The typical exhibit hall is overwhelming and an inefficient learning environment. That’s just one of the findings in a survey of healthcare convention attendees conducted by Impact Unlimited, a Dayton, N.J.-based event production and communications company.

Based on input from a focus group of 60 healthcare convention attendees, most of them physicians, over the last two years, the study reveals five major trends and gives some advice on improving the trade show experience. "Although this survey comprised physicians specifically, we found these trends are applicable across most industries,” said Ken Payne, president of Impact Unlimited, in a news release.

Here are the top five trends identified by the focus groups, with comments from respondents:

  • The commercial exhibit hall can be an overwhelming, inefficient learning environment for attendees. "Often times there are so many people, so many noises, and so much activity that I have to try to close these potential distractions out in order to focus and prioritize," said a participant. Time constraints, crowds, lack of directional signage, shotgun use of multimedia and video, and space constraints are factors that result in inefficient message absorption, learning, and use of time for physicians, states the study.
  • Attendees want to be in control of their booth experience. As one participant surveyed put it, "I prefer to be by myself, and if I have any questions, I [will] approach someone. I want to get an idea first [on my own] then [I can] explore [it more deeply with someone else] if necessary." Most attendees have only a few minutes to spend at each booth, so it is crucial to allow them to control their experience while you control the environment.
  • Attendees of medical conferences want more information about drugs in the pipeline and off-label uses. "Off-label [prescribing] is a large percentage of what we do. I would like to be able to ask non sales people questions," a participant noted. Off-label and pipeline information can be as important to attendees as existing products/services, but exhibitors tend to treat these medical education areas, which have to be separate from exhibit booths focused on marketing to comply with regulations, as afterthoughts.
  • Overly aggressive salespeople is one of the greatest complaints and turnoffs for attendees. "Don't stand at the edge of the booth and 'pull' us in as we walk by," said one focus group participant. In order to ensure that your customers have a positive experience, make sure your staff is friendly and helpful, but not aggressive.
  • Physicians can now get product information and new research online, so they need extra incentive to attend meetings. That is why it is important to improve the overall exhibit experience to assure that physicians get the optimal value out of attending the program and look forward to returning. Make sure you offer them plenty of networking opportunities so they have a reason to travel.
  • For more on the study, go to www.impactunlimited.com.