect at an exhibition versus finding and meeting a prospect in the field saves $943 per prospect.
  • The number of field sales calls required to close a sale is lower when the lead comes from a trade show. CEIR reports 54 percent of sales initiated from a trade show lead are closed in three or fewer sales calls, while 61% of leads from other sources require more than three sales calls to close.

Meaningful engagement leaves the attendee with a positive experience and an interest in your products and services, but more than that, it can contribute significantly to revenue. And in the end, that’s the ultimate goal of the trade show program.

Author’s note: Spring was a very busy time, and I worked at a number of trade shows. I took the opportunity to wander around show floors and observe what made an exhibit staff effective. This three-part series is based on my observations.

You can start planning now for creating meaningful engagement by clicking here to receive our free guide, 28 Questions to Ask Before You Plan Your Exhibit Program.

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