I read with interest the recent MeetingsNet interview with Desirée Knight, chair of the board of directors for PCMA and senior director of meetings and events at the American Psychological Association.
I see the meeting and event market’s attitude towards appointments differently, although many would argue that of course I do!
Let’s start with trade shows essentially being marketplaces (they’ve performed this role for hundreds of years) where the primary motivation for showing up is to do business. When planned and managed carefully, appointments are an efficient use of everyone’s time. A prescheduled appointment tells a business-hungry exhibitor that a motivated buyer is interested in them. A pre-agreed appointment allows time for sound preparation on both sides of the deal—a detailed RFP is often met by an exhibitor who’s done in-depth and detailed research. That instantly becomes an ROI win-win.
ROI and ROE (return on experience) are clearly now more important than ever, and buyers are more discerning about which events they attend. However, our experience shows that once committed, 21st-century planners don’t want to leave their schedules to chance. In fact, what they want—demand—is flexible scheduling and to be treated with respect, e.g. no forced matchmaking or quotas. That means trusting them to do business; encouraging them to make appointments when they have firm business to place but also valuing their time spent in other ways such as learning or networking.
And I agree with Desirée when she says, “the next generation of trade-show attendees is looking for engaging content and not just 15-minute appointments.” Success lies in getting that mix right, and good trade shows do just that; harmonizing flexible appointment systems with opportunities for corridor conversations that result in business, a wide variety of education and learning formats that grow and enrich individual careers, plus networking and socializing opportunities that lead to business deals in the future.
And one last point, which is subtle and easily overlooked. Our feedback shows that offering varied appointment formats can be a huge bonus for different personality types. Some introverts, for instance, prefer having a one-to-one appointment or joining a small-group presentation rather than starting from scratch by approaching a “total stranger” in a booth. People with needs, such as forms of ADHD, can appreciate the comfort of a schedule and a clearly organized approach to a live event as it reduces their sense of being overwhelmed too.
One-to-one appointments have been at the heart of our shows since the launch of IMEX Frankfurt over 20 years ago. We’ve evolved the appointment experience along the way in response to market feedback and will continue to develop it in the future. Yes, it’s misleading to focus only on numbers; quality is paramount. But with close to 42,000 individual appointments made (voluntarily) at IMEX Frankfurt and over 50,000 at IMEX America in 2022, I don’t see appointments losing their business attraction any day soon. As long as they remain a tool, not a straitjacket, I’m confident they serve our industry well.
Carina Bauer is CEO of the IMEX Group, parent company to two leading trade shows in the business events industry, IMEX Frankfurt and IMEX America.