How to make your time at a conference more fun

Categories // Visual Thinking

Have you ever been tasked with sitting at the company booth at a conference or a trade show?

Maybe it’s for a company you work for or you’re there with your own business. You’ve got your folding table, a banner, maybe some drapes, a pile of brochures and cards a mile high and maybe you’ve got some fun SWAG. Pretty standard stuff.

You might get a few people to take your goodies and you might exchange pleasantries and business cards with a some folks, but you don’t get the level of engagement and connection that you’d hoped for.

In this scenario, you’ve spent money on your exhibitor’s spot, which means that you don’t have money to spend on other things, and you’re not sure if it was worth it. You also spent a couple of days manning your table and you probably didn’t get a chance to network with many attendees and the people you’d hoped to meet.

The time you spent also took you away from your business which means that you missed out on opportunity to work on your business or to serve clients.

So, how can you make your exhibitor experience better and more fun?

I’m about to tell you how.


Step one in making any conference or tradeshow experience more fun is to partner up with people.

Last month, I had the pleasure of accompanying three of my friends as they exhibited at DIG South 2014 in Charleston, SC. DIG South is the Southeast’s interactive festival celebrating innovation and the digital economy. It's a wonderful event.

A few weeks before the conference, Laura Mixon-Camacho of Mixionian Institute, a communication superhero who helps individuals and organizations communicate effectively and Elizabeth Beasely one half of the duo at DuMore Improv, she and Allison Dukes Gilmore run workshops using improv skills to help develop greater leadership, teamwork and communication skills, sat down to figure out ways to make a fun conference more fun for us, to satisfy the introverts and extroverts among us and to engage with the passersby.

We had as much fun brainstorming as we did at our exhibitors tables. In addition to the usual conference table accouterments, we decided to create something called a “Fun Wall” using my visual tools (large paper, markers, pastels, Post-It® notes, easels and foamcore board). We created a list of questions that we could ask and have people answer.

Step two – set up your section and assemble your wall.

Our tables were arranged to be next to one another so we set up the Fun Wall in our section.

To set up your wall, get two easels like these:

quartet trimax easel

Then, place a piece of foamcore board on the easel. I use a 48” x 96” piece. You can find them at your local art supply store.

foamcoreboardIf you’ve got to transport the board in a smaller car, you can take an X-Acto® knife and score the board.

To make it packable, measure out 32” from the left side on the “front” and draw a straight line. Next, flip the board over and measure 32” from the right edge on the "back" and draw a straight line.

foamcorewallcut

Then, following the lines, cut just through the paper layer and about half way through the foam to create a place for the board to bend. Cut a bit deeper until the section folds. Now, you can fold the board and toss it in your car.

foamcorewallfold

Next, cut a few sheets of paper that are the size of the foamcore board and attach them to the board with tape. I like this white artists tape because it doesn’t get so sticky that it rips the paper.

Overlap a few pieces of paper so when you fill one sheet up, you can take it down and keep going on the fresh sheet below. I use this Borden & Riley paper. It’s 20lb bond and comes in 48” x 25 yard rolls. You can find it at an art supply store.

EmptyWall 

Once your board is up, get your tools ready. I had pencils, Charters markers, Neuland markers (both are made for this type of work and they don’t bleed), pastels and Post-It® notes.

Finally, create the headline for your chart and place the questions on your board. Now it’s time to ask people if they’d like to contribute to the wall.

We had people stop by our table to chat and we asked them if they’d like to answer a question or just write their own thoughts down. Lots of people stopped by to read what others had written and decided to contribute.

Step three – tell people about it

Everyone who contributed to the wall got to pick a prize out of our grab bag. We had piles silly items from the Dollar Store. People wore their prizes which ranged from rabbit ears, to tiaras to necklaces with big pendants. When people asked where they got those items, they told them to head over to the Fun Wall.

We also explained what we were doing with the Fun Wall to the conference emcee who made announcements about what was happening at our tables.

Here’s what we found were some benefits of adding this visual tool to our exhibition space. It made planning for and attending the conference more fun. The visuals were interactive and engaging which sparked fun conversations and helped create connections with people who stopped by. We learned from people based on the questions we asked and their own input.

 

FFW2

 

We learned some cool things about the sessions that we were unable attend. The wall got people talking about our tables. And, who knows what happened to the photos that people took of the wall – if posted, they’ll help spread the word about our businesses.

We discovered these added benefits during the conference. If you’re on the introverted side (like I am) you can use the questions and the board as a way to spark a conversation. This is a nice alternative to the default strategy of waiting for someone to visit your table, ask questions about your business and answer them!

 

CoolestThingLearnedDIGSouth2014

 

If you’re an extrovert, you might get frustrated if your booth is located in the back corner and there is no one to talk to. Having something cool and different might drive traffic and for the people that do come by, you can ask them if they’d like to have some fun (with the wall). It gives you another way to engage and talk with people.

This can work for everyone. Give it a try!

You might be thinking, “I can’t draw and I don’t know the rules for visual facilitation.” Or, you might be worrying, “what if it’s messy?”

Anyone can do this. It does help if you can make the headline and the questions neat, but after that don’t worry about it being messy. This is not visual facilitation. There are guidelines that we use for facilitation (handwriting style, use of color, headlines, capital letters, lowercase, use of punctuation, bullets, lines, shapes highlights and icons) but this is not the time to worry about those rules. 

You are just using the tools to engage with people not to run a meeting. The point of this “wall” is to let people have fun, answer questions, doodle, write and to engage with the wall and with you! It’s not about the drawing or how pretty it looks.

It was really fun to watch people pick up the markers, write and doodle. 

 

DIGSouthQuote 

 

There are many creative uses for visuals, but the overarching benefit is the engagement. Banish the inner critic that says, “I can’t draw” or “My handwriting is too messy” and create your own Friday Fun Wall.

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