The most important thing in any trade show is attendance. According to the CEIR, the Center for Exhibition Research, trade shows are still growing – with total growth up 3% from 2012. Sectors that saw the most growth included finance/legal/real Estate, transportation, communication, technology and food. Conversely, government, education and building/construction all saw decreases. Expect that goal of greater attendance to be achieved with increased fervor in 2014 as trade shows gear up for increased market visibility. Here’s what you can expect in the year ahead.

Consumer Controlled Data

Technological use at trade show started out with flat screen plasma monitors running presentation loops. Since everyone is already doing that, leading companies are looking for a way to go beyond traditional measures. I recommend Leap Motion, which features a new interface control that uses a finger and motion as a mouse. Imagine someone walking up to your display waving a finger and controlling the data. Leap Motion is not only cutting edge, but it’s also incredibly affordable at only $70.

On subject of technology, more and more apps are being designed specifically for trade shows, Technology including iPads and smartphones seamlessly allow attendees and exhibitors to stay in contact with one another both before and after events. Expect to see more of this functionality in 2014.

A Shift to Virtual

You can also expect to see an increase in virtual trade shows. Market Research Media notes how “Physical trade show is a hassle for a large corporation and a major logistics nightmare for small and medium players. In physical events success is always on the side of the big battalions – larger corporations with big war chests get premium advertising space, premium booth space and keynote presentation time.” The company welcomes what they call an emerging virtual conference & trade show market on the wave of game changing and leveraging technology.

Forecasts through 2018 highlight a $18.6 billion dollar virtual trade show marketing that fuses web conferencing, virtual trade show software, social networking, collaboration, and more in a dynamic never imagined way to bring people together in a cleaner more efficient way in spite of traditional barriers.

Socially Savvy

Social media is going beyond brand awareness. Instead, vendors will emphasize social media to build relationships with attendees before the step foot onto the trade show floor. Once a relationship is exhibitors are leveraging social media as a communication lever on the show floor as well. For your next exhibit, try using Twitter as a contest that includes prizes in exchange for hash-tagged tweets. You can also harness social media during the show by live blogging or tweeting from your trade show booth. Use this channel to announce special demonstrations, give-a-ways and presentations … and also offer everyone (both those who are and are not at the show, which ultimately offers a glimpse into your world).

Say Goodbye to Bulk

2014 will favor streamlined booths that utilize lighting and textures. Gone are the days of the bulky marketing and logo-tattooed booth. Think futuristic, clean, and smart use of minimal design. At the very least, it will stand out from the booths over-run with loud branding attempts. Conversely, you can say hello to sustainability. Companies are spending more time considering how to recycle exhibits, and construction from sustainable materials like bamboo and cork continues to be popular. Not only is it good business, but it’s also smart marketing.

The Sales-Free Zone

We’ve all been at a show when you just wanted to find out information about a company and not interact with the booth salespeople. This need is leading some exhibitors are leaning toward designing “no hassle” zones in their exhibit space so that people can view information without having to interact. This may sound counter-intuitive, however, companies who tried it reported a HIGHER engagement than last year, as people found something they were interested in and sought out a salesperson – which means your sales people are zeroed in on people who are more likely to convert into customers.

Lead Retrievals

With attendance stats being so low for some industries, trade show organizers are raising their game to try and attract more exhibitors. One of the ways they’re doing this is by offering lead retrievals. Shows that offer this allow you to rent a scanner from the trade show organization itself that scans attendee badges and uses the information to print a contact form.