Han Leehouts on the importance of showmanship at your shows, and how teaching exhibitors to exhibit correctly can pay dividends when it comes to rebooking.
When people say they're not getting anything out of an exhibition, what do they really mean? Knowing this is the answer to avoiding exhibitor churn, and ensuring your event develops a reputation for ROI, says Han Leehouts. But as the former standbuilder and now exhibitor trainer explains, even ROI can be difficult to define.
You have a certain responsibility for your client. You make it happen. Your clients will listen to you because you are perceived experts. The days they spend exhibiting only have serve a purpose if they use them effectively and do something to expand their brand. If not they were nice days, so you need an action plan.
Or so says Leehouts. "Everybody is looking for ROI. If we're talking about a trend, that's the big trend. So what does it stand for? Return on Investment. That's kind of a harsh phrase. I prefer 'Reward On Ideas'; it's a much nicer way to put it," he says. "You share ideas at an exhibition or an event, and maybe they reward you with their attention. Maybe then they reward you with a next step. It should lead to customer satisfaction, and after all; we have many customers; they have customers. They have the people who buy from them, and they are our customers too."
Providing personal attention will guide us, as organisers, through, argues Leehouts. "People have goals of course, but we are in the business of attracting people, providing an environment where people are attracted; creating a possibility to share ideas. Engaging; that's what we are about. And the big question is, do they hear me, do they see me?"
The visitor of the future communicates with their finger, online, says Leehouts. We want these people in the room, communicating. So how do we get them in? "This generation is losing the ability to speak and to communicate in a personal way. That's what's frightening me," he comments. "I am almost 50 and I sometimes have groups of people who are 20. And I feel some disconnection there. Engaging people, they're sitting next to each other, in one room, still texting each other and doing stuff on their smartphones.
"But live communication is still a huge force. Because if you consider the five senses, and you look at these screens, these are not being used by those smartphones. You're touching the screen, but it's not real touching. Live communication uses all the senses, that's the real power of interaction, and that's what we offer. But how many times do we take advantage of that fact? If you want to use all the senses to communicate; then you come to us, as exhibition organisers. If you just want to use the eyes, then there are possibilities elsewhere."
Leehouts says that content is king, and these younger generations really look at content. "If they go somewhere, it should bring them something. So if you have a seminar, ask those speakers, do you have a good presentation? Do you think it will attract people?
This works both ways, are you bringing the right people to your clients? This is the information you should provide – they should know why they're coming.
Exhibitors should also consider selecting who mans their stands as auditions, more than straightforward appointments. They should have a brand manager working to optimise their presence at your events.
"Logos are valuable things – our brands are your babies," he says. "For example, Messe Munich is a brand. I would say don't hire people; audition them. Do they fit? Exhibitors should play a role that fits their brand. There's an image for their brand online. A visitor should feel that image and sense that image when they meet people in person. The company should be careful when it considers who it uses to represent itself on the stand. Many companies can help with this."
And then there is the low-hanging fruit, simple solutions that will determine whether your exhibitors have a good experience when the doors close, and look for a chance to rebook. "What if everyone was behaving well at your shows," he says. "What would happen to the results of your shows? What would happen if all your exhibitors were well organised? The experience would be improved and the chance of a rebook would increase.
"The best metaphor I've found for customer satisfaction is that of the wedding album," he continues. "When you look through a friends wedding album, you look for pictures of yourself. Clients do the same thing. What is the picture of the client? If they don't recognise themselves, it's not going to work."
The days of clients thinking they don't have to do anything, other than let the visitors come to them, are behind us, he adds. Exhibitors will do much better if they go after them. Because there are always better people, other people, social media etc, distracting people.
"It's very important to be goal-orientated. It would be a crazy idea in practice of course, but wouldn't it be good to say 'What are your ideas and goals? Because if you don't have a goal then you can't exhibit'.
And there's more simple gains that many organisers still fail to act on. "Today's follow-up rates are still between 20-30 per cent. I yell at it, you yell at it, but this figure has been very stable. Why doesn't anything happen there? That's low-hanging fruit. We still don't do enough about it. Maybe old is the new new – maybe things we already know become the new trend," he concludes.
Sometimes the most straightforward solutions are under out nose. Enrich the exhibitor experience by providing them with the tools to capitalise on their investment, and your shows will follow suit.