The SECRET to How Tradeshows Have Changed

You. Are. Not. Special.


Perhaps I should clarify; when it comes to tradeshows & meetings, your marketing concerns and challenges are not special … and by “special,” I mean unique.


So why this provocative admonishment?  Let me explain.

I’ve been in the tradeshow and meetings industry a long time.  I began as a Professional Presenter, moved to the Creative side, switched to Production and Sales, and now I own my own Tradeshow & Events Agency.  I’ve been doing this a looooong time.  Recently I found myself, once again, exhibiting at ExhibitorLive 2016 in Las Vegas. For those who are not familiar with this show, it is essentially “the tradeshow for tradeshows.”  Marketers from multiple industries attend to connect with new and existing vendors and partners, and to learn the latest and greatest industry news, trends, and information.

I detail my pedigree because I feel it gives me a credible vantagepoint from which to comment on how tradeshows have changed over the years, and in this blog, I am going to reveal a major SECRET to HOW they’ve changed.


Not at all.

OK, that’s not exactly true.  Many specific aspects of tradeshows have changed, but one important thing hasn’t …. but before I review that, let’s first explore some ways tradeshows have changed.

Technology:  The Internet of Things now has a firm foothold in tradeshows and meetings.  You can’t wave a selfie stick without hitting … another selfie stick … or an iPad, tablet PC. or (of course) smartphone. Even “low-tech” booths now leverage some sort of technology to engage and/or measure the overall booth experience.  As recently as 5 years ago, this was not the case. Does everyone do this effectively?  That’s a different question.

Attendees:  Millennials are clearly becoming the dominant force on show floors, bringing with them their personal points-of-view, attitudes, and desires.  And like every aspect of modern culture, these attitudes inform the attitudes of everyone in their collective industries, including the Baby Boomers … many of whom are still running the show. As always, youth leads the way.

Show Floors:  Sure, show floors remain filled with exhibits of all shapes and colors, but the average size of exhibits has been reduced considerably.  Some industries still have a few key players who dominate the floor with enormous exhibits, but, on average, there are more 8×10 and 8×20 exhibits than ever before; and the average “large” booth is a 20×20 island.  Economics has certainly played a role in this, but also, experience has taught many exhibitors that you don’t need an enormous booth to have major impact on a show floor.  Again, that’s a discussion for another blog.

Social Media:  During a tradeshow, there is as much happening, and often MORE happening, on the various social media platforms than there is at the physical event.  This is only natural given the evolving attendee demographic.  However, this does not mean that tradeshows are vanishing; on the contrary, the physical event is driving the virtual one; tradeshows and meetings have become the HUB around which social media builds its network.  This is a good thing, and savvy exhibitors take advantage of live events to feed their social media needs, and I’m not talking about simply promoting their event via Facebook or LinkedIn.  But again, this is another discussion.

These are only a few of the ways tradeshows have changed, and I’m sure if we sat over a few low-fat caramel lattes, we could identify many other ways tradeshows have evolved.

However, there is one thing … an ESSENTIAL thing … that has not changed: and that is … the CHALLENGES companies face when exhibiting at tradeshows or creating meeting content.

As an Engagement Agency, we continually … over the course of several decades … listen to our clients discuss their challenges, and interestingly, they haven’t changed all that much:

  • They need to get more of the right people into their exhibit.
  • They need to increase attendee dwell time in the exhibit.
  • They need to quickly educate attendees about their solutions and identify qualified leads.
  • They need to produce better metrics to prove their ROI and drive sales.
  • (Meetings) They need to effectively educate & engage their audience to keep them interested.

Remember, I began working in the tradeshow and meeting world when the earth’s crust was still cooling, and even then, my clients communicated the EXACT same challenges … along with avoiding the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Certainly, HOW we solve these challenges has changed, or rather, the tools and tactics that power current solutions have changed, but the central goals and challenges have not.

And so, during your next internal meeting where you explore what your next tradeshow or meeting needs to accomplish, do not feel alone.  Your needs and challenges are not special; everyone who has gone before you has experienced the exact same challenges, apprehensions and frustrations.

To paraphrase the current reboot of The X Files, “The solutions are out there.” You simply need to be open to finding them.