From Simple to Sophisticated, This Year’s
Trade Shows Have Gone Virtual
You log on to the trade show website at the designated time, where you’re greeted by Tony, a three-dimensional, fully animated avatar.
Tony provides you with a guided tour of the entire exposition center, including the auditorium, break-out discussion rooms, exhibit hall, virtual lounge, and information booth.
Welcome to the world of virtual trade shows, where real-time demonstrations and interactions are commonplace. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put the kibosh on in-person trade shows this year (including the 2020 Irrigation Show), virtual shows have stepped up to fill in the gap.
These shows offer numerous benefits: they can save both time and money, and they can extend a company’s global reach. But virtual events are not without their own challenges. For instance, they must present compelling content that will keep their audience continually engaged.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when sponsoring, exhibiting at, or attending a virtual show…
Sponsoring a Virtual Trade Show
The first question you need to ask yourself as a virtual trade show sponsor is: How sophisticated do I want my show to be? Virtual shows run the gamut from simple online interviews and basic webinars to second-generation avatars like Tony, who can move from booth to booth and event to event.
If you choose to go with the basic approach requiring no special technical platform, make sure your presentation materials are concise, engaging and memorable. Unlike in-person shows, virtual attendees can move on at the click of a button, so keep it short and sweet. Trim down your keynote speeches and webinars to make them more sharp and focused. Interaction is key, so be sure there’s some sort of online chat or Q and A function.
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At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a plethora of virtual event vendors who offer a wide range of capabilities. The most sophisticated platforms help create the same energy as a physical show, with 360-degree imaging and attendee-controlled avatars that move around the exhibit hall.
When selecting a platform, choose one that can be tailored to your specific needs. For example, is your primary goal to educate your attendees? Then you may want to focus on the “auditorium” section of the platform, where online classes and demonstrations are presented. If, on the other hand, product exhibition is your focus, try to provide multiple capabilities to the vendors—such as live chats with company reps and other attendees, guest speaker-hosted sessions, contact forms for lead capture and reporting, downloadable brochures and videos.
Networking is a key component of any trade show — virtual or otherwise. Which is why many vendors offer a virtual lounge for both standard and video chats.
As a sponsor or exhibitor, you can help facilitate networking by scheduling group chats or posting discussion topics.
Regardless of your approach, it’s best to combine both pre-recorded and live elements for your virtual show. For instance, you can string together pre-recorded clips with live introductions, or provide live break-out sessions following pre-recorded classes.
One final tip: Whichever format you choose, make sure the navigation is simple and easy to follow, to keep from losing your audience.
For Exhibitors and Attendees
Before you participate in a virtual trade show—especially as an exhibitor—you may wish to ask the show’s organizers a few questions, such as:
- When was the show first launched? If it’s has been around for several years, it should already have established a following. On the other hand, if the virtual show is fresh out the gates, there would be no data to ascertain its success. But you’ll want to make sure these measures are put into place. (See Question 7, below.)
- What is the cost to participate, and what does that include? Most trade show organizers offer exhibitors an online booth for posting videos, white papers and demos. They may also have live chat capability. Above all, make sure there’s a way to capture leads.
- What are the show’s beginning and end dates? Typically a virtual show remains open for the same duration as the physical trade show, and then extends 30 to 60 days after the show. So it’s important to know if your participation fee is buying you 10 days or 60 days. Also, check into how long attendees will have access to your online exhibit. You’ll want to be able to update it to keep the information fresh.
- How will the show be promoted? Both in-person and virtual shows require a strong promotional strategy in order to be successful. Show producers should use multiple promotional methods to reach previous in-person trade show attendees as well as other members of your target audience.
- Is a demo available? Ask the show sponsors for a demo, so you can experience the look and feel of the virtual show just like the attendees and other exhibitors will. Also, if your staff is not familiar with the various virtual show features, will they have access to a tutorial?
- Is there an emergency contact? Virtual trade shows require adequate technical support. Make sure you’re provided with contact information in the event of any problem, technical or otherwise.
- What tracking and reporting mechanisms will be used? You’ll want detailed information about who attended the show, which booths they visited and for how long, which documents they downloaded, and what questions they asked.
Some Final Tips
When staffing your virtual booth, it’s important to select reps with strong digital communication skills, as well as product knowledge and relationship-building skills. Make sure the reps you choose can express themselves well in electronic communications and are comfortable with video conferencing.
Prospects love to hear from people like them. So make sure your virtual booth allows reps to share testimonials, unique facts and compelling statistics. Your message should cut through the clutter and prompt attendees to stay engaged.