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#PCMA12 Day 2: Bringing Education to the Trade Show Floor

I also went to an interesting session on incorporating product theaters on the trade show floor. It was moderated by John Houghton with the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, who also showed lots of slides of different product theater setups. Interesting that almost all of the slides I saw were of open-sided theaters; of the few I've seen, they mainly have been at least somewhat shielded from the hustle and bustle. He was joined by panelists Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, with the International Association of Fire Chiefs; Matthew Cunningham, CMP, with the American Petroleum Institute; and Colleen Donohoe, CMP, with the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Eclectic group, eh?

A few things I learned:

* Don't do it unless you're going to demo something. Sounds like that's what they're most effective for.

* Market product theaters with the rest of your program several months out.

* Where to place it on your show floor will really depend on the specifics of your attendee and exhibitor base. That said, while you don't want to monopolize your premium space, but you do want to put it where it will get traffic. That may be in the back near the food and beverage stations, or in a more central location. One online session attendee said she put hers in the center of the show floor and used fabric to dampen the noise. Another mentioned that where you place it speaks to how important you think it is.

* For medical trade shows: Product theaters can not be offered for continuing medical education or CE credit.

* Panelists were mixed on whether to give product theaters dedicated time or run them opposite other programming. Matthew, whose organization runs its product theater concurrently with other sessions, basically tells companies to send their best speakers so they can compete. Colleen, on the other hand, keeps it unopposed both to make it worth the cost and to keep non-CME from competing with CME.

* You can use your mobile app and/or social media to push out messages about the product theater, both before the fact and during the show by broadcasting the news that a hot-topic session is coming up on the show floor. The panelists also promoted the sessions on the show floor with large, tall, eye-catching graphics over the sets, and had people holding signs saying "Follow me for a great hot-topic session." I didn't catch what her association was, but one attendee whose organization must be involved in lumber somehow said they place a live tree in the middle of the show floor, then sell space around the outside of it. They use the tree to demo whatever it is that organization's people demo, then have the last session be about how to cut down a tree, demonstrated on the tree, which is then carried off the show floor as logs.

* To combat the idea that people will rush past the booths to get to the product theater, you can build in time around the on-floor sessions for booth browsing, or, as one person said, invite exhibitors to speak next time!

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