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I was recently at a fairly large conference in the US and like many conferences, the organisers had thought of ways in which they could engage attendees with vendors. The solution in this case (as with many cases), was to provide each attendee with a sheet of paper, and each vendor with a stamp. The game consisted in going around to vendors and asking them to stamp a card. Once you completed the entire sheet, you’d enter a draw to win a prize.

A Winning Solution?

Seems like a pretty decent idea - attendee visits vendor. Vendor gets to pitch their product, and at the end of the day, someone will win something. So it’s a win-win right? Not really. Or at least not in my experience and a few I’ve spoken to.

Let me break down the demographics of those that come to booth participating in these games

  • 90% are merely there to get a stamp. They’re not interested really in smalltalk. They come to get a stamp, and they leave.
  • 9% are those that come to get a stamp, but somehow feel that it would be inappropriate to just ask for something. So they casually ask what we do, or if they already know what we do and they like our products, they compliment us.
  • 1% are those that genuinely want to speak to us and get more information, and actually wouldn’t mind getting their card stamped.

To be clear, not everyone at a conference actually plays these games, so I’m not implying that only 1% of attendees show interest by visiting booths. In fact we’re fortunate and very grateful that we have a lot of engagement at our booths, much like others do. Sometimes that interaction is limited to someone coming round and thanking us for sponsoring, which really feels wonderful. So thank you for that!

So what’s the issue?

We used to give out T-Shirts at conferences for many years, and at some point we stopped. Not because it was expensive (which it was), but because it required our participation. And this often caused a problem.

Why? Well imagine the scenario where you’re talking to a customer or an attendee, and there is a queue of people waiting to get a T-Shirt (or stamp a card). It makes you lose your focus. You don’t want to indefinitely keep someone waiting, especially if they’re only there to pick up something. You also don’t want to be rude and interrupt a conversation to hand over a goodie (or again, stamp a card). So it puts you in an awkward position.

We partially solved this at the last conference…

Leanpub Folder

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can be solved by having more people. We have quite a good number of people that we send to conferences, often with up to four or five people at the booth. And while there are occasionss that someone is completely free to do these side-jobs, our main goal at a conference isn’t to stamp cards or give handouts. It’s to engage with our users, to learn more about what they’re doing and to show them what we’re doing.

And that’s why we stopped giving out T-Shirts. We decided to only do giveaways that people can self-serve. And only if they actually want to engage with us, they can hangaround. However, when conference organisers do these games, we go back to the same issue. And if these games actually would result in a win-win for both parties, I’d be completely for them, but I honestly believe that it isn’t the case.

So in summary, I’d rather conference organisers left any kind of game activity in the hands of vendors themselves. I’m all for doing raffles and providing prizes to attendees, but I believe there might be better ways to do this.