What a Theme Park Can Teach Exhibitors About Creating Experiences

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Photo: stock.xchng / Jamie Peterson

Photo: stock.xchng / Jamie Peterson

No, we’re not talking about turning your exhibit into a theme park … at least not literally. But there’s no doubt that when it comes to memorable experiences, theme parks are king. Everything and everyone at the park is focused on the guest’s experience and how to exceed expectations. So is it magic, or how do they do it?

Here are some of their strategies:

  • Pay attention to details. At a theme park, no small detail is ignored. From staff uniforms to landscaping, everything is in alignment and there’s no disconnect. If a piece of trash finds it’s way onto the path, there’s an employee nearby to whisk it away so the illusion won’t be spoiled. Likewise in your exhibit, be sure that you’re presenting the right image and that it’s consistent. If your booth looks fantastic, but your staff is sloppy or lazy, that ruins the overall impression.
  • Tell a carefully designed story. These parks take advantage of theming and multisensory cues to make the story come to life. Color, aroma, taste, music and touch are all elements in crafting a realistic atmosphere. Even waiting in line for the rides becomes an immersion in the story, painting a picture of what’s to come. To create a truly memorable exhibit, you must first get clear on what story or message you want to convey. Once you have that, begin to think through how you’ll illustrate it with props, color, and experiential elements. Give visitors that feeling of “Wow!” when they’re in your booth.
  • Always look through the eyes of the visitor, considering their feelings, frustrations and path of travel. Park employees are taught to tune into the needs of those who want help, before they even ask for it and to create personalized experiences whenever possible by not sticking to a script. The best way to accomplish this at a trade show is to listen to the visitor and pay attention to what they tell you. Don’t greet everyone the same way or expect them to all respond the same. Role-play before the show to better anticipate questions and formulate effective answers. Design your booth in a way that leads visitors down the path — literally by having good traffic flow and signage, as well as figuratively by guiding their interaction with your company and products.
  • Never confuse onstage with backstage. At some parks, employees even have secret passages to get from one part of the park to another so they’re never out of place. When you’re at a trade show, you’re always onstage! Be careful what you say and do both inside and outside the booth because someone’s always watching and listening.
  • One key to a happy audience is a happy, well-trained staff. It makes a world of difference in a visitor’s experience when it’s obvious that the staff enjoys being there and truly cares about them. New employees are not allowed to work in the park until they’ve been properly and thoroughly trained. Why don’t exhibitors care that much about having a staff that can make a world of difference for attendee experiences?

So do you need to have an over-the-top, in-your-face theme with lots of flash and sizzle? Of course not! There are lots of easy and effective ways to create atmosphere and connect with attendees. We’ll be covering tips for multisensory marketing and how to attract GenY attendees during our featured Strategy of the Month calls for August in the Exhibit Marketers Café. You’ll gain lots of creative ideas to to create a memorable experience … no magic required.

Think about a memorable experience you’ve had, either at an entertainment venue (such as a theme park) or a trade show … what made it so memorable? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Marlys Arnold

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.

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Exhibit Design That WorksStop wasting money on displays that aren’t effective!

Inside this guide, you’ll discover how to avoid the most common – and not always obvious – mistakes in exhibit design. Create a multisensory experience that exceeds expectations and connects with attendees.

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