Exhibition fundamentals and how to create the right type of exhibition
In this post I will cover the exhibition fundamentals that should underpin every exhibition.
I recently wrote a post for Exhibition News in which I said that adding an exhibition to a conference can add value AND increase profit. As well as encouraging event organisers to consider running an exhibition alongside a conference I gave some ideas on how to do this successfully. I would like to expand on that idea of creating exhibitions that add value.
The bog standard exhibition
It’s probably fair to say that I am more of a fan of the “idea” of an exhibition rather than the current format of most exhibitions. I am a regular exhibition visitor and I am regularly disappointed by the “experience”. Almost every exhibition looks the same!
I love the idea of buyers and sellers getting together in a temporary environment that has been specifically created to bring them together however, unfortunately, the environment that is created often negatively impacts this commercial exchange.
The environment and the atmosphere of the exhibition is absolutely crucial and it is all too often the aspect given least attention by the harried organiser. Often the environment created only throws up barriers between buyers and sellers. It never used to be like this, so what happened…….
Exhibitions have been around for a long time
You can trace exhibitions back a thousand years or so when city states opened up their markets to foreign visitors. But perhaps the first modern exhibition was the Great Exhibition which took place in the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. Perhaps surprisingly the format and the layout hasn’t changed much in 170 years. However in many cases it has gotten worse!
So there is certainly loads of scope to take an innovative approach to an exhibition should you decide to set one up (or make changes to the exhibition you already have) so let’s review the fundamentals that should underpin the modern exhibition.
Exhibition Fundamentals: As the event organiser these five points should underpin your exhibition
1. The exhibition organiser’s job stretches way beyond just booking the exhibitors and securing the visitors. These are two very difficult parts of an exhibition but they are only the start. It is obvious that at too many shows the event organisation starts and ends there. There are other fundamental things to concentrate on!
2. Exhibition organisers have to create an atmosphere that is more pull than push. Your attendees should WANT to spend time in your exhibition and organisers should be doing things that encourage attendees to spend time in the hall. Pushing them in by having registration and refreshments is OK as long as you have other things that pull them into the space.
3. Exhibition organisers have to book the RIGHT exhibitors. We have probably all been to an exhibition where one or two stands stand out, for all the wrong reasons. I remember seeing a clothes shop (with racks of clothes) at a business show for Executive Assistants and someone selling balloons at an Events show. “Perhaps” they are of interest but context is everything. It is clear that the organisers were struggling to sell space and were accepting anyone who would pay anything.
4. Visitors have to be able to do more than visit stands in your exhibition area. A great exhibition is an experience. You need interactive spaces where attendees can engage with the content covered in the show. You need nice places to relax and of course you need places to charge and work from. This is space that could be sold (if it’s a popular show) but this free space is essential to make the attendees time at your event relaxing and enjoyable.
5. Organisers have to encourage / incentivise / stipulate that Exhibitor’s stands are engaging and that their staff act in the appropriate manor. It’s too important to just pass this on to your exhibitors and hope they perform. Organisers have to do all they can to ensure that the spaces are engaging and the staff on the stands take the appropriate approach.
If you look at your exhibition afresh, with these five fundamentals you will approach the event in a much more creative way. You will be focusing on adding value and creating an experience. And your exhibition will stand out for all the right reasons.
And here are the fundamental things that exhibitors should avoid when taking part in your exhibition
Rather than write the well worn list of exhibitor best practice I thought I would add three pictures from an events industry exhibition in Scotland a couple of years ago. They really do say it all!
Yes, the chap from the National Outdoor Events Association is on the phone. Yes, the stand looks terrible. If you were a member of the NOEA wouldn’t you think, you lot should not be representing me!
Event Scotland is a large and very important Government department, but here they are stuck in a little space with a few pop ups. This is the organisation that sells Scotland to the world as a destination for events!
This is the BEST ticketing platform available. It is cutting edge tech and Eventbrite are though leaders when it comes to events! Would you pick any of that up when you look at this space? Where is the Tech? I have to ask, is this actually doing more harm to their brand than actually not turning up?
All too common mistakes
It may look like it, but I am not picking on any of these three organisations as almost every exhibitor makes these mistakes, I just happened to be there on that day to take a few pictures. Anyone and everyone makes these fundamental mistakes at an exhibition. But usefully these three pictures probably cover all exhibition bad practice!
Older exhibition attendees forgive these mistakes: that’s just what happens at exhibitions they say, however, millennials and generation z attendees are no so forgiving. They won’t come back and they won’t buy from your exhibitors.
I encourage exhibitors not to do the hard sell at my exhibitions but to engage and be remembered. I know this sounds counter intuitive but it really works. The ability to call that visitor in a couple of weeks and have them remember your stand or the conversations they had with the staff on your stand is priceless. This is the crucial overarching point that should underpin an exhibitor’s engagement: interact and be remembered for the right reasons.
For the organiser the most crucial element is an understanding that they have to create an overall atmosphere that puts people at ease and allows them to enjoy the experience at your event.
If both parties concentrate on these exhibition fundamentals they will add so much more value to the attendees.