BEATING THE ODDS: 6 tips on how to parlay the numbers when forecasting growth for your show

What will your event look like in five to 10 years? Or even next year?

If you could accurately predict the number of exhibitors and attendees, you would be guaranteed a win. But of course, there is no way to foretell how the future business climate and myriad show development techniques will affect the life of your show.  No one saw the effects the COVID-19 pandemic would have on today’s events industry.

Yet each year organisers dust of their crystal balls to try and predict what their events will achieve in the coming months.  

There is no magic number when it comes to forecasting growth for an events’ exhibitors and attendees. It is more about playing the percentages. Collect and analyse as much data as possible, prioritize the information as to the weight it will carry in the forecast and, finally, call on a healthy dose of sharp insight to drive final decisions.

Forecasting growth is one of the first steps taken in planning an exhibition. Key decisions emanate from initial projections, including budget, marketing plan and site selection. The more accurate you are in the forecasting process, the more successful you are likely to be in subsequent phases of the event’s development.

Most organisers rely heavily on their own show’s history when forecasting for future years. They add an incremental percentage, often based on inflation or exhibition industry trends, to their previous event to determine the number of exhibitors, meterage and attendees likely to participate in the next event. Pressure from corporate management to generate more revenue can sometimes push that incremental percentage even higher.

While history is a huge factor in predicting the future, there are other tools you can also use to stack the deck in your favour. The more you know about the internal and external conditions that  affect your event, the better equipped you will be to project your growth and adapt to changes throughout the show cycle. And even if your final numbers are not right on, you will know what works and what does not and most importantly, why.

Here are six key factors to consider when forecasting growth for your show.

  1. Know your show.

It is surprising how many organisers do not know the history of their event and the figures it has achieved.

Since history is likely to repeat itself, measuring past performance is one of your most valuable tools for forecasting. Actual statistics, as well as patterns over five years, provide guidelines. Look at event and conference attendance numbers, attendee/exhibitor demographics, number of exhibitors, total meterage, size of exhibits, and attendee/exhibitor participation by industry segment and bellwether participation. Calculate percentage changes for each category for the past five years. Is there a steady trend up or down, or a flattening in the numbers?

Talk to those who take part. Formal and informal communication with exhibitors and attendees yields important information. From post-show surveys to casual conversations, an organiser can learn what is on their minds and driving their behaviour.

In addition to asking about this years’ experience, question them about their plans with reference to your event, competitive shows, alternative marketing opportunities, and technical and economic trends in the industry.

Query attendees about their buying plans and anticipated purchasing budgets. Talk to exhibitors about new product introductions and projected sales. For additional insight, remember to survey no-shows and people who did not register.

Most show organisers agree that a conservative approach works best when factoring an “unknown” element into the equation. It may also take more than a year to see a positive effect in the numbers.

  1. Know the industry.

When questioned, it is surprising how many organising events do not know the industry their event is in.

Trade publications and associations, general business publications and governments maintain data helpful in calculating projections for an event and provides a multitude of statistics on specific industries, new technologies and economic projections.

Regardless, throughout the year, copy relevant items to your forecasting files. And check with industry associations at least annually for research and trends.

From these sources and others, find specifics on the size of the industry and segments that are relevant to your event. Identify major players. Check out economic and technological trends. Are there industry segments that can be added to your event? Do all the major players exhibit in or attend your show? Do they participate with your competition? Should you change any element of your show?

  1. Factor in the economy.

Economic conditions impact exhibitions significantly and are cited by many show managers as the most important element to factor into forecasting. Now, most economic forecasts are shot to pieces but in normal times economies fluctuate throughout. An exhibition with international connections can expect to experience some changes in patterns of participation. While these troubled economies might negatively impact international attendance, they are responsible for increased exhibitor participation in some events as suppliers search for business to replace what has been lost abroad.

A downturn in the economy nationally or globally does not automatically translate into softer exhibitor and attendee participation. To determine how it will impact your show, analyse economic trends and the changing needs of the industry that are developing as a result.

  1. Size up the competition.

One of the services we provide for organisers is analysing competitive advantage.

Knowing all there is to know about the competition should appear on virtually every to-do list. How the competition rate in the industry, their size and what they have planned will have implications for your event.

What have competitive shows accomplished over the last several years? Have they added new show features or sponsors? Are they attracting major speakers or making changes to their educational programming?

As an organiser, get on competitor mailing lists and visit their shows. Contact their managers to discuss industry trends or show features and look for articles in industry publications and annual reports. Informal communications with suppliers, as well as shared exhibitors and attendees, can be valuable.

  1. Use exhibition industry research as a guide.

Trends in exhibition attendance and exhibiting provide direction for forecasting. Although the exhibition industry is not the most sophisticated at capturing and analysing this type of data, it continues to make strides in this area.

  1. Plan based on-site selection.

Site selection impacts a forecast, and a forecast impacts site selection. For some organisers, site selection is driven mostly by political considerations, and in those instances, the selection has bearing on what can be expected. Others analyse probable performance of several sites, and selection becomes part of the forecasting process.

In either scenario, there are many relevant factors, including general attendee patterns, proximity of the industry base, access to ground and air transportation, costs for participants, convenience of exhibit hall, availability of services and availability of appropriate hotel accommodations.

That elusive formula

Although no formal forecasting models exist in the event industry, organisers can analyse a few factors to develop their own formulas. Review all the data collected. Assign a plus or minus factor to any information that is not quantifiable. Prioritize the data as to its impact. Then, analyse these numbers and trends as they relate to your event. And finally, rely on your intuition to make final decisions.

Leave a Reply