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Interactive ins and outs

In the uphill battle to engage attendees and cajole them into buying, a few exhibitors are busy testing interactive touchscreens to see if that technology might be the ticket to bigger, bolder tradeshow experiences.

Exhibitors like “interactive” because it feels new and untouched. That’s despite the fact that touchscreen technology has been in widespread use, primarily in museums and at tourist attractions, since the mid-1970s.

Interactive got a big boost last year from Microsoft when it rolled out an updated version of Surface at International CES.

Microsoft’s new version of Surface fattened the high-def screen to 40 inches, as measured diagonally, while trimming the product’s depth to only four inches, so it can be easily mounted on a wall.

The new version of Surface also recognizes 50 touches at once, so many attendees can work or play simultaneously. It even recognizes Smartphones and USB drives, so attendees can tap their devices on Surface’s screen, drag over any item that appears, and take it home with them.

While they let their fingers do the walking, or touching, attendees can have tons of fun with interactive. They can surf through charts and graphs, watch videos, take tests, play games and mesh with animations.


Cool stuff

Trent Oliver, whose prize-winning New York-based interactive exhibit agency Blue Telescope provides interactive both to exhibitors and exhibit houses, warns exhibitors not to be bewitched.

“Focus on your message, not on the gear,” said Oliver. “Find a company that will help you communicate your key points and don’t get caught up in ‘technology for technology’s sake.”

When exhibitors do the latter, according to Oliver, a winner-less arm’s race ensues. One exhibitor deploys interactive; then a close competitor copies the company. Soon, all the exhibitors in the niche are copying each other.

“In an ‘arms race,’ all the uses of interactive wind up being generic and lose their impact,” said Oliver. “But when you focus on your message, you cannot be copied by competitors. Sure, it’s the hard way to go because you have to think and be different, but it’s the smart way to go.”

Okay, so you’re firmly into messaging. But is interactive right for the kind of attendees you need to attract? And will it capture their attention?

“Interactive appeals to attendees who are playful, competitive, scientifically-minded and inquisitive,” Oliver says. “It also appeals to international attendees, who are a lot more patient than Americans.”

How long will an interactive hold an attendee’s attention?

“Some people will hang out for as long as 20 minutes at an interactive,” said Oliver. “But most people will not. That’s why the normal length of an interactive session is five to seven minutes.”

Oliver also urges exhibitors to put themselves in attendees’ shoes. Do they really want to interact with your content through a touchscreen?

“The experience has to be organic,” she said. “You have to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and you have to be certain your interactive session is relevant and will make sense to attendees. It cannot be too complex or copy-intensive. Remember, at a tradeshow, they’re in the middle of a circus. If you make your interactive session long and complicated, the attendees will walk away. They can’t stand there and read War and Peace. ”

Okay, short and sweet. So what kind of money are we talking about?

An exhibitor’s spend for interactive on the low side can easily reach $20,000, according to Oliver. On the high side, the outlay can reach multiples of $100,000.

“You don’t use this technology once,” said Oliver. “You use it across many shows. As they say, ‘Create once, deploy many times.’ That means you need to have a long-term plan for interactive. There are no one-offs.”

The final pitfall? Operability.
After a $20,000-$100,000 investment, what a pity it would be if your interactive didn’t interact.

Yet it happens way too often. In fact, when you think of all the touchscreens you’ve seen in museums and at tourist attractions, the broken ones are probably the first that come to mind.

“My advice, regardless of who designs your interactive, is that you hold one person responsible for load-in and set-up, a dedicated person who is not permitted to ‘pass the buck,’ said Oliver. “If you spend the time and money you’re likely to spend, you should be guaranteed a live experience is actually delivered. Your interactive is a live experience. It must operate the way it was designed to operate. Don’t just take somebody’s word for it. ‘Well, it worked back in the office. It should be fine on site.’ That’s not good enough.”

Bob James is director of marketing for ITN International, an event analytics company known for pioneering the use of NFC (short-range wireless) within the exhibitions industry. With operations in China, France, the UK and the US, ITN International provides exhibitors—more than 150,000 of them—with innovative lead management solutions based on NFC.

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