Exhibit halls can play a pivotal role in creating dynamic and engaging experiences for conference attendees. In addition to creating a potential new revenue stream, they offer an opportunity for your partner organizations to showcase products, services, and innovations, while also providing attendees with meaningful networking and educational interactions. However, deciding whether your conference is ready to incorporate an exhibit hall deserves thoughtful and intentional consideration. Let’s look at some key indications that will determine if your conference is ready to take on the addition of an exhibit hall.
1. Clear Objectives
Before diving into the logistics of an exhibit hall, it's essential to ensure that your conference's objectives align with the inclusion of one. An exhibit hall can enhance your event by offering practical value to attendees, such as exposure to industry trends, hands-on product demonstrations, and networking opportunities. If your conference's goals include fostering partnerships, introducing new technologies, or facilitating knowledge sharing, an exhibit hall could be a natural extension of those objectives.
If your organization is trying to develop new and innovative sources of revenue, an exhibit hall can help, but it also involves investment of financial resources, so it’s important to evaluate your budget carefully in the early phases of your decision.
2. Established Audience Base
An exhibit hall thrives when there's a robust and engaged audience. Assess whether your conference consistently attracts a substantial number of attendees who are relevant to the industries and sectors represented by potential exhibitors. A sizable and engaged audience not only increases the appeal for exhibitors but also ensures that attendees will find value in visiting the exhibit hall. Consider polling your attendees to assess their interest and even asking what activities or features they would like to see in such an addition.
3. Partner Interest and Support
Gauging interest and support from key players in your industry is a significant indicator of whether your conference is ready for an exhibit hall. Reach out to potential exhibitors and sponsors to gauge their enthusiasm and willingness to participate. Their interest can reflect the industry's perception of the value your exhibit hall can provide. Collaborating with industry influencers and organizations can also lend credibility to your event and attract more exhibitors.
4. Adequate Resources
Successfully managing an exhibit hall requires substantial resources, both in terms of finances and personnel. You need to allocate a budget for exhibit space design, logistics, marketing, and staff dedicated to managing the exhibit hall. Exhibit management is a specialized area of expertise. Knowledge of the principles of effective exhibit hall design, working with general service contractors, freight companies, exhibit houses, and unions are all key skills needed to successfully manage relationships with the venue, your contractors, and your exhibiting companies.
Having the right people in place, with the right skills and experience, ensures that the exhibit hall runs smoothly and meets both exhibitor and attendee expectations.
5. Thoughtful Floor Plan and Design
An effective exhibit hall requires careful planning of the floor layout and design. Ensure that the space is conducive to both exhibitors and attendees. Consider factors like traffic flow, visibility of booths, and designated areas for networking and presentations. Identifying opportunities for sponsorship activation is also a critical component of your exhibit hall design. What activities will you host in the hall? Will there be presentations or demonstrations? Will you host receptions or meals in the same space? How many hours of “non-conflicting” time can you provide? A well-thought-out design enhances the overall experience, encouraging attendees to explore and exhibitors to engage effectively.
6. Diverse Exhibitor Offerings
A successful exhibit hall features a diverse range of exhibitors that cater to various interests and industries within your conference's domain. Diversity not only attracts a wider audience but also creates cross-industry networking opportunities and enriches the learning experience for attendees.
7. Interactive Programming
Incorporate interactive elements that encourage engagement and interaction within the exhibit hall. This could include live product demonstrations, workshops, panel discussions, and hands-on activities. Interactive programming not only makes the exhibit hall more appealing but also ensures that attendees walk away with valuable insights and experiences.
8. Effective Marketing Strategy
Promotion is crucial to ensure that attendees are aware of the exhibit hall and its offerings. Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy that highlights the value of the exhibit hall, the exhibitors, and the benefits attendees can gain from visiting. Leverage your existing promotional channels, such as email newsletters, social media, and your conference website, to generate interest and excitement.
Don’t forget the WIIFM – “what’s in it for me”? Often, attendees can be strapped for time during a conference. When not attending sessions, they will be selective about how they spend the time between organized activities. Give them compelling reasons to explore the hall. Make it easy for them to choose to spend their time there.
9. Comprehensive Logistics Plan
The logistics of managing an exhibit hall can be complex. Ensure you have a well-defined logistics plan that covers exhibitor registration, managing subcontractors (electrical, audio-visual rentals, furnishings, food & beverage, etc.), booth setup and breakdown, shipping and handling, security measures, and on-site support. A solid plan minimizes potential disruptions and ensures a seamless and positive experience for everyone involved.
In summary, the decision to introduce an exhibit hall into your conference can elevate the event's impact, engagement, and value for all stakeholders. By carefully assessing your conference's objectives, audience, industry support, resources, and logistical capabilities, you can determine whether your conference is ready for this exciting addition. When executed thoughtfully, an exhibit hall can become a thriving hub of innovation, networking, and knowledge sharing within your conference, enhancing the overall experience for attendees and exhibitors alike.