"I am shocked, dismayed, overwhelmed.... by the [trade show] sponsorship prices and details... starting with $26,000 for ONE of six (OTHER!) 10x10 booth/gold sponsorships... not to mention sharing that attention (which was previously more exclusive) with 27 OTHER vendors with booths/tables. And you are SELLING PERSONAL VENDOR ACCESS to your participants?... Who are also paying a premium price to attend?... Will you be sharing the revenue with the participants whose time you are selling? […]And, although most other vendors will not have the nerve to say what I have said here, I think I speak for the feelings that most of them would have."

I lifted the quote above from a competitor’s email. He was venting to the organizer of a staffing industry trade show, giving words to my long-standing thoughts on exhibiting, and concluding that other vendors think like he does but are afraid to speak. He’s right on both accounts, and I’m game for his challenge.

People have changed how they get their information. We used to go to trade shows because in part because it was one of the few efficient ways you could find out about stuff. The New York World’s Fair of 1964 and the International Exposition of Paris in 1889 (where mass transportation, the Parisian metro, was introduced) were excellent forums for finding out about innovation. But who today goes to the technology exhibit at the state fair? Instead, we go to Google. We download. We try things out. We check blogs. We call friends in the know.

At a recent show, I had the delight of presiding over perhaps one of the most well-attended "ask-an-expert" tables. Participants had to pull chairs in from other tables on subjects like ‘Sales Management’ and ‘Creating Your Next Superstar’ and wedge their way in just to join me. You might think I was reveling in this kind of attention, but think again.

All of the participants with the exception of a lady from a one-branch agency in Kansas were junior sales people from technology vendor companies. Despite my best efforts to keep the conversation proprietary-free, the reps ended up hammering this one poor lady with gooey bavardage about how great their technology was. Imagine my chagrin when at the second session of my roundtable, one of the vendor sales people came back for another chance to tell people who absolutely couldn’t give a shit how great his product was. LET ME OUT OF HERE was the general mood of those unfortunate enough to have joined us.

Have you ever been at a frat party where the ratio of guys-to-gals is about eight-to-one and the guys constantly hit on the few unattached girls in attendance? Trade shows inherited that ambiance. Junior sales people approach. “Find another victim…please!” I want to shout. At least at the frat parties, the girls had the excuse of loud music for not listening.

Tags: Industry, Trade Shows