A Peek Behind the Curtain: How CES Pulls Off That Giant Tradeshow

As it gets underway this week in Sin City, the International Consumer Electronics Show offers lessons in event planning that can inspire innovation in association tradeshows of all kinds—even if they don’t feature the latest cool gizmos.

The 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), taking place this week in Las Vegas, brings together two industries that are under constant pressure to innovate and uncover the next big idea. Finding new ways to mesh the technology and meetings worlds on an annual basis—particularly in its massive exhibit hall—is what keeps life interesting for staff at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which organizes the event.

We want to question everything. Why are we doing it? Does it still make sense? If not, what do we change up?

The exhibit hall at CES, which opened on Tuesday, is where most of the magic happens. Last year, the show floor covered some 2 million square feet of exhibit space, accommodated more than 160,000 attendees and 3,600 exhibitors, and saw 20,000 new product announcements.

“CEA takes a strategic approach to making sure the CES show floor represents current and future trends within the consumer technology landscape,” said Tara Dunion, senior director of event communications. “We research and brainstorm emerging technology categories that we want to highlight each year and work throughout the year to bring those tech showcases to life onsite at CES.”

From year to year, the space can look entirely different as CEA experiments with new concepts and works with exhibitors to implement their ideas.

“It’s really all about just keeping things fresh and being willing to shake things up,” Dunion said. “That’s a huge priority for the International CES—we want to question everything. Why are we doing it? Does it still make sense? If not, what do we change up? How do we change with the times?”

This year, CEA rolled out the C Space at ARIA, an area where companies can display their innovations for digital content. “We realized that the Googles and Twitters of the world don’t necessarily want a booth on a show floor. They’re looking for more of an experience, to be able to promote their brand and meet with customers and bring that whole community together. This space offers that,” said Dunion.

Products in more than 20 technology categories are on display at this year’s event, including wearables, data security, streaming services, and sports technology. Two segments getting a lot of attention early on are automobiles—a record 10 car manufacturers are on hand this week—and the internet of things—around 900 of the 3,200 exhibitors will display some aspect of interconnected devices, according to Dunion.

To stay abreast of emerging tech trends, the CES team leverages CEA’s staff expertise, Dunion said. “We have a very robust market research department that, throughout the year, is surveying consumers and our members. Our technology and standards colleagues are working with companies several years out on new products and standards. And we even lean on our sales team for what they’re hearing from our exhibitors.

“The goal is to showcase all of the major trends in consumer technology,” she said. “By tapping into the great minds we have already working on those things, we’re able to get the most accurate data and apply that to our event each year.”

A 3D printer at this year's CES. (Consumer Electronics Association)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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