Less Control, More Tradeshow Success

A new report shows that giving up some control and ownership of your future meetings and tradeshows could be a good thing. Is your organization willing to try it out?

Earlier this week, “Scenarios of the Future: Convention Exhibits & Tradeshows of 2016,” was released.  The ASAE Foundation, Exhibition Industry Foundation, Freeman, Gaylord Entertainment, and PCMA Education Foundation commissioned the year-long study as a way to look at trends and analyze what tradeshows will look like in 2016. The methodology for the study was multi-pronged and included in-depth discussions with both small and large groups of industry professionals, outreach to industry outsiders who do and do not attend tradeshows, LinkedIn postings, and online discussions.

As I was going through both the executive summary and full report, I was struck by the recurrence of the words “ownership” and “control” and how future tradeshows and meetings may require associations to loosen the reins on both of these things.

For example, “ownership” came up when one discussion group was asked, “What are the elements of experience that factor into the show of the future?”  Those gathered said there are four essential elements to an exceptional and unrivaled experience, which researchers narrowed down to one word: It will disorient participants to make them more present (engagement); It will be meaningful at the individual level (value); It will enhance the identity of the attendees (community); and it will make attendees co-creators (ownership).

Future tradeshows and meetings may require associations to loosen the reins on both “ownership” and “control.”

The study says, “Event ‘ownership,’ by opening an event to have the stakeholders play a larger role in its focus and design, is a newer concept that has been emerging with ‘crowdsourcing’ technology now coming on the scene. ‘Ownership’ gives stakeholders an incentive to participate in an event they helped design.”

Researchers offered up South by Southwest as an example of a conference that allows the public (that’s right—you don’t even have to be an attendee) to have a say in what sessions will be offered. Public voting through SXSW’s online PanelPicker platform accounts for about 30 percent of the decision-making process for panel programming. Also included in this decision-making process are the SXSW Advisory Board (40%) and the input of the SXSW staff (30%).

Further down in the study, where the five tradeshow scenarios that emerged as “most likely” outcomes in 2016 are discussed, the word “control” comes up time and time again. In scenario two, “The Future Is the Future—And We Will Build It All,” event organizers “believe that events should close off their operations to prevent digital disruption.” In this potential scenario, organizers want to “control” the data they collect using private networks and close the event off from “digital incursions by anyone who is not a partner or is outside of our sphere of influence.” However, the report discusses the risks to this scenario, saying the future is all about “losing control” and that “events will hand more and more responsibility over to digital partners” and “will adapt to pressure from all participants to have a diverse, open set of solutions to participants’ digital needs.”

As I was reading through, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between this change in direction when it comes to meetings—allowing attendees and partners to help create and craft a meeting and tradeshow experience—and how social media has caused associations to rethink their communication strategy, and in some cases, give up a little control and ownership over their messages.

What do you think are the benefits and disadvantages of giving up some control or ownership over your meetings or tradeshows? Share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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