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Coping With An Attendee’s Limited Attention Span

By Barry Siskind

How can you stand out in the crowd and differentiate yourself from the competition? This is the most common question exhibitors ask. Exhibitors scramble to include a cacophony of attention getting ideas to their exhibit including: prizes, draws, eye-catching graphics and demonstrations. All these have merit and yet there must be a solid rationale for every activity in your booth plans. The question is, what works and what doesn’t. The answer starts with an understanding of show attendees and what attracts them to one booth rather than another. Attendees have a difficult time so much to see; so many exhibitors and too much information. The result is overload their attention span dwindles and they are incapable of absorbing new information. When this happens the challenge exhibitors face is magnified. In some cases attracting attention is left to scantily clad models gyrating seductively over a new product. This surely attracts attention but is this the audience you really want? Clearly the trick is to attract the right attention. Understanding the art of attention getting to lure attendees into the booth is a crucial step for all exhibitors.

Some visitors have a pre-conceived notion of who you are and are desirous to  visit your booth. This interest could be a result of your aggressive pre-show promotion campaign, your company’s reputation or word of mouth when one attendee talks to another. These people come to your exhibit because they had planned to and nothing will dissuade them. There is also the walk-by traffic that happens upon your exhibit by chance. This group attended the show with an agenda that did not include your booth. They have satisfied their show needs and are now looking to discover other show opportunities new suppliers, interesting products and so on. Ignoring the potential for new business among these attendees would be foolish. Although  attendees have diverse reasons for coming to a show,  they share the tendency to avoid things that don’t grab their attention quickly. Winning the attendee’s interest is a methodical process. Each attendee needs to pass through three distinct zones of interest. Passing through these zones happens quickly. It starts at zone one and moves almost at the speed of light to zone three. All attendees will respond to zone one but the closer to zone three you can bring them, the greater the probability you have of conducting business. As you move through each zone you are tantalizing your attendee to move further into the booth both visually and physically.

Before you plan your booth layout and your attention getting techniques, take a moment to think of your booth in terms of it’s interest zones.

Zone 1Common interest: Attendees walking the aisle, are like kids in a candy store. In the candy store they see everything and nothing all at once. They are blown away by the cool displays and mountains of candy. Their focus is on one thing only instant gratification. While trade show attendees are focussed on their shopping needs,  they have the additional challenge of  information overload. The result 90% of the words in any trade show booth remain unread. Their instant gratification is more than the bag of Smarties that caught the attention of the kid in the candy store. It might be a warm fuzzy feeling that comes with recognizing images in the exhibitors booth, a smile at the wit and humour put into the display or an instant understanding that a solution to a buying problem is at hand. In zone one, attention getting showstopper graphics play an important role. The visitor walks by and  is immediately attracted to a universal message that is represented in dynamic graphics. Smaller pictures won’t do the trick.

Other techniques that attract attendees at zone one include the presence of recognizable personalities, in-booth games, moving lights, sampling and draws for  prizes with a universal appeal.

Zone 2 Potential interest: Once the attendees’ interest has been piqued, you need to methodically draw them into your booth. A corporate tag line should do the trick. These tag lines are short statements (less than seven words) that tell your prospects how your products and services present a solution for them. In this zone your signs can go into a bit of detail, but not too much. Perhaps some of the major benefits of the product can be posted but no more. At zone two you might also use a draw with a company specific prize, catalogues, product demonstrations and videos.

Zone 3 Genuine Interest: Prospects are now really interested and willing to venture further into your booth. Here your signs can give even more information. In-booth signs strategically placed in zone three are designed to help the boothers in their presentation. One-on-one presentations and in-booth seminars take place in zone three.



Visitor’s interest

1. Common interest

  • Attention to a universal message.

  • Can include an element of fun but most of all a clear unforgettable message that links the exhibitor with a universal need.

  • Will stop and take note. Willing to be drawn further into the exhibit for more information.

  • Curiosity piqued.

  • Avoids eye contact

2. Potential interest

  • Sees the potential of a solution to a shopping need.

  • Although there is no idea whether the solution fits, there is a willingness to spend more time.

  • Less likely to continue walking by.

  • Will begin to focus on detail.

  • Develops a curiosity that demands answers

  • first attempt at making eye contact with the exhibitor.

3. Genuine interest

  • Recognizes positive connection between need and solution.

  • A genuine interest in acquiring more information on how the exhibit can satisfy the

  • shopping need.

  • Will watch

  •  demonstrations.

  • Talks to the boother.

  • Spends time with the product.

  • Ask questions and take notes.

 Understanding interest zones helps you create a logical sequencing of signs and fixtures as well as all other peripheral tools used to attract attention.

Barry Siskind is President of International Training and Management Company a firm specializing in helping exhibitors increase their show results. He has helped exhibitors and their staff throughout the world. He is author of Powerful Exhibit Marketing. Visit Barry’s web-site at

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