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by Michael C. Lowe | November 01, 2012

Using the strategies outlined in "Building Buzz on the Show Floor," a participant might attend a show for a networking session but stay for a product demonstration, and fill some time in between by visiting booths he or she wouldn't normally. "Attendees put a lot of value in the spontaneity and surprise that takes place on a show floor," says Karen Chupka, vice president of events and conferences at the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association. "The more you can help create those types of opportunities, the better."

By piecing together a "networking, education, entertainment, product solution zone," organizers can foster so much activity in the exhibit hall that wandering attendees will naturally be drawn toward the energy, says David Weil, vice president of event services for association management company SmithBucklin. "This is when you start to see momentum."

In the case of the Washington, D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Organization's BIO International Convention, "exhibitors have begun requesting space next to these special areas because of the consistent flow of people," says Margaret Core, BIO's former managing director of sales and marketing.

Following are some additional ways to create special spaces that act as attendee magnets at a trade show.

Consulting colleagues
At this year's annual conference of the National Community Pharmacists Association in San Diego, one particularly popular area was a group of round tables at the back of the hall that comprised a designated discussion area. Each table was assigned a topic and moderators, who were solicited by show planners because of their experience or interest in the subject matter. Attendees and suppliers alike could join any of the 22 one-hour discussions that were held over two days.

It proved a great way to promote peer networking and idea sharing; and the tables were set up next to the lunch area, making it a natural spot for solo diners to join in on a group discussion, says Valerie Briggs, senior director of external communications and marketing outreach with the NCPA. According to Nina Dadgar, the association's senior director of business development, the program exceeded expectations: "We had one table about how to use an iPad, and it was crazy." Next year, organizers may expand the area due to popular demand. The informality and ability to share among peers was what hit a chord. The two moderators for the iPad table weren't Apple experts or technology gurus, notes Dadgar -- they were pharmacy owners just like most others at the show, and they were using the iPad in a way that related to the pharmacy business.

Must-see competition
Beginning in 2010, the organizers of Pack EXPO, a show for order-processing and packaging professionals, began running a contest at their annual meeting and trade show called the Amazing Packaging Race, and it's become a popular draw. This is a three-hour scramble, based on the Emmy-winning TV show The Amazing Race, in which teams of students in the packaging industry are assigned tasks given to them by suppliers around the exhibit hall. The original purpose of the activity was to allow students to get hands-on experience with products in their field, but the unexpected outcome was the buzz it created on the show floor. Donning brightly colored shirts, the students bring a frenetic energy to the show and attract curious onlookers, notes Maria Ferrante, vice president of education and workforce development with PMMI, a packaging trade association. "Attendees start to congregate around participating booths to follow along with the contest and consequently end up seeing a product demonstration as the students perform their tasks," she says.

The incorporation of social media also plays a role in the activity's success. Throughout the contest, teams use Twitter to post photos of their completed tasks, check in at a supplier's booth or complete surprise bonus tasks tweeted out by contest organizers. Attendees are able to track the groups' progress on their own mobile devices or on screens scattered around the hall. "It's really interactive and it's really visible, which makes it exciting even for those attendees who aren't students," says Ferrante. Pack EXPO specifically holds the competition on the last day of the show, when the floor is less busy, to bring energy and drive traffic back to the floor. The program has become so popular, exhibitors now pay to be a stop along the route.

Themed areas
Some shows have found that grouping similar companies in designated areas of the floor can make a massive exhibit hall less intimidating for attendees. "We're trying to help our attendees be efficient with their time, so they can come to these themed areas and see trends side-by-side," says Karen Chupka, who also serves as lead event planner for the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For a 156,000-attendee show like the CES, being able to visit vendors offering similar products or services all at once can be more appealing than traversing an endless show floor multiple times a day.

Last year, CES organizers introduced a new area called Eureka Park for start-ups. "These are fresh, upcoming companies that don't get to do press conferences or may not have the funds to purchase a booth at regular price, so we created an application process, and those who qualified were offered a reduced rate," says Chupka. It proved a great opportunity for CES to bring in a new segment of the industry that attendees wanted to learn about and build some excitement on the floor.