Over the years I have been to, what seems like, hundreds of trade shows. I have been fortunate to see these events from vastly different perspectives and have done a variety of industry specific shows, including a company in the publishing industry that hosted a huge tradeshow in the late 90' that I had a small part in getting vendors to participate. So, I've attended as a vendor, a prospect, and a host. I have gone to look at new technology and services, find new customers, have discussions with old customers and friends, and listen to great speakers.
I have participated in trade shows that revolve around: woodworking, publishing, key control, business and office technology, software, consumer goods, promotional goods, oil & gas, geology, small businesses and most recently pharmacy and durable medical equipment, just to name a few. So I believe I know what makes a good event for both the registered attendees, the host and for the vendors at the events, the opposite also applies.
In the last year, I went to two events, both as a vendor and saw both good and bad tradeshows. The most recent event was the MHA 2017 Business Summit in Las Vegas and it was very well done, especially from the vendor perspective. Below I've listed what, in my mind, makes for a great event.
- Treat everyone the same, whether you are a registered attendee, host, speaker or vendor - make sure that everyone feels welcome. I have been to a few that treated the vendors as second class citizens, which is sad since they are normally footing the bill for the rest of the attendees.
- Provide a good balance of booth and educational time. I've never met a vendor or an attendee that gets excited about spending 8 hours standing in a booth or walking the floor. The 2017 MHA Business Summit did a great job last week at balancing both areas. The speaking sessions were grouped into approximately 2-hour sessions with 2 hours of floor time in between.
- Serve food on the floor. If attendees have to leave the floor to eat they it is likely that they won't come back. Again, MHA hit it out of the ballpark last week, other than a scheduled breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and beer were served on the floor of the event. An attendee could grab a beverage and a lobster avocado grilled cheese (which was awesome) and walk the floor to chat with people.
- Have a great venue that can hold all of the vendors. Some people will attend an event based on the venue alone. The venue needs keep the vendors together. As an attendee, the worst events I go to are where you have to find Hall Z to speak with a vendor of interest and go to Hall M for another one. All the vendors need to be in the same space. I personally have missed entire groups of vendors due to this, some of which I was interested in meeting.
- Offer speaking and/or training options. Have good speakers that cover a variety of subjects. A great keynote speaker is important, but having sessions on marketplace software, new laws and regulations, sales related subject, improved back office policies, motivational speakers or anything like that dependent on the event. Typically you are going to have people who carry different roles and responsibilities attend together but may not want to see the same speaker.
- Keep the training, speaking engagements general and not sales targeted. I hate sitting in a training listening to a speaker cover the "12 steps to a great marketing plan" and you receive the first 3 steps only to have to engage the speak as a client to get the other 9. I will engage with a speaker if what I hear from the speaker will make my business practices better.
- Try and keep it brief. I know in some of the larger shows, companies spend a small fortune in order to attend as vendors when you factor in the cost of labor it takes to set up the booths. But 1-1/2 to 2 days is more than adequate, 3 days max.
- Have a social event that brings the groups together and don't skimp. When you see people in a different environment it elicits the opportunity to form friendships, beyond business.
The MHA event hit almost every point on this list and seemed to have some of the best response from any show I have attended over the last few years. Hopefully, more trade shows that I attend in the future approach their setup and atmosphere similarly to what I've listed because it leads to a more successful experience.