Mind the Gap – Tradeshow Showmanship!

Mind the Gap - Tradeshow Blog

Human beings are curious…

Human beings are naturally curious. We don’t like not knowing. If one person stands in a street and looks up eventually there will be a crowd of people all looking up. Most of those won’t even know what they’re looking at! And that’s the point – “What are we all looking at?” That’s the driver in this situation, a gap in what we know and a natural desire to fill that gap.

Take an example from my days as a street performer. Established acts would build a crowd using this principle in a number of ways. The most obvious application and one that I saw from EVERY juggler who rode a unicycle was the use of the “finale as the draw”. Props that would be used in the show were introduced one by one. This would cause intrigue and the final prop, the 12 foot unicycle, would raise that intrigue to a level that made it almost impossible to leave the show. Some performers would make a fake attempt to ride the unicycle and raise the hopes of the crowd that they would see the performer riding high, only to then lie the bike down on the ground and set the scene for what was to come. A knowledge gap was formed. The space had been created in the minds of the spectators, “we want to see him (or her) ride the unicycle”, only now they needed to stay to the end of the show to have that itch scratched.

As the show progresses a crowd will build. The starting edge would form and that wall of bodies would obscure the view from outside. Good performers knew to fill the openings in this human wall as quickly as possible, to prevent casual observers seeing inside the impromptu theatre. A secret club was formed and that was exactly the intention. Now that visibility and access was limited, passers-by would have their curiosity piqued – “What are they looking at? Let’s take a closer look.”

There will be a natural knowledge gap when your brand, product or service is new and you will be all too eager to fill that gap. The temptation in the exhibition scenario is to pile the information high and let it be collected in an ad-hoc fashion. Lower all the barriers to entry, come one, come all! Brochures and handouts delivered to passing traffic or put in easy reach eliminates the need for anyone to stop. Conversations will be brief, without any real engagement. Some people genuinely don’t have the time but people who visit an exhibition are usually looking for face to face interactions. This is offline and real time.

Perhaps you can hold back some key element so that you can control delivery of that information and guarantee it’s impact. If the juggler rides the unicycle at the start of the show, the crowd will walk away and he won’t get paid. By essentially teasing the crowd the performer strengthens the finale and heightens the emotional state of the audience.

What can you place just out of reach, what is your finale? You don’t need to take 30 minutes to get to the punchline, neither do you want to open with it. If you can structure the visitors journey on your stand so that it delivers the most important message at the point of maximum emotional investment then you have a greater chance of creating a more powerful and memorable experience.

About The Author

Peter Wardell

Peter Wardell is an multi-award winning magician and speaker. He has helped companies from a wide variety of disciplines engage with their audience at trade show and exhibitions worldwide.

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