As show organizers, we all feel (or should feel) a tremendous responsibility for ensuring that our exhibitors receive value for the investment they make in our events.  Unfortunately, many of the strategies we employ to accomplish this not only fail but actually exacerbate the problem.

Case in point: serving food in the exhibit hall.  Sounds perfectly reasonable, right?  If attendees want to eat (and they do), serve them in the exhibit hall and, voila!, instant traffic.  True, it does provide traffic.  But does it drive business for exhibitors?  I would argue that it typically does not.  Here’s why (if none of this applies to you, congratulations; you are among the minority):

Chances are lunch is being served immediately after a session has concluded, and new sessions are scheduled to begin immediately after the lunch break.  Attendees are not only hungry, this is also likely the first opportunity they’ve had to check email, call into the office, etc.

So, how exactly does this exacerbate the problem since it does drive traffic to the hall?  Imagine you’re an exhibitor and you see hundreds (or thousands) or attendees rushing into the hall.  But instead of stopping by to visit your booth, you see them grabbing lunch and going (hence the term “Grab and Go”).  As an exhibitor it feels like a big tease!

The problems we often look to solve are of our own making.  We provide hours of open exhibit time and then run programming in competition with it.  The end result is hours of boredom with an occasional window of opportunity to get the attention of attendees who are already starved for time.

More often than not, the key to giving one’s exhibitors a quality, satisfying experience is providing a reasonable number of exhibit hours unopposed by programming of any kind (and, preferably, not during lunch or at the end of the day).  This is the time when attendees can take what they’ve learned in your sessions and engage with the many potential “partners” who are there with the products and services designed to help them turn theory into practice (and results).  In other words, create an appreciation for the fact that your exhibitors are an essential part of the education process.

What I always suggest to my clients is this:  When in doubt about a strategy or tactic, put yourself in the shoes of the person or group you are trying to help.  What are the possible unintended consequences?