The global spread of COVID-19 brought trade shows and exhibitions to a screeching halt in early … [+]
© 2014 Bloomberg Finance LP
According to the Center for Exhibition Research, there were approximately 9,400 B2B trade shows and exhibitions held in the U.S. in 2019, contributing $101 billion to the nation’s GDP. These events are where companies showcase their latest and greatest products and services. Salespeople connect with old customers and meet new ones. Customers can shop—casually or seriously—meet with salespeople, learn about new products and more. All of that, plus networking and learning opportunities, is part of the typical trade show experience.
But, the global spread of COVID-19 brought trade shows and exhibitions to a screeching halt in early 2020, with large cancelations including SXSW, The Mobile World Congress and Google I/O, foreshadowing a grim future for live events.
Since March, the world has wondered when we can return to normal, including the tradeshows and exhibitions we’ve attended in the past—the way we’ve attended them in the past. It may be a while. While social distancing and proper health hygiene—which includes wearing a mask—can allow some people in the door, the days of crowded trade show floors are so 2019. It may be a year or two—hopefully not longer—before we see those crowded aisles again.
The New Tradeshow
Recommended For You
Recently, I wrote an article titled The Comeback of Conferences and Meetings. The issues with in-person conferences and meetings are the same for trade shows and exhibitions. Just like we’ve adapted to Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams meetings and, on a larger scale, virtual conferences, the trade show industry is adapting to virtual events. With the right technology, these virtual trade shows can fill the void as we wait for a return to being able to get on a plane, fly to a major convention city, check into a hotel, meet a colleague for dinner and then brave the crowds at a massive expo hall.
There are a number of companies out there that can help organizations take their shows to the virtual level, and I ran across a publication from Intrado, a company with a solution to creating successful virtual events. Its goal is to eliminate “pain points,” which include poor audience retention, inability to measure impact, lack of engagement and more.
The experience they provide is similar to a high-end computer game. The graphics are rich in detail. The ability to interact with others, while virtual, is as normal as a typical video call. Users will experience a lobby, resource center, exhibit hall—everything they might experience at a live event. In some instances, it can be more productive than a live event. Ben Chodor, president of Digital Media Solutions at Intrado, believes, “One of the benefits of virtual tradeshows is that it allows attendees to control the conversation and ask questions, increasing their ability to get the information they want.”
In addition, you can gamify the experience and award prizes for time spent in the exhibit hall, the number of exhibits visited and more. Ultimately, you want to drive more traffic to the sponsor booths. Attendees should be encouraged and incentivized to join social media conversations and make posts about the show. Contests with prizes can be a great motivation for attendees to visit specific booths.
The Attendee Experience
The need for virtual trade shows has led to many innovations and new iterations of products and services in the events industry, all designed to create an attendee experience that competes with live events.
Tracy Judge, founder and chief connector of Soundings Connect, a company that connects organizations with freelance meeting and event talent, believes the secret to success for virtual events is to increase customer service in order to reduce friction for attendees. “One of the roles we have seen emerge is a virtual event concierge. Customer service is part of the DNA of hospitality and event professionals. Our current focus is helping talent translate their skills and experience from live events to the virtual event world to make attendees feel comfortable.”
Matchmaking platforms such as Conference Solutions offer networking recommendations and pre-schedule appointments for virtual events, simulating an in-person networking experience. The software analyzes responses and data from the attendees of the virtual events and makes suggestions for meetings with companies that are exhibiting and sponsoring the show.
Experience a Virtual Event for the People Who Plan Virtual Events
Want to experience—at the highest level—how meetings, events and the hospitality industry are going virtual? What better place to learn than at an event designed just for the people who plan and produce these types of events? Cvent CONNECT is one of the premier conferences for those who plan meetings, conferences, exhibitions and trade shows.
Typically, more than 5,000 people would attend CONNECT, but unfortunately, like all other major conferences, it was forced to cancel its live Las Vegas event and move to a virtual setting, which takes place on August 25-26 at a computer near you. There will be plenty of general sessions, breakouts and, of course, an exhibit hall. Even if you’re not in the industry, you can register. And there is no cost. Register for free and take advantage of valuable information you can use as we continue to adapt in today’s world.