I don’t know many business people who look forward to conference expos. Seemingly unchanged in generations, these generally are not at the cutting edge of innovation. Cavernous yet stuffy neon-lit halls contain a multitude of seemingly random exhibitors, most of which bear no obvious relevance to what you're interested in.
On the exhibitor side, those (wo)manning the booths have often pulled the short straw. Oh no, must I? Their sales strategies tend to fall into one of two camps: hyper-active, hard-charging deal makers seemingly imported form the Medina in Morocco or dull-eyed lost souls, who’s boredom is infectious.
If you’re a regular visitor to Aging2.0, or recipient of our newsletter, you won’t fail to have noticed that we were at the mHealth Summit earlier this month, co-hosting the EngAGE Pavilion with AARP. This came about because the Summit decided to reflect the growing interest in new solutions for an aging population at this year's event, and wanted to present a collection of these companies. We spent the past few months working with the mHealth Summit and AARP convincing some of the most promising startups in the wider Aging2.0 network that this was a great opportunity for them to showcase themselves in a safe and low-risk way. Happily 20 companies answered that call, and contributed to what was a lively and generally packed Pavilion, and a fun experience for us to be part of. Kudos and thanks to the our committed A2 team who got us there, who gave us a great brand presence (thanks Liz!) and helped staff the Pavilion and see to it that the right people were connected.
In case you missed it, here's a recap of some of the companies that we had present:
The Aging2.0 mHealth experience was quite different from conferences-as-usual in four ways:
- The pavilion as theme. The emergence of Pavilions in recent years is I think a huge blessing for conference goers, as it provides some context and relevance. The companies in our Pavilion were generally about the theme of innovation in aging, and reflecting the subthemes we've identified, namely Connected Independence, Empowered Care, Ageless Style and Lifelong Wellness.
- CEOs not marketers. Mostly due to the fact that these were startups, the people representing the company were more often than not the owners, founders and CEOs. That made for more engaging discussions than with others with less skin in the game.
- Moving towards interactivity. We tried where possible to have the exhibitors provide interactive experiences for visitors. So we had balance lessons from Prime Wellness, smocks and cool canes to try out from Liz&Ett and Omhu, and things that were blowable (RespiRight) and even, barking (GeriJoy).
- Ask An Expert. We created the Ask An Expert series which was a more structured way for some of the startups and other conference exhibitors to sit down and speak with some of the experts from our network.
Innovation opportunities. As always there's room to improve, here's a few that we thought of:
- Easier navigation. For both the large exhibition floor, and even within our slice of it, it would be helpful for people to have a better sense for who was where. Perhaps an overlay of the floor map with tags for what those companies stood for. Maybe also guided tours around the exhibition floor, like they're doing at CES.
- Free wifi. We got the space courtesy of AARP’s generosity, and mHealth Summit flexibility in their pricing model. However, a few days before the event we realized that wifi was not included and would cost thousands of dollars. In future, this could be addressed ahead of time I'm sure.
- More guerilla marketing. Only belatedly did I realize that part of the approved strategy is blanketing the other exhibitors with your brochures overnight. I would find postcards for various initiatives in the mens room and scattered around strategic points in the hotel. And that it seems is all ok, as its conference time. We – as exihibitor newbies – kept our stack of brochures firmly on our stand. Printed to great expense, we ended up taking over half of them home again!
- Programming. Mixing up the concept of exhibitions and conference even more, by having speeches, demos and other hapenings on a regular schedule, within the Pavilion itself.
Overall, our team really enjoyed the experience and we’re grateful for the companies for participating and for AARP and mHealth Summit for trying out something new being partners in our mission to accelerate innovation for the 50+ market.
Feel free to leave comments - as a participant or presenter - on your reflections on the experience.