Doing the Math on Exhibitor/Attendee Ratios

Author: Convene Editors       

Exhibitor/Attendee Ratios

Participants at Convening Leaders 2020 check out exhibitors at Moscone South in San Francisco. Figuring out the correct ratio of exhibitors to attendees can be a puzzle, members of the PCMA Catalyst group say. (Chuck Cotterman/PCMA)

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Each month Convene features some of the most popular topics in the forum. Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.

Exhibitor/Attendee Ratios

“If you have exhibitors at your meeting, what ratio do you feel is best for displays/booths to registered participants?” Amy Hunt, CMP, director of meetings and education for Selected Independent Funeral Homes, asked fellow Catalyst posters. “I’m trying to determine the maximum number of vendors we should allow for a meeting that has attendance ranging from 175-225 paid registrants.”

Hard to say what is a good ratio. One year, we had 42 exhibitors (with 2-3 booth staff) to 250 attendees at one event and it felt like there were more vendors than attendees. I always imagine myself on the elevator going back after the day: If three exhibitors get on and I was the attendee, I would seem outnumbered. Of course, that is an exaggeration but it also depends on the vibe of your event — some attendees are very comfortable with exhibitors and some are very standoffish.

It also depends on your type of exhibitor and what value they are seeking. With that size attendance, they have to get their value out of it as well. So you may right-size on your own. I have also seen exhibitors get aggressive when there are not many attendees so they start to stop attendees, which can be annoying as well.

Rich Vallaster, Chief Strategy Officer, eduWeb Digital Summit

As others have said, there isn’t a set ratio. It really depends on what percentage of the attendees are decision makers for what the exhibitors are selling, how many of the exhibitors are competitors, the average spend per customer, etc. I have done events with 4,500 people and 275 exhibitors, 3,000 people and 120 exhibitors, 100 people and 25 exhibitors, and everywhere in between.

— Barry Schieferstein, CMP, Director, Conferences and Meetings, American Society for Nondestructive Testing

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a simple formula for this challenge. There are a lot of things I would consider:

  • Is your event perceived as a trade show plus education and networking, or rather an education and networking event plus a trade show? I know that seems like the same thing, but they’re really very different in the eyes of your attendees. And is the way it’s perceived by attendees what the organization wants it to be?
  • What’s your revenue model? For example, are attendee registration fees kept low by exhibitors and sponsors providing substantial revenue?
  • Are exhibitor expectations currently being met in terms of booth traffic? And does the floor consistently look & feel full?
  • How big are the booths? For example, table tops? Larger booths?
  • How many people does each exhibiting company typically send? What’s the ratio of exhibitor personnel to attendees?

I’d suggest taking a deeper dive into what will best meet your attendee and organization objectives in order to determine your best ratio. Good luck!

— Angie Silberhorn, CMP, Vice President, Events Strategy & Operations, Warehousing Education and Research Council

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