It's not often that you get to convene alongside 3,500 people all in one space - The 2021 Disability, Ageing and Lifestyle Expo #MyLifeChoices marked my fourth (and last) year of managing Adelaide's largest disability and ageing event on behalf of Catalyst Foundation.
Over these four years (or three plus the cancelled-for-everyone 2020) the Expo saw 10,426 visitors, 581 stalls, a 48.9% increase in income for the organiser, an average 87% and 99% positive feedback from exhibitors and visitors respectively, 549 attendees at networking events and more than 60 volunteers who worked hard to make this event the benchmark for ageing and disability events in SA. If I can sum up what I learnt during these four years is that an event of this scale involves a lot of planning, hard work and commitment and it can only be successful if the team behind it is passionate and proud of the event they host.
I'm sharing below some thoughts and tips which may be useful to those exhibiting or thinking about exhibiting at an expo. I am focusing on ageing and disability expos, but I think that these ideas would apply across other sectors as well.
1. Invest in an Expo
Expos are such a great way to meet potential clients and network with other professionals, and especially in the ageing and disability sector where 1-on-1 interaction is so highly valued. Goes without saying that online advertising is (and will be) king, but it lacks the main quality that our clients need and seek for, and that is empathy. I support the idea of investing in higher end expos. Lower price to attend means lower overall budget for the Expo, and thus less reach to the community. Finally, make sure you research the expo, the venue, and the previous shows to get an idea of what to expect.
2. Put thought into your booth
People are drawn to visually pleasing elements. With a more impressive visual presence, your potential clients will naturally apply the halo effect to your services and products as well. As your first impression for people who do not know you, and as a mental reminder for people who do, a great booth will have the best ROI during a competitive Expo. Custom built exhibition booths always stand out and give an instant advantage over competition. At the same time, do not fall into the trap of giveaways, whether they are pens, lollies, fresh fruit etc. Giveaways do work in getting more people to your booth, but it is not guaranteed that those people are actually interested in what you're offering.
3. Engage with empathy
Most expo visitors think you’re going to try to sell to them, because that’s what has been happening to them all day. Moreover, most people eventually become overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive at an Expo, and they naturally put up a wall of wariness as they expect to deal with another salesperson. The key to avoiding the curse of a salesperson is the ABC of being empathetic: putting yourself in your audience’s shoes to understand whether what you’re offering really is what they want and need. It’s better to engage them in conversation and ask them about their day or their life and let your booth and your work speak for itself. As a rule of thumb, how a service is offered is as important as what the service is.
4. Network, network, network
In my experience the most successful companies are much more likely to collaborate with their competitors, especially in an industry where our clients have such varying and complex needs. Share your ideas and services with everyone who comes by your booth, and if you run into competitors, take the time to share information to see how you might be able to work together in the future. There is another level of energy that you can benefit from if you attend an exhibition looking for ways to share information with others rather than hide it.
Photos by Deb Curtis (2021), Lucinda Corin and Laura Parsons (2019)