For OSCON 2008, I spent 2 days helping out in the exhibit hall. It was a great first time experience in formulating some dos and don'ts for what I think would help achieve success and buzz on the "floor".
DO target the conference
Know the audience and why the attendees are there. Ask: What do they hope to learn? Are they there to become your customer or rather to be someone who could champion the product to someone else that is the potential customer? I believe in not underestimating the power of the maven.
Along this line, if it is a developers conference, have developers in the booth. Developers want to know how things work and the details on the underlying technology.
Finally, don't advertise for other conferences or products unless they are a really tight fit with the current conference.
DO/DON'T have swag and give aways
I am undecided here.
Don't give out junk. It all ends up in the trash (related to "don't attempt to be cheap" below).
O'Reilly was twittering about their give-aways which was cool and a DO but did it really end up bringing anyone to the booth who did not just want a freebie?
T-shirts were always popular but I am not really sure of the general value here either. That said, if people are willing to wear a shirt advertising your product, it can't be all that bad even if they know nothing about the product. Dark colors, cool design, size medium...sign me up, I am your billboard :-)
Does anyone have hard numbers in this space on whether free stuff drives real traffic?
DO have a white board and demos
Advertise and set a demo schedule for what people will want to see. It appears to me that people are much more likely to come watch a demo at a set time then to walk up and ask you to demo your stuff. An organized demo builds a crowd naturally.
The Sun micro-conference idea was intriguing and seemed to drive a lot of traffic into their zone.
DON'T have too many exhibitors working the booth
An overstaffed booth is intimidating to the attendees, someone always looks bored and it is far too tempting to be talking within your group instead of to the attendees. This is also a factor of the space allocated to a booth. More space allows for more people working in the booth.
DO have strong and interesting signage
Let people easily see who you are (company and product) and why you are there. Don't waste anyone's time. Once again target the conference and focus on what will be the most interesting to the attendees...not what is most interesting to your company :-)
For example there was a Ticketmaster booth at OSCON. Their signage let everyone know they were there to get you interested in a career with them. Great, no wasted time.
DON'T attempt to do things on the cheap
No one will believe that you have a tight budget or that companies do not have more money than they know what to do with :-)
Match the look and feel of similar sized companies and interests. Look like you belong. If everyone else has paid for something and this something will be noticed by the attendees, pony up or stay home...but be very careful on choosing to stay home.
This is how I would ensure to make any exhibit hall interesting and, for the record, I think the OSCON hall was quite interesting.
I hope this helps anyone designing an EclipseCon 2009 exhibit booth to have a list to double check that the booth ideas are solid.
Note: I had pictures from OSCON but my silly cell phone pics are all blurry so the Yahoo shot is from PubCon in Las Vegas (from here) but the booth looked similar and I think was a good example of a functioning booth.
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