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More large conferences could see a boost to exhibition offerings

Summit hears new hybrid model may not have an impact on delegates, but it can mean more work for organisers

The face of large-scale events is changing, as more and more congresses and conferences expand their exhibition offering, say experts.

The convergence of big conferences with exhibitions was up for debate at the Conference Summit in London.

At the panel discussion, industry leaders outlined successful examples of conferences which had upped their exhibition offerings.

Among those sharing their experience was Giles Cummings, divisional director for the i2i Events Group, who told delegates the model was changing for its World Retail Congress. As the congress grew in scale, it made sense to combine it with an enlarged exhibition, he said.

"We have still got increasing delegate numbers and it is just becoming harder. There is a certain point of reach when you make the flip; in other situations, it could be a different decision in terms of the size and scale."

But Cummings said those attending may not even notice the change in structure.

"Externally, to a congress delegate, there isn't going to be an enormous amount of change. We are not planning to make any formal big splash - we are simply expanding the exhibition that already exists."

Sianne Stuart, director of business development and director of sales for GSMA Ltd's Mobile Asia Expo, said the event became a hybrid after much canvassing of opinion from delegates - and it hadn't compromised, for its audience's sake.

"The actual attendance of the conference hasn't changed in quality: that was part of our biggest thing, to protect the high-level audience, and that was successful."

But the speakers pointed out it was also important to remember the conference must still lure delegates away from the show floor at the right moments. 

"We make sure that we are structuring the programme in such a way that there is a pull for people to come back from the show floor," said Elvira Hunte, conference director for UBM Live Europe. "But if we are attracting a high quality of delegate, they will want the content."

"You have got to have hooks and anchors throughout your programme, and you have got to keep them through the day with compelling content and people," agreed Graeme Coombes, ITE's director of oil and gas and PCO events.

He maintained there was a difference between hybrid conferences and trade shows: "I firmly believe that the audiences for trade shows and conferences are slightly different; certainly there is a greater level of sophistication at conferences."

The new model did mean both sides have to be kept happy, said Cummings. 

"The challenge for us is how to get that high-quality audience to service the exhibitors," he added. "It is how we plan, how we physically lay out the event and how we integrate it."

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