These booths are made for walking.
I walked around the trade show floor at the Provada real estate conference in Amsterdam on Wednesday and a few things became immediately apparent.
First, the booths were amazing — great color, great shapes, great use of signage and surface.
Some had mini-restaurants with chefs. Some had scale models of buildings or city blocks or entire cities. Some had presentation theaters with audiovisual technicians and gear. Some had all three.
There weren’t any folding tables anywhere that I recall. Even at the restaurants.
There weren’t any sad banners that had been recycled from show to show. Well, to be fair, I have no idea if their freestanding stuff is recycled from show to show because this is the first time I’ve seen a trade show in the Netherlands. But I also didn’t see anything that looked like it was made at Kinko’s.
I had a very hard time coming up with a single trade show booth I’d seen at a U.S. real estate conference that wouldn’t look shabby next to these things. Honestly, it was a good 15 minutes before I could think of one.
But the excellence of the trade show booths (and not just one or two — all of the booths I saw) isn’t what I want to get into here in this week’s column. There was another thing, in addition to general excellence, that these booths did.
They paid tribute to the conference theme.
So not only were they big, well-designed and functional, but they also reflected the theme of the actual event in which they were exhibiting.
Provada’s overall theme was “Share the inspiration,” and the daily theme for the day I saw the show was “The Creative City.”
Booths throughout the whole show reflected this. They had infographics on them that reflected how the booth owner was a part of “The Creative City.” They had maps and project plans on them that outlined the booth owner’s concepts of what made a city a “Creative City.” Genuine issues related to the vitality and creativeness of cities were built into the visual plan of each booth.
From my perspective, it really helped to sew up the entire conference experience. The show floor felt unified with the theme of the whole thing. It was like a bunch of people decided to get together and talk about “The Creative City” in Dutch.
And when you get a bunch of people together talking about this sort of thing there are a lot of opportunities for viewpoints and angles. Some areas of the show were focused more on financial aspects of “The Creative City,” while other areas were more focused on specific case studies. Some were focused on regulation, while others were discussing design issues.
The “hallway conversation” phenomenon that I’ve experienced at many shows — where the best part of the show is hanging out in the hallway instead of the show floor or the event presentations — was absent at Provada.
Sure there were conversations in the hallway. But the vast majority of attendees were on the show floor, hanging out at one of the mini-restaurants and talking. And if they weren’t doing that then they were listening to one of the panel discussions in one of the built-in theater spaces.
The point of all of this is to note something to which I hadn’t really given much thought until I saw this different model. The vendors at a show — the people who pay to have a booth — can really add a lot to the experience of the entire show beyond simply funding an event and putting up a table display.
Vendors, if they take the time to meld into the theme of the show, can improve the experience for everyone. And they can likely get some better business from it, too.
Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.