We are consumers first and foremost, and as such, our attendees, exhibitors and stakeholders expect face-to-face, business-to-business events to be more like the experiences encountered at festivals, concerts, and other live events. Unfortunately, most exhibitions are not.
Here are a few thoughts to modernize trade shows so they are more interactive and entertaining for attendees. They are based on ideas expressed at the recent XLIVE Esports Summit in Los Angeles, USA.
For those of you who have not heard of this multibillion-dollar industry, Esports are formalized video game competitions, usually between professional players. Fans watch both online and in live venues. It is big business! Last year, the Birds Nest in Beijing was home to a live Esports tournament finale; with 40,000 sold out seats in the venue and another 60 million people streaming it live online.


Idea One: Add the fun back into our events. It is perfectly acceptable to enjoy being at an exhibition while doing serious business! There are technologies available, for example matchmaking and gamification, which can enhance attendee experiences. Another option is to work with our exhibitors to help them make their stands and displays more interactive and informative. Chances are good that enhanced interaction with buyers will also help them sell more.

Idea Two: Everyone wants to be the first to be the second*. Being the trailblazer is exhilarating, scary and usually takes a significant amount of investment (money and resources). It may take awhile to work out the kinks. Those who follow the innovators usually have an easier path.

In spite of digitalization and all of the extra tools it brings, we are still using the same hundreds of years-old model for our exhibitions. Maybe we need to be less risk adverse and more open to try new things! Does your company culture inspire innovation? Is your team allowed to fail on new initiatives? Is your organization able to be adaptable and nimble when course corrections are needed?

Idea Three: Focus on recruiting the next level and generation of attendees. What is your organization doing to bring in allied categories of potential attendees, who are not our hardcore supporters? How can we increase the number of visitors who return year after year, as well as reward them for bringing a colleague or two?

Besides the focus on the “now fans”, Esports is reaching out across social media to engage those who like to play video games, but don’t necessarily stream games or attend the live events. They hold local watch parties for globally broadcast events. They bring in name players for meet and greets with fans. They make a point of educating first time visitors to help them have a phenomenal experience, so they want to return and bring friends.

How can your show adapt these ideas? Can you stream keynote speakers with live online commentary, and questions and answers? Hold roadshows? Make the onsite experience less scary and more welcoming for new attendees?

Remember, we are consumers first, professionals second. Let’s start incorporating that fact into our exhibitions and trade shows.

*Based on a quote from Stuart Lipson, Executive Director of ESports Ad Bureau.