1. Put conference information
in their hands as soon as possible.
Getting pertinent conference information to potential exhibitors and sponsors during their budgeting process is a
must. Supply them with the information
they need about your events before their
marketing dollars are spent. Check with
your supporters to find out when they
work through their budgets each year
and plan ahead. Late third quarter or
early fourth quarter is typically budget
time for exhibitors and sponsors. Your
initial prospectus should outline at
least the basics for your conference:
date, location, attendee demographics, a basic agenda that includes the
number of hours exhibitors have access
to attendees, exhibit costs and sponsorship options.
2. Location, location, location.
A venue that fits the bill will be nicely
maintained, well priced, willing to work
with the constraints of a room block and
have enough space to accommodate
conference needs. Always make sure
the exhibit hall is easily accessible from
the session rooms as your attendees
aren’t going to hunt down the exhibit
area. Having the space close by, where
an attendee would naturally walk past or
through on their way to the restroom or
lobby, will work best.
Site visits are vital to ensure you
understand the layout. Walk the proposed meeting space to see the flow
and potential obstacles attendees may
experience on their way from the session rooms to the exhibit hall. If you do
find obstacles that could keep attendees away from the exhibit hall, think
about ways to remedy this issue, such
as using directional signage or banners,
creating maps of the conference space
to hand out to attendees during registration, installing pipe and drape hallways
to help with flow, or recruiting volunteers to help with directions.
3. Get members into the exhibit
Along with seeing current clients,
exhibitors also are hoping to discover
new leads. Since it is the financial sup-
port from exhibitors that makes confer-
ences more enjoyable for attendees, it
is always appreciated when exhibitors
feel associations are doing everything
they can to facilitate networking in the
exhibit hall. Thinking through how to
create a positive, fun and comfortable
environment in the exhibit hall is an
important part of conference planning.
Here are some ideas:
• Make sure your association leader-
ship sets the example by entering
the exhibit hall and taking time to
talk with exhibitors.
• Remind members to visit the exhibit
hall at intervals during the conference.
• Work toward training members and
attendees to, at the very least, enter
the exhibit hall and thank the exhibitors for their support.
• Make the exhibit hall fun! Encourage
exhibitors to decorate in accordance
with the conference theme and have
attendees vote on the best booth.
Plan a new member reception with
games in the exhibit hall so exhibitors have more one-on-one time with
• Offer a grand prize. Have attendees
collect raffle tickets or signatures
from each exhibit booth to increase
their chance of winning.
4. Treat exhibitors like
Are exhibitors stuck in the exhibit area
for the duration of your event? Are they
allowed to eat with attendees? Can they
attend networking functions? If not,
consider treating exhibitors more like
attendees. The best networking usually
occurs outside the exhibit hall. Enabling
your exhibitors to interact with your
members during meals and networking
functions creates more time with attendees, allowing them to make more connections. If exhibitors are interested in
attending conference sessions, encourage them to do so. This helps them
understand the issues members face on
a daily basis and sell their products and
services more effectively.
5. Listen to exhibitors. Don’t
There will always be complaints at any
conference, usually based on exhibitors’
expectations. However, don’t automatically discount the complaints. Listen
objectively to exhibitors’ feedback. See if
you can discern a common denominator
from the complaints. If one exists, work
to rectify the issue at your next event.
Exhibitors are a great resource.
Periodically ask them what they have
seen executed at other conferences to
promote exhibit hall traffic or networking. Give them an opportunity to provide
an exit evaluation of your conference.
Get their thoughts on the value that was
provided to them. Use the results to
modify items at your next event.
To produce a truly great conference,
attendees and exhibitors alike need to
walk away feeling as if they received a
good value for the dollars they spent.
Conference planning for the exhibitor and
sponsor therefore goes beyond layout,
signage, and pipe and drape. By putting
in the effort to ensure your conferences
are deemed valuable in the eyes of exhibitors and sponsors, their financial support
can be counted on year after year.
Mindy Zaubi is account manager for M3Solutions,
LLC, an association management company based
in Birmingham, Ala. For more information about