When it comes to speaking programs at large expos, the setup is often the same:

  • Expo out in the open
  • Speakers tucked away in rooms around the expo
  • So many tracks that speakers are housed all over the convention centers (think 22-track conferences, for example)

Sometimes it makes sense to separate the speakers from the expo halls, which can get loud while people are chatting and conducting business. I’m writing this in the press room at the Digital Enterprise Show Madrid (DES Madrid). It's away from the exhibition, but it’s still kind of loud in here—I had to put in AirPods to focus on writing.

[Related Content: Essential Tips for Better Speaker Selection]

I’ve spoken at my fair share at conferences around the globe, and I’m always interested in seeing new setups and innovations as conferences try new things.

When I arrived to speak about digital marketing at DES Madrid, held at the huge IFEMA Convention Center, I saw something that I don’t see often: The stages where speakers were presenting 20-minute talks was in the open, right next to booths.

How Did the Setup Work?

DES Madrid is a large conference, welcoming 21,000 visitors over three days to Hall 8 of the IFEMA Convention Center near the international Madrid-Barajas Airport.

I arrived just as one session was wrapping up and another was starting, and I was surprised to see the speakers presenting out in the open.

[Meetings Today Podcast: Need to Know Tips for Booking Your Next Speaker]

Standing on the edge of the crowd, it was tough to hear the first one. But I moved closer for the next one and could hear them just fine. The organizing team told me they set it up that way for marketing purposes. Why have speakers when people can’t find them?

For attendees, this arrangement was a hit.

I could easily find—and even stumble upon—speaking sessions I wanted to attend as I walked around the expo hall to learn about new digital products and make show appointments.

Maximize Content With a New Setup

The DES Madrid speaker setup is similar to what’s happening with booths at tradeshows.

For example, when I covered HD (Hospitality Design) Expo, I had a ton of appointments. You can read the coverage here. Many of my appointments were scheduled ahead of time, but I also made unplanned stops at booths in my path that caught my eye.

One particularly memorable booth included an outlet-equipped umbrella.

[Related Content: Swearing Speakers – Acceptable or WTF?!]

Of course, this also presents a challenge for speakers to talk more in soundbites. Everything they said could either draw people in or get ignored. No pressure! Also, there's the next level of people walking out on the talk—they might walk by and not even notice the speaker.

Open Air Speaker Concept in Exhibit Hall at DES Madrid, Credit: Christoph Trappe
Open Air Speaker Concept in Exhibit Hall at DES Madrid, Credit: Christoph Trappe

The "open air" speaker concept is an innovative way to maximize content.

Rather than shuffling attendees across a convention center, consider moving the stage out from the tucked-away corners and sharing content with a larger, more fluid group.

What other conference setup trends and innovations have you seen that are worth sharing with our readers? Email me here.

[Read This Next: 14 Helpful Speaker Tips That Are Worth Saving]