5 Ways Millennials are Changing Trade Shows (and How to Change With It)

Millennials and Trade Shows

Millennials are the largest generation in the work force right now. According to “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America” they will comprise more than one of three adult Americans by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Millennials truly live in the digital world. 80 percent of millennials sleep with their phones. After waking up they connect digitally within 5 minutes and then check their phones at least every 6 minutes throughout the day.

However, this digital world generates problems in the real world. There is less face-to-face communication which among other issues creates miscommunication. They don’t know how to begin and end conversations, they are afraid to be alone, and they also don’t want to confront friction head on in the real world.

For the trade show industry this is frightening. What does it mean for the future of face-to-face marketing? Luckily for the trade show industry, millennials also value experiences more than material objects. Trade shows must become an experience with learning, entertainment, marketing, aesthetics, networking, and sales in the center of it. These all must layer together to create an experience that millennials can connect with on a personal level.

Learning at Trade Show


The interest in learning is a human characteristic that is engrained in our DNA. If we look at trade shows more like a learning opportunity, an experience, then we can begin thinking about the future of trade shows with millennials. The learning experience at a show must be more than what is offered by the show itself. Find those topics that resonate with your brand and incorporate them into your booth strategy – whether it’s having a speaker at your booth or bridging a topic with your product in your marketing message.


Millennials have grown up in a world where entertainment is at the tip of their fingers at any given moment. Think of it like watching a video on YouTube. You watch one that leads to another one that leads to another one. You start out watching a video of a skateboarder doing a cool trick and then thirty minutes later you stop yourself after watching a cat video. Attention spans are getting shorter. Trade show booths need to have different forms of entertainment to attract and keep people at their booth. Think about different giveaways, celebrities, etc. that connect with your brand that will bring people to your booth. Be attentive to what your competitors and booth neighbors are doing as well. Try not to schedule entertainment at the same time as your neighbor.

Content Marketing


Finding ways to stay in front of your prospects without being too in their face will be more important than ever. Millennials can easily tune out email newsletters or ads that are too salesy. They will bypass those for actual information – what will they be able to achieve or learn from visiting your booth? How can your product help them with their problems? What will they miss out on by not seeing you at the show? Content marketing will be invaluable and can be used on many platforms – social media, emails, your website, etc.

Trade Show Networking


In the digital world it is easy to network, connecting with friends and those with similar interests in a matter of seconds. But is it really the same? While networking online is faster, easier, and less nerve-racking, people will always have a desire to be around other people.

So how do you bridge that gap between digital and real world networking? Starting to network online before the trade show is one possibility. Trade show exhibitors have the potential to connect digitally with prospects and customers – spark a conversation before the show – that leads to further discussion at the show. Not only would this make it easier for millennials to communicate, but it connects them with your brand while giving you the time to find out what they are really interested in.

Trade Show Sales


Trade shows will become more about the experience of being at the trade show. Millennials will be much more focused on what they can take away from the show – from what they learn at your booth or from networking with others. Sales at actual shows may decrease, but the trade show itself will remain an integral part of sales. Instead of deals being made on the show floor, the trade show will be a place to close the gap in the sales cycle – to create that relationship.

If we can make trade shows a layered experience to incorporate these attributes then trade shows will continue to be successful arenas for the b2b sales cycle in the future. The trade show industry is not dying. However, we need to redefine trade shows to read as an experience or experiential marketing. According to Brad Nierenberg, experiential marketing is the live, one-on-one interactions that allow consumers to create connections with brands.


Based on research done by Dr. Sachel Josefson, an exhibit design professor in Bemidji State University’s School of Technology, Art, & Design.