Trade Show Layouts That Encourage Attendee Interaction

EventCamp™ participants gathered in a brainstorming session that focused on exploring alternatives to the conventional trade show row layout. Traci Browne (@tracibrowne), trade show and conference manager, and Owner of Red Cedar Marketing, shared her trade show design for the April 2011 Live Well Health and Fitness Fair in Philadelphia.

Borrowing her unique layout from the design of flowers, Browne’s design will feature a community area at the centre of the flower, with petals radiating out representing zones. She compared the design to the spokes of a wheel that meet at the hub. The centre of the flower or wheel could feature a food court or a stage with demonstrations or performances. For the Live Well Health and Fitness Fair, the petals/spokes or zones could include areas such as women’s health, running, and men’s health.

The flower layout departs dramatically from the conventional rows and aisles, in that “no matter where attendees are, they will see what is going on in the center area,” said Browne. However, while this design will be interesting for some trade shows and exhibitors, it may not be an obvious fit for all situations.

Some participants agreed, indicating that the traditional large booths would be difficult to accommodate in a flower/wheel layout. Browne said table top events are more suited to this type of layout. Nevertheless, participants were still interested in exploring ways in which the idea could be adapted for large booths. Some suggested that at the very least, a centre or hub could be worked into a conventional layout.

One participant brought forward another alternative to the conventional trade show layout. During Meeting Professionals International’s 2010 World Education Congress (MPI—WEC) in Vancouver, exhibitors rented kiosks that all had a similar look. These offered trade show participants a good overview of the entire area, since the kiosks did not block the view. However, the kiosks were still set up in conventional rows at WEC.

Some participants noted that the exhibitors on the outer periphery of the exhibit hall are at a disadvantage, as they receive less traffic than those in areas closer to the center of the floor. Browne said these exhibitors can feel short-changed. A discussion ensued about how people could be enticed to visit the “fringes.”  A number of suggestions were offered, including:
•    Make food available in areas along the periphery—food is always a draw
•    Set up a reception in the peripheral areas; it could be a bar setup
•    Demonstrate or set up new product showcases

“It is about generating ideas that would draw people to the back of the exhibit hall/trade show,” said Browne. Another participant suggested that social media lounges could be set up along the outer edge of the trade show as a gathering place for attendees. Computers and social-media trainers could be made available in conjunction with the social media lounges.

A trade show layout that uses the maze concept similar to that found in IKEA’s stores could offer a refreshing change from the traditional rows. IKEA’s design purposely leads customers through different sections, without many opportunities for shortcuts. If trade show floors were set up like this, attendees would end up walking through most of the exhibit en route to a particular booth they wanted to see.

A participant who had attended a trade show that used this concept said it was well-received. However, the group agreed that since some traditional exhibitors might not like this concept, it should initially be tested in a smaller area. It was suggested that radio frequency identification (RFID) could be used to measure whether and how attendees move through the test area.

The trade show could also be set up in theme or subject specialty areas. For instance, at an information technology event, one area could house operating system exhibitors while another could be dedicated to new technologies. Some participants indicated that attendees might go only to the areas of their interest, bypassing all others. Participants also discussed the factors that underlie an exhibitor’s willingness to try something new: “Some exhibitors are risk takers and those are the ones that can experiment.”

The group also discussed the possibility of placing presentation spaces throughout the exhibit area. These spaces could be used for short presentations, interactive product launches, and demonstrations.

“This would create a buzz on the floor,” added Browne, noting that it would “get attendees moving all over the trade show.” Such presentation spaces could also serve to break up rows.

“There is no silver bullet, no magic pill,” said Browne. The design will be specific to each trade show exhibit, the needs and preferences of the exhibitors, the space and design of the exhibit, and the people who develop exhibitor booths. This will require adequate communication between all stakeholders.

Participants indicated that while a wholesale redesign of the layout might only work for specific events, small steps that eventually lead to the design would be more appropriate. Participants said they were looking for examples of layouts that were successful and those that were not.

At the close of the brainstorming session, Browne encouraged participants to continue the conversation after EventCamp was over, to keep the momentum going and to share ideas. This sharing is important, since an increasing number of trade show producers “are looking for something different; they are ready for a change.”

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