StepConnect2 founder says business events don’t have to be boring

With dynamic events focused on the build environment, visitor experience is at the core of everything Step Connect2 do.
Founder and managing director James Lee told Emily Wallin how important it is to make trade shows fun.

Since launching their first live event in 2013, visitor experience has been the heart of Step Connect2’s philosophy.
Trade shows do not have to be boring, says founder James Lee, from their graffitied office in the former Subbuteo factory in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
The 10th edition of Education Estates will be back at Manchester Central in October. They are also launching two news shows (the Inclusive Learning Environments Show in June and Education Buildings Ireland in September) this year – with more to come in 2023.

Fun
“Visitor experience is incredibly important,” says Lee.
“We have three core values: exhibitor experience, attendee experience and content-rich.
“The attendee experience last year was very different to pre-pandemic and it will be different to living with Covid-19.”
However, the most important thing the exhibitions industry can do to return to pre-pandemic confidence levels is bring in first class experiences, says Lee.
As we come out of pandemic survival mode, the feel of shows is going to become more and more important, he believes.
“Live events are inherently fun,” he says. “They bring communities together. They facilitate business. Hopefully that continues.
“There is a really sense of togetherness in the [exhibitions sector] and real sense of optimism.
“It’s been a whole reeducation project to get your community going back. The experience bit is going to be how you do that.”

Future
Looking forward to the Education Estates show at Manchester Central, Lee says, “With that we are thinking ‘how can we make it fun?’ For me events should all be fun, engaging. People go there and feel they’ve come away with two or three maybe more learning points.
“We have just booked Josh Widdicombe as our comedian for our awards dinner. In 2019 we had Tom Allen.
“We have a thing called EduFest. It’s a networking drinks, but we try and get people there at the end of a busy day at the exhibition.
“A couple of years ago we had a school band playing, we called it School of Pop. We are looking at getting a local school band, we had one a couple of years ago who were awesome, and get them to play while the festival’s going on.
“We’ve been in collaboration with Manchester Central at what they can do – they have some really cool LED bars, so were giving people what they would normally get when they leave the venue and go to the pub.
“You can create different types of experiences within the venue.”

Communities
Step Connect2 spent the pandemic galvanising their communities.
“In March 2020 what was really fascinating was looking at ‘what actually do we do?’ How can you still communicate and serve and bring your community together?”
They ran a pilot with ASP’s Gateway product and are now creating a Netflix-style streaming platform to house all their content.
“If you can bring your community together 365 and they see you as that facilitating enabling factor your brands become a lot more engrained in the community. You become a trusted source of information.
“The pandemic made us more robust and our clients really responded to what we were doing. From commercial perspective we’ve seen really strong renewals.
“We can say to our clients ‘we can do the live event for you, but now we can also do webinars, roundtables, bespoke events, fireside chats.’
“Done in the right way it can be a really galvanising factor.”

Strategy
Lee explains their strategy for keeping visitors engaged as follows: “You have pre-connect, connect and reconnect. Connect is your live event, but if you can work it with digital content – apps or whatever – you can engage registered attendees to start communicating with each other. It also means visitors can present that to whoever they need to get sign off from – so they can see actually that’s worth them going to that show.
“As an exhibitor and attendee you get that opportunity to make connections throughout
the year.
“The traditional way of finding out of its working is doing survey and all that, but the best way I can gauge how an event is going is being out on the floor, speaking to visitors, asking how their experience is going. Just walking about, looking, are people using the feature areas you’ve put on, are people smiling? That feedback there and then is invaluable.
“You can get statistics through apps and start to get idea of people’s habits, but at the end of the day it’s walking around. Seeing if people are smiling. It’s a simple as that.”

Smiles 
“It’s going to be an interesting few years ahead, but it’s going to be those organisers that are fun and put smiles on faces that thrive.
“Pre-pandemic, we started to see people dropping the ties.
“Business events don’t need to be boring. It’s those that aren’t and are doing that in the right way – not necessarily massive dance festivals, that are succeeding.
“If you look at how the work-life balance is blending – that’s happening with people coming to our shows, it makes sense.
“We will have business lounges and touchdown spaces if people need to jump on a Teams call or a quiet space to answer emails. But it’s understanding audiences, what drives them to attend a show and then giving them the best experience they can take away from that, so they come away saying ‘wow, that was really interesting. I learned a lot from that. I must put it in my calendar for next year. What other events is that organiser doing?’”
Lee also believes that there will be a ricochet effect of success within the exhibitions industry.
“A good event leads to another good event, he says. “As an industry the more
the positivity there is about going to live events the better it is for all of us.

 

This feature appears in the April issue of Exhibition News. 

Read more features and interviews on all the aspects of creating a great visitor experience here. 

 

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