Three Tips to Reimagine and Re-Engage Your Exhibitors

January 17, 2019

Edward Byers

Edward Byers operates the website Meeting Protocol. He has more than 15 years of experience working in corporate and special events, including two Olympic Games, the Special Olympics, incentives and not-for-profits. 

It is another year of planning your annual trade show and it’s time to start calling the same exhibitors to see if they will register again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. You aren’t asking them if they are getting value, if they are getting leads or closing business on those leads. Is it time to ask yourself if you need to reimagine the way you run your show? 

Even if your number of exhibitors hasn’t decreased, it still may be time to be thinking about the longevity of your event. We all remember what happened to Blockbuster! Here are some ways that you can reinvent your trade show to increase participation and engagement. 

Get Creative

Ask your exhibitors to think of ways they can set up their space without using tables or pop up banners. This will force them to think outside the box. Where is your trade show being held? Is it in a hotel? A convention center? Maybe it’s time to think of alternative venues near the host hotel (depending on size, of course). Another option is to use unconventional space within the hotel, for example, maybe you can use the foyer, rooftop (weather dependent) or perhaps hotel room suites. If you are constricted to using the traditional ballroom, look at ways to reinvent the space, for example, the use of furniture and A/V. Perhaps instead of traditional booth spaces, you can create lounges or pods that are tied to the theme of your event? If budget is an issue, you can look at furniture and décor sponsors to help offset the cost to you and your exhibitors. 

Would They Be better Suited As a Sponsor?

Some companies may want to exhibit but it may not be best suited for them, or they may be looking to get more exposure at your event. You don’t want to steal potential exhibitors or potential sponsors from one another, but typically sponsorship opportunities will generate more revenue, and there are fewer opportunities than exhibit spaces. Perhaps a potential exhibitor would rather sponsor the content on the trade show floor? Depending on your tradeshow there may be a company that wants to showcase their services to your audience. For example, if you are hosting a tradeshow for technology professionals, there may be an A/V provider that may want to be a sponsor (cash or in-kind) and create a spectacular set up for the educational sessions? 

Ensure They Are Getting Value

Do you survey your exhibitors after the show to ensure they are getting value? If not, you should start. Are they connecting with the right people? One way to ensure that exhibitors are making connections is to provide a scheduling system for them to book appointments. This doesn’t always work, so an alternative to this could be changing the way the trade show flow works. For example, maybe you set up a speed dating event, which will help facilitate discussion among your participants and exhibitors. There are plenty of ways to ensure that your exhibitors are getting the most out of your show but don’t forget to ask them and actually do something with the information you receive. 

Trade shows provide an excellent opportunity for your participants to connect with potential suppliers. It also provides you with an additional revenue source for your event. It is always important not to take those relationships for granted and to always be reinventing your show. It is especially important if it is in the same location and/or venue every year. When in doubt about whether your show is providing value or if you can do more, don’t hesitate to ask them! 


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Partner Voices

As event professionals and destinations adjust, adapt and evolve in these uncharted waters, it is imperative that substantial resources be put in place for all of the people responsible for planning and executing trade shows, expositions and conventions. An example is Mohegan Sun, which built an industry-leading, COVID-19 Resource Center with a combination of pictures from recently held successful events (the property reopened on May 1, 2020) along with several widely available and informative documents, such as an evolving operational framework: