Tradeshow on life support? Pull the plug.
I have a lot of great ideas about running an association...
Dues? It's a decaying model that needs to be rethought.
Member retention? Forget about it. Work on engaging the people who want to be involved and don't worry about member numbers.
Tradeshows? Well, that's the topic of the day for me. Recently on ASAE & The Center's Meetings and Expositions listserver, someone asked how to enliven a tradeshow so attendees will visit booths.
There really is only one good answer to the query: make sure the exibitors have products, services, or information that the attendees want to talk with them about. Anything else is a cheap gimmick that won't do any long-term good.
Don't get me wrong, there are some things to do. I don't want to call them "best practices" because they're really more like "don't-be-stupid" practices. Don't schedule education over top of tradeshow time. Put food in the hall to draw people there. Things like that.
But raffles and bingos and prizes and scavenger huntsâ€”all just gimmicks. If you put people in a hall together and they don't talk to each other, that's a tradeshow on life support. You need to go through the steps to find out why people aren't talking to each other and maybe even try a few different, nongimmicky approaches to try to jumpstart conversations, but be prepared for them to fail... and pull the plug.
You don't have to be a particularly astute observer to notice that I'm ripping apart some pretty fundamental and significant revenue streams for associations. Perhaps you also have noticed that I'm not king... or even an executive director (...or even, as Kevin Holland is so nice to point out in a comment, senior staff). I don't have the financial solution to these questions. But I know thisâ€”if you are constantly fighting member attrition or (gulp) decline, then it's time to at least consider how your organization stays relevant (and solvent) anyway. And if your exhibitors are complaining because no one is talking to them, it's time now to be thinking about how that revenue stream is going to be replaced or otherwise accounted for.