Trade shows can be stand-alone affairs or an integral part of your conference or educational event. But, just because you have a trade show or exhibition doesn’t mean people will attend. The organization of all trade shows requires the event host to consider encouraging attendees to visit the exhibitors’ booths. This is known as generating traffic. Your communications strategy will be targeted to generating participation in the trade show by both exhibitors and audience. But, you could be doing more to assist exhibitors by increasing the number of visitors to their booths.

If the trade show is part of a conference, you should build some program events to take place on the trade show floor. Consider all activities that don’t include a speaker as exhibit attendance opportunities from breakfast to breaks to lunch to receptions. Some trade shows also included dedicated times during the program for exhibit visiting, but you will need to weigh this against other program requirements as well as your overall goals and objectives.

Depending on the size of the trade show, you may want to consider an exhibit passport. This is a printed document provided to participants at registration which includes space for attendees to collect proof that the attendee has visited the exhibitor’s booth (usually by way of initials, an answer to a trivia question or a stamp of some sort). Once complete, the attendee will return the passport to Show Management to be included in a draw for something that is valuable to the attendee (a necessary incentive to encourage visiting as many booths as possible). For larger or more diverse shows, it might be possible to operate this passport on a subset of exhibitors (say 50% or a designated market segment). This might result in more targeted traffic to the booths and result in happier exhibitors as exhibitors are most interested in qualified leads or visitors who are actual potential customers rather than having resources consumed by visitors unlikely to influence purchasing decisions.

If suitable given the nature of your event, another option is to provide a list of registered show attendees to your exhibitors in advance of the opening so that the exhibitor can invite known attendees to drop by their booth during the show (make sure your privacy policy allows for this). The exhibitor will often provide an incentive to the visitor, such as a giveaway or a discount on their next purchase, helping to build visits to their booth. For shows which are open to a broader audience and where registrant revenue is less important than traffic, exhibitors might be given a number of show passes to be distributed to their clients in advance with an invitation to visit their booth. Both of these attendance building strategies will also provide trickle-down traffic for other exhibitors.

One of the challenges of a trade show is maintaining the interest of conference registrants. Another way of attracting attendance is to have prize draws on the show floor for which attendees have to be present in order to win. However, make sure that attendees will be present as it is very embarrassing for all involved if a long string of names are drawn and none are present.

It is also important to make sure that your trade show is a place participants want to be – not just for the food and beverage or the draws – but because it is a welcoming place. Consider the flow of your show when designing the floor plan and include gathering spots, soft furniture seating, tall standing tables and internet kiosks to make the exhibition a welcoming environment.

Lastly, listen to the suggestions of your exhibitors. In many cases they have worked lots of shows, often nationally or internationally. They may have seen something that works particularly well for your audience.

Remember, building it is not enough for them to come. You need concrete strategies to get attendees to spend time on the show floor and to interact with exhibit staff. Your exhibitors will thank you by returning for future shows.

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP