Last week, I was at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX. I was keenly interested in the new and cool things the SXSW organization is doing to make the event such an immersive experience. We’ve all heard the buzz about “off the show floor” meetings and events, but these are usually related or complementary events to the main purpose of the convention. Typical examples include a chapter meeting, networking gala, and similar.
What about the “off the show floor” experiences that appeal to people, and not just because they happen to be attending an event? At SXSW, brands partnered with restaurants and other businesses in the vicinity of the convention center for the duration of the event to provide innovative engaging experiences to attendees. While that is an extreme example, it got me thinking about some ideas that can be successfully implemented at smaller shows.
1. Sponsored happy hours. Does your convention city have a restaurant row? Encourage exhibitors who want to increase their booth space (therefore making your hall cavernous to the attendees) to instead set up shop in a restaurant near the convention center and sponsor a two(2) hour reception after the show floor closes one day.
2. Team building/charity events. If a brand wants to invest more into your show, talk to them about sponsoring an event where the attendees give back to a cause worthy to the community at large. At a conference I attended recently, I stuffed a Rescue Buddy to be given to a child during a traumatic event.
3. Branded lounge. One of the coolest things at SXSW was that Mazda had a large booth in the convention center lobby with couches, charging stations and water coolers. The convenience of just sitting for a few minutes in a fun and inviting atmosphere made an impression on a lot of people!
4. Live music. Nothing attracts a crowd like a guy with a guitar! Find a local artist that has a lot of Facebook fans or Twitter followers and have your contractor throw some bean bags around a meeting room or lobby area.