"Sacred cows make the best hamburger” is a quote attributed to either Mark Twain or Abbie Hoffman (in itself pretty interesting, given they both changed the status quo in their days).
There’s a new generation coming into the workforce and they aren’t interested in wandering up and down a bunch of aisles in a rectangular concrete building, looking at boring displays staffed with people either on their own smartphones or staring vacantly into space.
Add to that the INSULT of having to pay for (crappy) connectivity, the same old
talking heads in the same old educational offerings or lame motivational speakers. Look at it that way and you have to ask: Why would someone new (or old) go to a tradeshow?
My last blog discussed poorly used expressions—but experiential was not one of them. I think it is a terrific term that really applies to the exhibition and event industries. According to Webster’s Dictionary, experiential means relating to, derived from or providing experience. Experience is the process of doing and seeing things and of having things happen to you.
So how can we make our shows offer memorable experiences that can’t be duplicated online or through social media? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Lose the talking head and PowerPoint format for panels. No more than three speakers. The point of a panel should be to solve a pain point your attendees have—with their input! Encourage interaction between the panelists, audience and include small group discussions.
2) Don’t book motivational speakers unless they really, truly bring something new and exciting to the table! If you have to have them, make sure that they thoroughly research and know your audience. The last SISO Executive Conference featured one of the best keynote-motivational speakers I’ve ever seen, Juliet Funt. She was funny, relevant, had CLEARLY done her homework and
took questions from the audience. She engaged us.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, when I hear a “motivational speaker” or a panel of industry experts (who never say anything politically incorrect, controversial or new) is scheduled to speak, I head for the nearest door. I’m not alone.
3) Every show has a new product area with static displays that just sit there behind glass on pedestals or in display cases. How boring, especially if you can’t see the product or invention work!
Place signage or produce a super short video illustrating why this product is so cool and why it was selected. How about asking visitors to leave written suggestions for improving or marketing those new products? (The latter should be read by show management before turning them over to the companies as sometimes people are plain mean or really, really stupid.)
Examine how you can change up the usual—and make sure you throw some cheese on that hamburger!
Stephanie S. Selesnick is president of International Trade Information, a longtime global exhibition industry specialist helping U.S show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and a well-known speaker and trainer. Follow her on Twitter at @stephselesnick.