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| Written by Veronica Ferguson

Myth vs. Reality: Conferences and Tradeshows

Conferences and tradeshows are often an organization’s biggest events of the year, and success is all about creating engaging experiences and building relationships to keep attendees coming back year after year. You need your event to stand out and offer unique value and insights while still appealing to a broad audience so your reach can continue to grow. Attendees should leave feeling empowered, educated, and excited. Stakeholders and sponsors should leave satisfied with their return on investment. Planners should leave thinking “how can we possibly top this next year?”

No pressure, right? Planning and executing these crucial events can seem overwhelming, but knowing the best practices and current industry standards can set you up for success.

In the fifth blog in our Myth vs. Reality series, Niki Kinkelaar, CMP, and Elizabeth Muth, CMP, both Sr. Event Experience Managers at M&IW, debunk common myths and share best practices. Even if you don’t host tradeshows or conferences, some of their insights are applicable across all event types.

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Myth: Conference content is the status quo.

Reality: In 2023, attendees are looking for content that is new and fresh.

This year’s content should be panel focused, but the formats should look different than what conference attendees have seen in the past. They want shorter, more focused bits of information, similar to TED Talks. Attendees are looking for speakers and panelists to use one scenario and give proven methods that deliver results—not general speak, but actionable items they can take back to their office life. Finally, as conference organizers are trying to draw in a younger audience, the best way to do that is with engaging education. Younger audiences want to know how to succeed in the industry and make a name for themselves, so offer sessions that are more career focused as well as ample networking opportunities. Establishing a mentorship program would also appeal to younger attendees as well as the seasoned professionals who want to give back and support the next generation.

Myth: Sponsorship revenue is back to pre-pandemic levels.

Reality: It’s looking up, but most conferences have yet to reach 2019 sponsorship revenue levels.

For conference and tradeshow organizers, sponsorship and exhibitor revenue is the driving force behind event budgets. Each year post-COVID, we hope this is going to be the event that gets us to the pre-pandemic revenue levels. In reality, most conferences are actualizing only about 80% of the revenue they did in 2019.

Some ways to ensure you are maximizing your revenue is to make sure you have the best sponsorship offerings out there. Have you identified what sets you apart? Start by cost comparing with competitors to make sure you are in line with the market and how you are pricing your offerings. Then research new, interactive, and engaging sponsorship ideas. Vendors are always looking for the next big thing, so you should be too! Lastly, consider cost recovery for those items that have not been selling. For example, if your food and beverage sponsorships have not been selling, consider pricing them to cover 50% of the cost instead. This way you are at least covering some of the cost, whereas in the past couple of years you may not have had a sponsor for these items at all.

Myth: Hotels and venues are back to “normal.”

Reality: Nothing in the events industry is normal anymore.

It is important to talk to your hotels and providers to discuss previous standards or expectations compared to the current reality. For instance, where you previously may have asked if the hotel or venue is fully staffed, you should now ask if they are back to pre-pandemic staffing levels or what types of staffing changes have been made. Additionally, many venues have reduced their room service hours, menu selections, and delivery methods. Meals may come in a takeout bag without a real plate, silverware, and tray, making it very hard to eat a piece of chicken with a flimsy plastic fork and knife. Housekeeping may just be a quick touch up to the room every couple of days rather than daily. And just try to get your meeting room flipped to another set—this may be impossible to do without an overnight option and additional fees.

Event planners, ask questions during the site selection process and make sure to clearly articulate the changes in the industry to your clients. Set the expectations for the new norm and do everything in your power to exceed them.


Headshot of Niki Kinkelaar, CMP

Niki Kinkelaar, CMP

Sr. Event Experience Manager

Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, Inc.

Headshot of Elizabeth Muth, CMP

Elizabeth Muth, CMP

Sr. Event Experience Manager

Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, Inc.

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