Massive Trade Shows Struggle With Engagement

Author: David McMillin       

Bigger means better, right? Not necessarily when it comes to trade shows. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) analyzed attendee data from 21 exhibition organizers to gauge the differences in attendee objectives and satisfaction levels at small and large events. The results of the research, “Where Value and Metrics Vary by Event Size” supported by the PCMA Foundation and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), debunk the myth that organizing a successful trade show requires more attendees, more exhibitors, and more square feet.

trade show“Organizers may think that the larger an event is,” Nancy Drapeau, PRC, vice president of research, CEIR, said when the findings were released, “the more likely an attendee is to be satisfied.”

Instead, the findings revealed that the smallest events (in terms of square footage) actually recorded the highest Net Promoter Scores, an indication of the likelihood to recommend it to a friend or colleague. Those events may be smaller, but they’re under a big microscope. The report found that attendees at smaller and mid-sized events “subject the event to higher scrutiny by using more metrics when evaluating whether the visit was worthwhile.”

Mega-trade shows outperform smaller events when it comes to the fundamental value proposition of spending time on a show floor: Finding new products and doing business. Attendees at trade shows with more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space indicated greater levels of satisfaction with accessing product technical experts, identifying new products, identifying new suppliers, and uncovering new ideas to address their business challenges than attendees at smaller and mid-sized shows. The data makes plenty of sense: More square footage and more exhibitors means more to browse and more to buy.

However, there is a significant downside to those crowds. People seem to be getting lost. “The ability for an event to deliver against an attendee’s peer-to-peer engagement needs appears to be more difficult the larger the volume of attendance as well as at events with mid-sized to larger exhibition floors,” the report states. “One would expect that peer-to-peer engagement metric results would increase with an event’s size, particularly with a higher attendance volume. This result suggests a disconnect. Somehow, like-minded individuals are having a harder time finding each other and experiencing engagement that meets their needs.”

As organizers of big events look ahead to the future, the CEIR report recommends thinking about ways to personalize an experience for those individuals in the crowd. One of the most-recognized shows of the year is already putting personalization efforts in motion. At CES 2017, the mobile app’s location-based functionality used more than 3,000 beacons to send notifications to attendees each time they were close to one of their LinkedIn connections. Jeff Sinclair, cofounder and CEO of event-app platform company Eventbase, told Convene that the app was designed to make “big events feel small again.”

Interested in more insights from the research? Download the entire CEIR report for free.

David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.

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