A robust exhibit hall is crucial to the success of most association meetings. There are a number of tried-and-true exhibit hall traffic boosters — such as providing food, beverages, and booth giveaways — but many organizations have moved beyond these traditional drawing cards.

Try something new each year to keep your exhibit floor fresh and exciting for both your vendors and your attendees. If you can get your vendors in front of the right audience — and the right audience in front of your vendors — your exhibit hall will be a success.

Here are tips that have worked for a number of organizations:

  1. Special exhibit-hall marketing

    Before the meeting, send a brochure or blast e-mail highlighting interesting activities that will take place in the exhibit hall, such as live entertainment, giveaways, receptions, product demonstrations, lunches, etc. Include a concise timetable that attendees can save or print out, so they can be sure to be present for these activities.

  2. New product information

    Provide information about new products in the exhibit hall through bag inserts, special flyers, and a “New Products” board in one or more areas frequented by attendees. Also, distribute “New Product” booth signs to exhibitors who are introducing products at your meeting.

  3. Use “drawing cards.”

    Place popular conference attractions such as your job board, message board, and/or poster abstracts in various places throughout the exhibit hall.

  4. Book signings

    If any of your speakers have books in publication, host a book signing in the exhibit hall.

  5. Internet cafe placement

    Set up your Internet cafe at the back of the exhibit hall so attendees will walk through the hall on their way to check their e-mail.

  6. Games and contests

    Sponsor a “Passport to Prizes” program in which attendees need to visit a certain number of booths to qualify for a prize drawing. Or host a scavenger hunt that requires attendees to find certain items and obtain a validation stamp from the booths containing the items.

  7. Press interviews

    If you have reporters attending your meeting, tape their interviews in the exhibit hall. It provides good background and always creates a “buzz” in the hall.

  8. Continuing education desk

    If you offer continuing education credits, move your CE credit desk into the exhibit hall so attendees will visit the hall to get their certificates, ask questions, etc.

  9. Exhibit-hall video

    Show live or prerecorded video of the exhibit hall during walk-in for general sessions and on video monitors throughout the convention center. If possible, include some prerecorded interviews with attendees discussing what they have seen and liked in the hall.

  10. Association booth

    Put your association booth in the exhibit hall and offer a special incentive for members to visit that booth. For example, it could be to view a new product, enter a drawing, or update their personal information in your database.

Linda Schwartz is director, marketing and communications services, with SmithBucklin, an association management company headquartered in Chicago, where she handles a number of healthcare clients. She has more than 30 years' experience in association marketing, membership development and retention, and public relations. Reach her at LSchwartz@SmithBucklin.com.

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