Meetings

Make Your Meeting a Solutions Center

By / Aug 15, 2019 (NeONBRAND/Unsplash)

People often attend your conference because they’re looking for solutions to their problems. Consider how you can reinvent your expo hall or other meeting elements to deliver on that need.

If your exhibit hall is attracting sponsors and bringing in revenue, it could be scary to even think about changing things up. But a Deep Dive session I attended earlier this week at ASAE’s Annual Meeting and Exposition made a compelling case for reinvention.

“We all know that exhibit halls bring in a lot of revenue, so if you change your exhibit hall, you could risk money and upsetting sponsors, but we also knew there had to be a way to make it better for attendees,” said Lindsay Currie, CAE, former director of stakeholder engagement at the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

Currie, along with RAPS Education Manager Heather Wakefield, discussed how they rebranded the exhibit hall to a solutions center because they knew that members didn’t want to be sold to. “They wanted solutions to their problems, plain and simple,” Currie said. “So we needed to deliver on that.”

Beyond the new name, RAPS reinforced a solutions mindset by coaching their exhibitors on changing how they approached attendees. “We didn’t want exhibitors lurking on the edge of their booth,” Currie said. “We actually wanted them having conversations and getting to know our attendees and their problems.”

In addition, RAPS began offering education sessions and other content in the solutions center. Solution Circles, for example, were six-person conversations that RAPS helped facilitate. “They really let people dive deep into a topic and get to know each other at the same time,” Currie said.

RAPS’s strategy falls in line with what previous research has shown to be effective. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, interactive learning formats on the show floor tend to draw in the largest number of attendees.

“Offering attendees learning opportunities on a show floor is a powerful way to enrich the attendee experience,” said CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE. “It offers additional ways to help them achieve their learning objectives. This is a win-win for attendees who participate and for exhibitors that sponsor these activities.”

RAPS is not the only association to turn its exhibit hall into a solutions center. The National Association of Charitable Gift Planners’ National Conference did the same.

“The Solutions Center provides attendees with effective opportunities to meet with product experts, troubleshoot specific questions, and discover the latest innovations in the field,” wrote NACGP Meetings Manager Gloria Kermeen in a blog post. “They can engage in meaningful conversations with our exhibitors, so the next time they have a problem to solve, they know who to look to for the solution.”

To help facilitate those conversations, NACGP asks attendees to fill out a brief survey ahead of the meeting to let the association know about the current challenges they face at work. Those responses are shared with exhibitors, so they know what to expect onsite and can be better prepared to answer attendee questions.

What have you done to make your exhibit hall or other elements of your conference more solutions-centric? Let us know in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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