Tchotchkes. Doodads. Swag. If you’re a regular conference attendee, you know that these terms describe the stress balls, t-shirts, pens, and other assorted items available at vendor booths in a conference’s exhibit hall. While the exhibit hall is a place to load up on office supplies, it is more importantly the location where topic-specific vendors can share information about their products. Because not every attendee has the need for color-changing cups or the desire to talk to vendors, it is common for conference planners to provide an incentive to visit booths.
One of IMI’s clients, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), has used an exhibitor bingo card as an incentive in the past. Upon registration, attendees were given a bingo card with squares to be signed by vendor representatives as attendees visited their booths. Attendees returned the filled card to the conference registration desk and were entered to win a prize. The bingo card has successfully encouraged attendees to talk to vendors; however, it has been utilized frequently in the past and for its 2018 Annual Conference, NAPBS wanted to do something fresh.
In the 15 years since it was established, NAPBS has grown from a U.S.-based trade association to an international alliance of professional background screening firms with the mission of advanc[ing] excellence in the screening profession. In early October, NAPBS members from the United States and its Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Canada Chapters gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for its 2018 Annual Conference. This year’s conference theme, “Passport to the World” reflected NAPBS’s transition from representing national to international background screening firms and consumers. In alignment with their theme, they forewent the exhibitor bingo card for a booklet modeled after the universally-recognized U.S. passport. This booklet, called the Passport to the Exhibit Hall, reminded attendees of NAPBS’s international presence and provided an innovative way to engage with exhibitors.
At the conference registration desk, NAPBS staff asked attendees if they were interested in playing the Exhibitor Passport Game. They showed attendees the passport and explained that at each booth, attendees could get a square “stamped” by the corresponding vendor, just like going through customs on a jet-setting adventure. In an educational twist on rubber stamps, NAPBS distributed sheets of stickers to exhibitors which were printed with facts about the background screening industry to educate participants as they moved from booth to booth. To be entered into the prize drawing, participants had to visit at least half of the 50 booths and return their Passports to the registration desk on the last day of the conference.
Staff at the registration desk noticed increased interest and participation in the exhibitor passport game than in exhibitor bingo of past years. In fact, when some attendees brought their passports to be entered into the prize drawing, they asked if they could keep their passports as mementos, valuing the facts which had been “stamped” inside. This is great news for NAPBS as it means that its vendors received good traffic in the exhibit hall. Also, the conference experience will be shared with industry professionals as returning attendees share their passports with coworkers.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the exhibitor passports was unexpected, and NAPBS is thrilled with the way that a simple tweak to an existing conference activity has given them and their vendors more exposure. They are already pondering how to add a creative spin to other conference elements to engage attendees, further their theme, and execute their mission.
Have you attended or facilitated a conference that found a new way to make attendees excited about conference programming? Leave your comments below.