How to Create Connections at Trade Shows

Graphic designed by Marlys Arnold

One of the primary reasons that people continue to attend trade shows in the digital age is because as humans, we crave the feeling of community and connection. We enjoy sharing experiences and solutions with other like-minded individuals.

Whether you’re an exhibitor or show organizer, if you can faciliate a way for attendees to connect and share ideas, your value and expertise will increase in their eyes.

So here are a variety of ideas for you, many of which are not expensive or complicated to implement. Some will work best when created and hosted by the show organizers (think sponsorship opportunities), while many can be incorporated within an exhibitor’s booth space.

  • Experts Cafe: Invite popular breakout speakers to be available for a limited time slot to allow attendees to go deeper on their topic in an informal setting. Design a place inside your booth where people can chat one-on-one or in small groups. Another variation is to host a Solutions Cafe so attendees can gather to brainstorm a common problem and record ideas for how to solve it. (Who knows? You might even discover a fantastic new product or service you can create for them!)
  • Pecha Kucha sessions: Now in case you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s kind of like a TED talk, only each presenter is limited to 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds (about 6.5 minutes total). This allows for a lot of information to be covered in a short amount of time, followed by questions. This means people will spend quality time in your booth, yet you’re not requiring a huge block of their time. Be sure to promote the schedule before the show as well as have a poster listing all sessions in your booth.
  • Brain Dates: Select topics in advance and share in your pre-show promotions. Let attendees pre-identify which ones are most significant for them, then match them into small groups for networking on that topic. This can either be held within a booth space, or somewhere around the show floor. A variation here is to host a recap session toward the end of each day for attendees to discuss their discoveries and ah-ha moments.
  • Talent Show: Instead of a static “product showcase” display area, go onstage to demonstrate new products. Similar to many popular TV talent shows, each presenter gets about three minutes, with three or four products featured before letting the audience vote on their favorite. You’ll want to have a moderator to keep things moving and manage the voting.
  • Meet-ups: Designate specific zones where people can connect, and provide a tool to schedule meetings prior to the show. Again, this can either be hosted within a booth or in a special area on or near the show floor.

You’ll notice many of these ideas allow attendees the opportunity to personalize their experience. The key is to let them self-select what topics or solutions they most want to learn more about, then provide the relevant discussion or tools for them to explore.

Be sure to extend the conversation after the show. Reach out to people on social media within a day or two after the show, inviting them to stay connected. And don’t forget the follow-up! Send them additional information related to the topics they’ve already expressed interest in – which you gathered from your relevant connection opportunities!

So what connection ideas have you implemented at your shows? Please share in the comments below.

© 2019 Marlys K. Arnold  (Reprinted from the April 2019 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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