by Sarah J.F. Braley | November 01, 2006



Tech improvements needed:
The outdoor exhibits at

In the ideal world envisioned by purveyors of trade show technology, attendees would touch a computer or wireless device at practically every turn. Before the event, they would register online, plan their assault on the show floor online, make appointments with exhibitors online, and communicate with friends and like-minded attendees online.

Once on the floor, their badges would be scanned automatically, with lead-retrieval information being added to exhibitor databases without any human interference. Session participants would instantly be counted as they passed through the doors of the breakout rooms via RFID (radio frequency identification) readers strategically placed to scan their badges.

The show’s RFID badges also would allow attendees to exchange electronic business cards and find participants with similar interests, either business or personal.

All the myriad data gathered would be available to the host organization, the exhibitors and the buyers. Furthermore, that information could be parsed into any fathomable report the meeting planners might need to justify events, determine the popularity of various sessions, calculate ROI and more.

Sounds futuristic? The technology is readily available. Why, then, don’t the nation’s biggest shows use it to the fullest advantage? The following is a look at how technology has -- and hasn’t -- infiltrated some of the largest gatherings.


Last year, more than 124,300 people converged on the Las Vegas Convention Center to walk the 1.8 million-square-foot show floor packed with exciting new entries in the construction, construction materials and power transmission industries during the triennial CONEXPO-CON/AGG.

Staged by the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers, CONEXPO uses Frederick, Md.-based Experient (formerly Conferon’s ExpoExchange) for registration and lead retrieval. The organization’s other large show -- the biennial International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition, at which 17,000 attendees will wander 1.25 million square feet of exhibits in Louisville, Ky., next year -- now buys similar services from CompuSystems International of Broadview, Ill.

But neither show offers much in the way of sophisticated badging or electronic social networking. The fly in the ointment for implementing some of the latest in RFID technologies? About half of CONEXPO’s and more than 65 percent of ICUEE’s exhibitors set up outdoors, and “RFID scanners don’t work well in rain or wind,” notes Megan Tanel, CONEXPO’s director and AEM’s director of exposition services.

Before the show. The organizers are just beginning to offer a show floor mapping tool, basically a virtual trade show listing for all exhibitors, provided by Cincinnati’s “It’s a way for exhibitors to get attendees to con-tact them pre-show to set up appoint-ments,” says Lynda Schmitz, registration manager-expositions for both shows.

Badges. Attendees use a paper badge and are issued a magnetic-stripe card that holds their demographic information. It is swiped at booths and in sessions.

Lead retrieval. Experient markets its products to exhibitors, offering ExpoCard Standard, a desktop unit that stores smartcard information and provides a printout; ExpoCard Mobile, a handheld device, which also provides a printout; ExpoCard Connect, where a PC in the booth connects to the exhibitor’s home office and builds a show database on the fly; and Expo Real-Timer, a wireless device that transmits leads to a password-
protected website. After the show, exhibitors get their leads on a flash drive.