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by Chris Kappes



In today’s ever-changing world, tradeshows serve as a fascinating reflection of our evolving society and entertainment landscape. Much like gazing into a mirror, they reveal the impact of time and its transformative effects.  

What was once a simple economic marketplace for goods and services has now morphed into a hybrid experience, shaped by shifting demographics, pressing social issues, technological advances, environmental concerns, inflationary pressures, and even the rise in crime rates. 

Exploring the Changing Landscape: 

Here are some notable transformations in the world of tradeshows that we are witnessing and foresee: 

  • Dual-Purpose Trips: One trend gaining momentum is the demand for dual-purpose trips that seamlessly blend business and leisure. As Donna Quadri-Felitti, the director of the School of Hospitality Management at Penn State University, notes, more individuals are now taking their families along to conventions. This new paradigm allows for experiences like catching an Inter Miami soccer game after a full day at the Miami Convention Center or dedicating an extra day to exploring the San Diego Zoo following Comic-Con. 


Trend Analysis: Attending a convention today entails more than just professional networking, deal-making, and product discovery. It has evolved into a multifaceted experience, often justifying the time away from the office and home by incorporating diverse value activities. 


  • Multi-Generational Curation: “Micro-generations” representing Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Zs are attending trade shows and each has different needs, wants and expectations.  


Trend Analysis: Event curation needs to consider the guest experience for each generation. Conference and exhibit staffing should mirror event demographics.   

  • Streaming Media’s Impact: The influence of streaming media on our lives is undeniable. The Wall Street Journal in its article, “Streaming is Changing the Sound of Music,” highlights a significant shift in the average length of hit songs, reducing by more than 30 seconds since 2000. Grammy-winning producer Mark Ronson attributes this trend to the fact that people rarely listen to songs in their entirety, impacting artists’ ratings and royalties. To counter this, artists are increasingly placing song hooks within the crucial initial 30 seconds required for a play count.
Trend Analysis: Attention spans are continuing to decline, with Microsoft’s revelation that humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish – eight seconds for us, nine for our aquatic friends. This has substantial implications for the content delivered during conference sessions and exhibits, necessitating a mindful curation approach. Shorter, more engaging sessions are expected and appreciated.
  • Convenience Trumps All: The importance of convenience in our lives is on the rise. McDonald’s recent announcement to remove soft-drink beverage centers from its US restaurants by 2032 aims to enhance the customer and crew member experience. In a conversation with a McDonald’s manager, it was revealed that this decision was primarily driven by the dominance of drive-through sales (accounting for 70% of fast-food sales) over in-store purchases. Removing soft drinks allows McDonald’s to streamline operations, reduce expenses and serve customers where and how they want to be served.
Trend Analysis: Convenience has emerged as a paramount consideration for consumers, with a report from the NRF (National Retail Federation) indicating that 83% now prioritize convenience while shopping, compared to five years ago. In the world of tradeshows, the question is: How can we integrate more convenience, and can industries such as air travel, lodging, food services, and conventions collaborate to offer VIP packages that eliminate friction for attendees and exhibitors  alike?
What Lies Ahead:
As we look to the future of tradeshows, it’s essential to continue building on the positive impact they have on people. The Freeman’s Trust Report of 2023 reveals that attending live events leaves participants with a generally positive feeling: 70% feel more knowledgeable, 63% feel inspired, 63% feel more connected to their colleagues and industry, and 62% report feeling excited.
To ensure the growth and relevance of the tradeshow industry, we must keep the following principles in mind:
  • Serve the Audience: Never lose sight of who we serve – the attendees and exhibitors who define the value of these events.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Measure everything to gain insights into attendee preferences and needs.
  • Streamline the Experience: Reducing friction and making attendance easy should be a top priority.
  • Adapt to Societal Trends: Continuously study and adapt to societal trends to stay relevant.
  • Collaborative Innovation: Foster collaboration among industry stakeholders to create convenience packages that enhance the tradeshow experience.
  • Emphasize Compelling Content: Reward and promote compelling content and experiences.
  • Create New Financial Models: Explore and implement new financial models based on event performance to sustain and elevate the industry. See my previous article:
  • Go beyond “One & Done”: Building industry communities requires continuous brand and value building. Retailers deploy omnichannel marketing to do so. We too need to evolve beyond a “one and done”, brick-n-mortar event mentality, to omnichannel-centric event marketers.
Tradeshows are a dynamic reflection of our society and entertainment preferences. By embracing change, understanding audience needs, and facilitating convenience, the tradeshow industry can continue to thrive and evolve in an ever-changing world. It’s time.


Chris Kappes is a three-decade executive who has served as CMO, CSO and President of leading event agencies. Kappes is a published author of two trade books, The Noise Behind Business. How to Make Tradeshows Work & How to Master the Art of Selling at Tradeshows co-written with sales expert, Tom Hopkins. Kappes shares his industry experiences and views at conferences and publications like Exhibit City News. His contact information:

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