Recent global happenings have turned the event industry on its head and event organizers have been scrambling to save their events and deliver a valuable experience to event attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors alike.
The accessibility of video conferencing tools has made attending a meeting through a video conference app like Zoom the standard fare for professional and personal connections.
But the virtual space is not just limited to virtual staff meetings or social gatherings. Virtual conferences and trade shows are becoming the new industry standard.
Best Practices for Running a Virtual Trade Show
In many ways, the aims and motivations of virtual trade shows are the same as those held in-person and the primary difference will be in how you plan the event.
If you are new to creating virtual trade shows, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The following tips will help steer you in the right direction so you can create the best trade show for you, your attendees, and your exhibitors.
Enable Live Chat
The success of any event hinges on audience engagement. When it comes to virtual events, extra steps need to be taken to foster communication and interaction between participants.
Live chat tools at virtual booths allow attendees to ask questions related to products or services and have those questions answered in real-time. Consider real-time text chat as well as audio and video chat.
A live chat option not only helps attendees get the information they need, but it also helps vendors and exhibitors gain and qualify leads, which increases the potential for more sales.
One of the biggest benefits of attending a physical trade show is the opportunity to connect and network with other industry professionals. That opportunity does not need to be lost at a virtual trade show.
When planning your trade show, be careful to include events and sessions that will actively facilitate networking.
Consider running specific networking sessions or social events. A virtual cocktail hour, for example, can go a long way to connecting attendees and vendors outside of the show floor.
Some event platforms, like Accelevents, use artificial intelligence to match attendees, creating more dynamic and meaningful personal and professional connections.
Create Educational Opportunities
When trying to impress virtual attendees, it is not enough to just set up a bunch of virtual booths and hope for the best. When attending online, and from home, you will have to compete with many readily available distractions. Offer your attendees something more.
Add keynote speakers, product demonstrations, and education sessions to your event agenda. This will not only break up the monotony of visiting virtual booth after virtual booth, but it will also provide more value to your target audience.
The opportunity to learn new and interesting things can be what sets your trade show apart from the rest. Plan to include webinars, live demos, and Q&As.
Offer Customizable Exhibitor Booths
At a physical event, exhibitors and sponsors can brand their exhibitor booth any way they see fit. It is easy for them to create a space all their own. Offer them the same opportunity at your virtual expo or trade show.
Exhibitors and sponsors should be able to design and build their virtual booths to include brand logos, messaging, product demos, and digital handouts or brochures.
These features can be used to generate and capture leads and connect with event attendees. Including live text or video chat can further these opportunities.
Create an Experience
A virtual trade show may not be able to fully replicate the experience of a physical event, but it doesn’t have to. The virtual experience can be every bit as interesting, informative, and engaging, if not more.
Some things you should consider when elevating your virtual trade show experience:
- Custom Avatars: Allow attendees to build their own avatar that can be used to navigate the virtual environment. This allows greater personalization for event attendees and can make networking sessions and social exchanges feel more interactive.
- Personalization: Beyond the avatar, the virtual trade show experience should be personalized as much as possible. Use registration data to offer more personalized suggestions to attendees and connect them with the content and programming that will interest them the most.
- Clear Communication: Email campaigns and social media posts can help you keep in touch with registered attendees. It is a good idea to allow for easy communication during the event as well. Even in the virtual event space, things can change rapidly. Event organizers should be able to use pop-up text or videos to deliver vital information to attendees.
- 3D Visuals: If possible, create a 3D environment for your trade show. Doing so will create a visually stunning space that will impress attendees. Not only will this layout look impressive, but it can also help attendees to easily navigate the space, which is a must.
Consider using augmented or virtual reality to push this digital environment event further.
- Use Gamification: Gamification can be used to create a fun and interactive experience for your attendees. A little competition can improve attendee engagement and overall experience. If you build in this fun element and reward participants with appropriate prizes, you can all but guarantee that attendees will remember and talk about their experience for a long time after the event has wrapped.
Have an Event Marketing Strategy in Place
All of your planning efforts will be for not if you do not have an appropriate marketing strategy in place.
You will need to:
- Create an event website: Once you have established the event details, like date and time, you will need to create a branded event website. This page can be used to provide details to potential attendees. Include exhibitor information and any additional speakers or sessions you are planning. The event website can also be used to sell tickets or registrations.
- Send event email invitations: Email marketing is still one of the most effective strategies for reaching your target audience. Once details are established and the website is set up, send email invitations to past event attendees and any industry leads you have collected.
- Leverage social media: Social media is where most of us spend our online hours. Create branded event pages on platforms like Twitter and Facebook to market your event, share relevant information with your followers, and generate some excitement and buzz before things even get started. Social media can also be used to share live video from the event so you can grow your audience and increase attendance at this event and any events you hold in the future.
- Advertise in trade publications: Digital events can benefit from traditional event marketing tactics. If there are any trade publications related to your trade show theme or industry, place an advertisement there. Look for events calendars and any publication that is popular with your desired audience.
Choose the Right Platform
In order to tie all of this together, you will need to choose the right virtual platform. You will want a platform with an array of virtual tools that will do most of the heavy lifting for you.
Look for a platform that allows for:
- Booth customization
- Email marketing and social media integrations
- Text, audio, and video chat options
- Live video streaming
- Session planning
- Ticketing and registration
- Lead capturing tools for exhibitors and sponsors
- 24/7 customer support
Provide Tech Support
Your virtual platform should provide 24/7 customer support with additional online materials to help your planning team navigate its features and applications. But, this will not be enough once the event rolls around.
Put together a team that will be available to help attendees and exhibitors should they run into technical issues. Clearly communicate to everyone in advance where and how they can contact your support team and make that contact information clear in the event space as well. This team should be available to help troubleshoot the most basic problems, allowing you to resolve issues immediately and help participants feel valued by your event brand.
Position Your Virtual Trade Show for Success
Running a virtual trade show can provide great opportunities for everyone involved. With lower overhead and the potential for an expanded audience, the ROI on hosting, attendee, and exhibiting at an online event is far greater than in-person or physical events.
But, these increased revenues and lead capturing opportunities do not just happen on their own. As an event planner, you will need to work hard to carefully cultivate a worthwhile and engaging experience. The virtual trade show best practices laid out above can help position your event for success now and into the future.