I have a vivid memory of playing peek-a-boo with my mum. You know, that thing where she sits in front of you and hides her face with her hands and then suddenly whips them away and gives you a big smile. And then she does it again, and again, but the thrill just never wears off. Great fun. Possibly a little silly for a man of 22, but North Lincolnshire was a pretty dull place in those days.
Clearly the memory stayed with me, because the highlight of my first job in the motor industry was doing the “reveal” element of motor launches. This involved travelling round the country and standing next to a vehicle covered in a shiny white shroud, while the regional manager or dealership boss delivered a presentation that was mostly a plea, and urged people to trust British workers to build a car to change the world. And that was my cue. I pressed the remote and the shroud smoothly and gracefully slid over the metal and back into its container. The sleekness of the motion – and a few glasses of Blue Nun – was all that was needed for some audible gasps of excitement from the assembled audience.
Sadly, the shroud was made to a far higher standard than any of the cars, and Rover‘s persistent inability to produce vehicles where all four wheels would go round together ultimately led to the demise of our last indigenous volume car manufacturer. But the lesson is very straightforward; from an early age, we are taught to love anticipation and surprise, and to believe in “magic”, even when we know the rabbit was in the hat all the time. And it’s an element that could make a huge impact at your next exhibition for not a lot of dosh or effort.
So, what’s involved? Well, give a bit of thought to how you might demonstrate the benefits of your products or services – think “industrial theatre” – and then add a magician’s “fairy dust”. There are easy ways of doing a reveal; for example, you could have part of your stand separated with drapes, and a large clock put in front, indicating the time of the next “performance”. Find a naturally exuberant presenter from within your organisation (or hire one, if you work in financial services, where such behaviour is outlawed) fix them up with a head mike and a short script, and off you go. It matters not that the “reveal” is nothing more than smoke and mirrors; you’ll have done your bit. Learn from the motor industry – or masters, such as Apple – who each year bring out another version if something we already have three of, but the addition of a new colour, and a bit of the old “razzle dazzle” is enough to get crowds rioting in the streets.
To make it even easier, technology has moved on at such a pace that many of the effects that had to be created physically can easily be done with the use of a large projector, or the ubiqiuitous “green screen”. And theatrical effects – a bit of dry ice, a drum roll, a couple of flashing lights – can be hired for almost nothing.
You have a smaller stand, I hear you mutter at the back? No problem; there are panels that can be lit in layers, or illuminated in a certain way to still create the element of surprise. Add in some infra-red sensors that visitors activate without realizing, and give them a thrill that takes them back to their childhood days.
Such apparently cheesy themes do work, and of course you can carry the element of chutzpah throughout your pre-show marketing and PR. Send out a viral e-mail with the news of “announcing the new standard in table decorations” and a click-through to a punchy video hosted on Youtube. There the viewer might see one of those remote shrouds I mentioned earlier. And it starts to slide back over the fantastic product that will change the world, and as the curtain falls away the screen fades to black. D’oh, what a swizz – but rest assured the seed of interest is now sown.
So, there you are. A simple technique that could help you cast a spell over the next exhibition you attend, without blowing the budget. You’ll love it (all together now.) “Not a lot”.