What are your plans to host a trade show in 2022?
Whatever they are, Covid-19 precautions might disrupt your plans … again. As we see it, you have four choices: host an in-person event, a virtual event, a hybrid event, or none at all. And if you rely heavily on trade-show revenue, canceling a show might threaten your ability to stay in business.
So what’s an association leader to do?
The answer could lie in creating a virtual event that keeps your constituents healthy, meets the needs of suppliers and attendees, and nets the association decent revenue. That’s a tall order, but it can be done.
If you’ve already hosted a successful virtual trade show, you’re ahead of the game. With a few tweaks and new ideas, you can keep your event fresh and interest in it high. If you haven’t hosted a virtual show or didn’t have a great response, you’ll need to perform an autopsy of your efforts and decide where you can improve the experience.
Planning Your Next Event
Here are suggestions for your next event:
Consider the benefits of a virtual or hybrid event.
With a virtual or hybrid event, you can offer a truly global experience. Your attendance may increase because you can appeal to more people globally, and you can invite more staff members within member companies. Because the cost of travel is high, the CEO is sometimes the only person attending a trade show. With a virtual show, however, you can attract team members at all levels.
Determine what your goals are.
Talk to suppliers and attendees. Find out what they want and need from this show and why they chose either to attend or stay in the office during your last show. Consider what the association needs. Then write your goals and refer to them often.
Start early … really early.
Your audience is full of virtual veterans. They’ve zoomed and webinared to the point of fatigue, but they’ll still attend your event if it meets their needs. You need a seamless experience that has the feel of your association. Choose a platform that can accommodate your audience without crashing and make it look as much like your brand as possible. If you start early enough, last-minute problems can be irritations instead of major issues.
Test, test, test.
Make sure everything works. If you start early enough, you’ll have time to ask selected members to help you test. Plan to have a help center when you go live. And don’t forget the people who register late or on the morning of the show. Be clear about the process for them and help them get involved quickly.
Your exhibitors will need help navigating your site during setup. To help them understand what’s possible and how to make their plans work, provide written instructions, a contact person or a recorded webinar. On-demand video tutorials also work well.
Establish your sponsorship packages early.
Give your sales team the help it needs in selling sponsorships. If you talked to your suppliers early in the process, you should have a great idea of what they want, need, and are willing to pay for. They may not sign the contract right away, but knowing what the packages are will help them plan their budgets.
Communication is different for virtual trade shows.
Your team probably has a communication plan in place for a live event but may need to adjust it for a virtual or hybrid trade show. You simply have more to tell your audiences before a virtual event. If you plan special pre-event promotions, you’ll have to explain them. If you have special presentations during the show, you need to promote them. Your suppliers will need information relevant to their situation. For example, they won’t need to know how to order carpet for their booth but may instead need to know how to plan for a live demonstration.
Now for the Fun Stuff – 10 Great Ideas
You are creating an experience, not just a trade show. We’re working in an experience economy and that means your younger audiences prefer associations that engage them in personal, memorable ways.
Here are 10 ideas that can help you plan a great experience.
Host live demos.
Attendees want to know how products work and they come to trade shows to find out. Schedule live demos to keep a personal touch. You can limit the number of participants or allow the exhibitor to invite participants. This is a great event for sponsorships.
Take a page from speed dating and let your attendees have one-on-one time with someone they don’t know or someone they’d like to know. Limit the time – six minutes each with 10 people, for example. How you match people for a chat is key.
Offer expert lectures.
In-person trade shows keep attendees on the show floor by offering expert lectures or video presentations. Virtual shows can also include expert sessions in sponsored time slots. The sponsor benefits from increased exposure. Show participants benefit from the content of the session. Be sure the topics are cutting-edge. Include several speakers or a panel discussion for variety. Choose lively speakers to maintain interest in the session.
Sponsor cocktail groups.
Social events sometimes suffer online. Use your platform’s private rooms to host small cocktail groups. You can send a cocktail package to participants yourself or contract with companies that can send all the fixings for you. If you mail packages, do it early. This is another great sponsorship opportunity, particularly if you mail anything ahead of the event.
Promote the use of virtual business cards.
It’s hard to remember all the people you meet at a trade show. Work with your vendor to create and use virtual business cards. In addition to contact information, cards can offer promotions or coupons to be redeemed after the show.
Host live FAQ groups.
Attendees may have questions about a vendor’s products, the association, or industry changes. Create live frequently-asked-questions sessions on specific topics. This is another area that lends itself to sponsorships.
Use video ads to spark interest in the event.
Record lively promos with staff, members, and leadership to post online. Address topics of interest to anyone interested in attending the event. Make it personal.
Create online tutorials.
Few of us know the details of creating an online presence on every platform. Create online tutorials for both exhibitors and participants. Several online programs can help you make a quick video for very little money.
Use photos from previous trade shows.
If you have photos from your association’s previous shows, use them to make the upcoming show feel like home. The 3D trade show floor may be generic, but everything surrounding it could reflect your brand and your sponsors.
Offer quizzes, challenges, or games
Team trivia allows participants to network. Other events, styled like game shows, can be great social events. Riff on the “treasure hunt” theme from in-person shows and reward participants who visit all booths or attend special sessions, etc.
Guided by your exhibitors, your participants, and your association, you can create a virtual trade show that sells. It may not mirror your in-person experience, but it can accomplish the goals you set with careful planning and fresh ideas. Hope to see you at a trade show soon!
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.