International Exhibition Tips

Having worked tradeshows and conferences for nearly 20 years I’ve been fortunate enough to learn some helpful tips for operating exhibitions in international markets.

Know the Market – In North America many B2B conferences run Monday to Wednesday or Tuesday to Thursday. Typically the first day is slow as everyone is coming into town and getting settled in the first day but builds in activity towards the end of the day. The second day of these conferences tends to be the big day. Everyone is there and checked into the conference. Meetings are running all day and social events are in full swing at night. By the third day, the exhibit hall tends to be very quiet as many start to make their way home on flights or recover from the social events the nights before. 

Japan – The first time I went to an exhibit in Japan, it ran Wednesday to Friday. We expected much the same cycle, assuming the Thursday (middle day) being the busiest day. We were wrong! The first two days were not particularly busy with key meetings. The final day of the show however, particularly the Friday afternoon, was incredibly busy. Why? Many of the key executives in the pharma business in Japan are busy working in the office all week. They use the Friday trade show to leave the office mid-day, get their meetings in at the exhibition and then make their way home for the weekend. I’ve never been so busy with productive meetings on a Friday afternoon at a conference. 

Pre-Arranged Meetings – Historically, European conferences utilize pre-scheduled meetings more than in North American conferences. North American conferences had some pre-scheduled meetings but attendees would seem to wander the exhibit hall, stop and chat with friends or colleagues while making the rounds and getting to you when they get there. They have been moving towards more formally pre-scheduled meeting times but still not as much as conferences in Europe, particularly at the largest ones. One of the largest conferences in the Pharma industry in Europe is CPhI. It is so big that it typically spans 5+ large halls at major conference centers. Attendees have to schedule walking time between meetings or cluster them in the same hall so that they can make the most of their time. Because scheduled meetings are more of a critical strategy for European conferences, the booth build outs tend to reflect this as well. They are built with more seating, private meeting areas and include food and coffee service. Some even have very expensive second floors for meeting space. These are much more expensive and complex to pull off but useful if you need that essential meeting space. And food/drink is also a critical part of European life and is reflected in the exhibits. Some contain a fully staffed espresso coffee bar or local food service. It helps to keep visitors at the booth for their meetings and utilize the seated meeting spaces.

Flow – One of the things to consider is traffic flow of the booth. You want to make the booth as accessible as possible to people walking by. I have seen some booths that have solid or fabric walls around half or more of the outer exhibit space. This can be great to convey information (graphic walls or text) but doesn’t allow your booth staff to engage with people consuming that information unless they make an effort to find one of the open access points themselves. Anyone can read your material online or via your other communication channels but one of the most important parts of trade shows is that you can have direct personal interactions with prospects or customers. This is one of the main reasons the conference medium still works and is critical to your programs! There are intangible aspects to human interaction you want to fully utilize at these meetings.  So, make it easy for people to enter the booth from as many directions as possible. People sometimes feel trapped if they have to go into a booth with limited access points. Some people like to “drive by” before engaging. It’s great if you can find a good balance between easy traffic flow into and out of the booth space, while having enough separated/private meeting spaces for meetings and make their time productive. 

I think the main message here is that trade show cultures differ by region or country as well as across industries. Get to know the culture of your conferences so that you can plan the most effective strategy where-ever you plan to exhibit. 

Kevin McCarthy, Managing Director - Bio-Atomic Exhibits

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