Earlier this year I was interviewed by IAEE (International Association of Exhibitions and Events) about trade shows and one of the subjects I was asked to wax lyrical on was trade show registration. Here’s the Q & A:

(1) What are common areas of show registration that attendees find frustrating?

From what I hear – and from what I do myself – we are stuck in that sticky mud of filling out so much content into forms, not entirely sure how it will be used despite some well buried link about privacy and how your details will be used and then being given a paper form to print out and bring along to the event to gain entry.  Some shows are moving to providing a digital entry code that you can use with smart phones but the take up is still too small.  With this new technology available for registrations there is then too few people at the trade show entry to help with any glitches or queries.  I think there is so much scope for using App’s, QR codes, digital entry techniques but show organisers are just going to what they know, regardless of its suitability or pain points.

 (2) Why are they frustrating?

They are frustrating largely as they are time consuming (filling out all the information, printing out the registration form, remembering to bring it will you to the event due to be held in a few months etc) and added together with the missing in action support staff at show entry, people are thinking “Why is this so hard?!?”  (insert face palm) and “Why are we still stuck using last century methods when there are so many easier options out there?!?”

Yep, face palm time!

Yep, face palm time!

(3) Do they deter attendees from coming to a show and affect the image of the show in the minds of attendees?

I don’t know that these frustrations would actively deter attendees from coming to an event as you already have to be pretty motivated to go with making the time in your calendar, arranging travel and working out what sessions to attend but I do know that trade shows are suffering from an image issue and it the poor image is not helped by antiquated registration processes to even simply attend an event.  To have a strong, robust exhibition industry and to be able to explain to potential the exhibitors on why trade shows still matter, we need – as an industry – to keep finding ways to streamline the attending of events for both attendees and exhibitors.  People have enough frustration and demands on their time – the successful firms and trade events of the future will develop ways of removing this pain and thrive on.

 (4) What are some ways to simplify the registration process to avoid this frustration?

Ooooh juicy! Imagine just scanning your business card and someone in the back end of the show organiser entered in the details and then just sent it through to you to check before registering?  It’s is always easier and quicker to proof read a document rather than having to enter all the information yourself. Imagine having more payments for trade show linked to paypal or another digital payment system so you did not have to fill in your individual credit card details?  What about taking off all information on the registration form that relates to finding out why you are attending, what you want to see, are you responsible for the purchasing decisions etc and develop and show app that people can interface with as they attend the show and give feedback on the show floor?  I think the quality of information would be so much richer than the pre-show registration process where people are just trying to race through filling in the information.  What if an entrepreneurial person recognised an opportunity and gave you – the regular trade show attendee – a whole list of shows around the world that you might like to attend based on your interest and industry and once you indicated your choices, they could be responsible for the registration process and even the travel arrangements?  The cost for the service of registration could be paid by the show organiser and a percentage of the travel arrangements billed back to the attendee.  Sure, the service would not appeal to all but it is time the industry looked for ways of increasing premium options in line with the view that attending trade shows can deliver outstanding results.

This is one of the more succinct registrations going about!

This is one of the more succinct registrations going about!

 (5) How can show organisers best implement these ideas without taking things out of the process that are necessary?

Largely, I think show organisers need to partner with others to implement some of these ideas.  I think that so many show organisers are stuck on the “must sell space / must get delegates through the door” spin cycle they are oblivious to other opportunities out there.  And, you know, I think the whole registration process needs to be stripped back and look at it from a whole new fresh perspective: what information do we truly and really need from a delegate and does that extraction of information have to happen at the registration stage.

 (6) What are some do’s and don’t you would suggest to show organisers looking to simplify their even registration process?

Do: Nuke what you are doing now and take a whole new view of the registration process.

Do: Simplify and once you’ve done that, strip another 50% of what you have out

Do: Think of how you (the show organiser) would like to attend an event.  What are your pain points?  Once you answer this question, it is guaranteed that almost everyone else is facing the same frustrations and you are on your way to really innovating a broken system.

Do: Open up to new technologies / opportunities

Don’t: Keep doing the same damn thing and thinking that it is situation normal as everyone else is doing it.  Innovate or die.

Feel free to share these tips with your favourite show organiser (tell them I said and to lift their game) and leave a comment in the section below.

This week it is time for some flat out awesome hard rock by Foo Fighters.  Hit it!

See you next week!