Convention center tradeshows are still going strong in this digital age, but the success of these face-to-face affairs may come down to one key query. Are you fully engaging your attendees?

Two-minute exhibitor product videos uploaded to YouTube were a big hit at a recent restaurant industry tradeshow. Buyer attendees were invited to vote for their favorites, and in the process of their review, they gleaned product information. That made exhibitors happy, and that show’s customers declared the contest—and the tradeshow—a great success.

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At this year’s annual Shot Show in Las Vegas, at least one educational session had people walking among attendees with mics to garner comments and questions about the topic at hand. Free-flowing ideas about marketing in various regions of the nation came from those in the retail trenches, and attendees praised the takeaway.

These recent show experiences are among many that are keeping tradeshows relevant and engaging in the digital age. People may be conducting a load of business online, say those who organize and track shows for attendance and ROI, but when people get out of their offices to attend a show in person, they vote with their feet.

Shows by the Numbers
“There are the same number of U.S. tradeshows now as there were five years ago,” says David DuBois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). “Attendance goes up or down, according to the metrics of an industry or the overall economy. Some show segments—like technology—are rockin’. Others, such as education and government, are not doing very well. But 13 of the 15 show segments we measure are positive.”

He pointed to statistics released by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) that third quarter 2014 tradeshow growth marked the 17th consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth. Other CEIR 2014 research shows that contrary to popular belief, younger segments of the population still believe in the value of face-to-face events, including tradeshows.

“The fallacy that people under 30 just want to sit in front of their devices is false. Yes, they do a lot online, but they know when they get out of the office, shake hands, and look people in the eye and talk about business challenges, there’s a difference. There are just some things you can’t do via e-mail,” DuBois adds.

A survey by WorldMate, makers of an app used by business travelers to manage trips, revealed that nearly half (42.2 percent) of its 11 million users attend one to two conferences annually, and 67 percent of those are willing to travel more than 1,000 miles to attend a conference.

“Technology is vital today,” says Ian Berman, vice president of development at WorldMate, “but we all need connection with others as well. Shows are important because business is done between people. At some point, you need that human connect and lots of shows are facilitating business actually getting done at shows.”

What’s Now
Tradeshow content is getting delivered in multiple areas, outside the four walls of a meeting room and on the show floor as well as online. People aren’t just networking at golf tournaments, cocktail parties and show booths anymore.

Rachel Wimberly, editor-in-chief of Tradeshow News Network (TSNN), says creating memorable and engaging experiences for all customer groups is absolutely essential if organizers want to attract new attendees and have others return to them.