Trade Show Organizers have a problem, said Mickey McManus, president and CEO of MAYA Design, Pittsburgh, Pa., to the 172 people who gathered at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center this spring for the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum one-day program. “We don't know how to decide what's arbitrary and what's important to attendees and exhibitors,” he said. A former exhibit designer and integrated marketing executive, McManus said that trade show organizers tend to be addicted to their jobs, often relying on what they think will work as opposed to what is best for the user experience So he called for an intervention.

“It's all about paying attention to users,” he said, giving as an example a very elaborate exhibit he designed for a pharmaceutical company that made products for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Included in the exhibit were virtual-reality goggles, which showed physicians what the world looks like to those who have schizophrenia. Cool idea, but the video that was supposed to spur attendees to pick up the goggles by previewing what they'd see didn't work — no one picked them up. “That night, we changed the video to a patient talking about his experience instead of the virtual-reality view, and we had lines the next day.”

ECEF also included a mega-trends panel that discussed the rise of corporate events and their potential effect on exhibitions, how the trend toward virtual learning and purchasing for generations X and Y might play out for trade shows, and how the rise of China as an important player in global exhibitions could affect U.S. shows in the next 10 years. Panelists were Hank Armour, president and CEO of Alexandria, Va. — based National Association of Convenience Stores; Skip Cox, president for Red Bank, N.J. — based Exhibit Surveys; and Michael Hughes, director of research and associate publisher for Tradeshow Week, Los Angeles.

Another panel, composed of officials from the Office of Travel and Tourism; Homeland Security; and Visa Service, Bureau of Consular Affairs with the U.S. Department of State, talked about global convention attendance trends and how recent U.S. security procedures are affecting international business travel.

Other sessions addressed topics that included what exhibitors like — and don't like — about their exhibiting experiences; and case studies on how trade show organizers are using cutting-edge technologies like virtual trade shows and video analysis of attendee traffic patterns.

For more on trade show trends, visit the trade show area on face2face, the MeetingsNet blog.