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How to engage your audience at tech trade shows

You set up your booth at a conference or trade show like Consumer Electronics Summit (CES). You're feeling like a lion on the prowl, ready to pounce on new customers, partnership opportunities, etc. But just like on a nature show, your prey is rushing around in a big stampede, a ferocious blur of activity. It's hard to find an opening... Instead of a predator on the hunt, you're a wallflower sulking and pretending to stare at your smartphone.


This week, I'm sure there's a lot of people at CES, probably the biggest tech conference in the world, in that position. Las Vegas is a zoo pretty much any time, but right now, there's just a sea of people spread out all over the trade booth and expo area. The individuals within this sea of people blend together. Whether you're at your expo booth or have some freedom to explore, how do you stand out and make that first connection? Here's some ideas I've gleaned from years of schmoozing that can help you engage your audience at tech trade shows (or any time).


Know how to tell your story at a tech trade show or conference (the right way)


Last year at Collision, I found myself caught in the "zebra effect." But what compounded the challenge was that most conversations felt one-sided. People seemed more focused on talking at me than with me.


Almost every person I interacted with had a service to sell, a product to promote, an elevator pitch to deliver, a two to five minute spiel where I could barely get a word in edgewise. This is not the experience I wanted when I bought my ticket.


I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: a well-thought-out game plan is crucial for navigating a tech conference, and part of this strategy should involve crafting how you'll tell your story. Will you monopolize the conversation with a lengthy monologue, or will you engage in a meaningful dialogue?


Sure, part of this storytelling aligns with standard PR practices – like bridging or dealing with tough questions, media training, and generally positioning your company in the best light.


However, to truly make an impact at these events, you need to put in some elbow grease. What does that look like? Often, it's about stepping beyond your own agenda. I remember those few people who added value at conferences – those who introduced me to new contacts, recommended booths or panels I hadn't considered, or showed a willingness to pay it forward. 


Attract attendees with immersive experiences


When I was at Miami's Immerse Summit in 2022, I found myself in an unusual situation at a tech conference: I was jumping, dancing, and wildly flailing about. This wasn't typical conference behavior for me, but I was demoing some interesting avatar technology. As I moved, I watched in fascination as my avatar mirrored my every move in real-time.


This experience left a lasting impression on me. It wasn't just the absurdity of letting loose in an otherwise professional setting, but the sheer novelty of the technology itself. It was a first-of-its-kind encounter for me that instantly gave me at least five different ideas for this technology’s use cases.


Any product that gives you that feeling (comfort, easy to use, engaging, real or virtually real) is going to make a much bigger impact than just seeing a website on a screen at a demo, or getting a brochure. Using sensory input from any of the five senses makes it more likely you'll create an impact.


Letting the audience interact with the product, ideally in exactly the way that real customers would use it, is memorable in a sea of blandness.


If it's harder to make it interactive, at least show the thing being used. If I was selling an AI-powered dirt scrubber at CES, I wouldn't want to just have the robot on a table. I'd want to pour down some soil and you could witness how it cleaned up the mess in 5 seconds.


One consumer brand that did a fantastic job of leveraging an immersive experience was Hasbro, which created an immersive live-action experience that combined elements of the Monopoly board game with real-life team challenges, like escape rooms.


One study found that these kinds of experiences can be great for word-of-mouth marketing, and that nearly one-fifth of conversations around these experiences were recommendations. 


I realize that if you're gearing up for CES 2024, it might be a bit late to put together an immersive experience this time around. However, it's definitely something worth considering for your next conference.


Unleash the power of micro-influencers at events


Influencer marketing has long been a tool in the PR toolkit. A micro-influencer is an individual on social media platforms who has a smaller, but highly engaged and niche audience, typically ranging from a few thousand to around 50,000 followers. That kind of instant pay-to-play impact can be useful for boosting your signal at a time-limited event.


Unlike their macro-influencer or celebrity counterparts, who boast large followings, micro-influencers are typically perceived as more authentic and relatable by their audience. They tend to foster deeper connections, resulting in higher levels of engagement and interaction with their followers. At events like CES, you can bet on spotting these kinds of influencers mingling throughout the show, spreading good old “word of mouth” marketing in a modern way.


As an example, PlayStation leveraged a unique strategy when promoting its VR headset at conferences (and outside of big events). Instead of collaborating with celebrities (which Sony undoubtedly had the budget for), PlayStation focused on macro, micro, and nano influencers to drive higher engagement rates.


The results were pretty phenomenal. Most would consider 0.5% to be a good engagement rate on the top social media platforms, but PlayStation’s campaign resulted in nearly 4% engagement across Instagram and YouTube.


A good PR firm will be able to set you up well for your next tech conference


If you're eyeing CES 2024 or gearing up for any big tech conferences next year, remember that storytelling and standing out are key. But doing this right isn't always a walk in the park.


That's where a good PR agency can really make a difference. They're not just about press releases; they're your storytellers, your strategists, and your backstage crew all rolled into one. And when it comes to making a splash with your product - whether at a bustling conference or in the wider market - having a solid PR partner can be a game-changer.



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