Over the last few years, virtual events have seen incredible growth in popularity and yet still remain a complete mystery to most people.
Social distancing measures and the COVID-19 outbreak forced the event industry to make some uncomfortable, yet necessary changes.
Event organizers may have thought that trade shows were about to disappear altogether but the fact is, trade shows are perfect candidates for virtualization! And as event technology advances and people become more and more familiar with a digital format, the benefits of a virtual trade show become abundantly clear.
To help you successfully navigate this relatively new space, we’ve put together everything you need to know to run a virtual trade show.
This ultimate guide will break down:
- What a virtual trade show is
- The benefits of a virtual trade show
- The main features of a virtual trade show
- Services to offer that will set your virtual trade show apart
- Getting started with your virtual trade show
- Tips for marketing your virtual trade show
- And why you should run a virtual trade show
What is a Virtual Trade Show?
A virtual trade show is a virtual event run in a digital environment and hosted through a virtual platform.
Simply put, a virtual trade show replicates a physical trade show online and it has similar elements that would be included in the traditional event. This means that a virtual trade show will have a digital equivalent of an exhibit hall, a show floor, exhibitor booths, meeting spaces, keynote speeches, and educational sessions, among others.
Event organizers can take steps to include networking opportunities, product demos, and downloadable resource materials. Organizers can expect potentially larger attendee numbers while exhibitors and sponsors can expect not only more leads but better-qualified leads.
Benefits of a Virtual Trade Show
Virtual trade shows can present new and exciting opportunities, especially if you are trying to promote your brand or host an event during a time when physical events aren’t possible.
In short, a virtual trade show can:
- Provide a greater Return on Investment (ROI) than an in-person trade show
- Be offered to a larger audience than an in-person trade show
- Can provide useful marketing data
Greater Return on Investment (ROI)
Virtual events, whether a virtual conference, trade show, or virtual expo, can provide significant ROI. This is largely because an event organizer no longer has to worry about venue costs, staffing, or catering, so registration costs can be more affordable to attendees and can contribute to profit as opposed to event expenses.
Similarly, exhibitors do not have to pay travel expenses for booth staff or for physical branding materials or handouts. And because the virtual environment is not tied to a physical space, the trade show may be a viable option for a greater number of exhibitors.
Without the need for travel, a virtual trade show can reach a wider, potentially global, audience. A larger target audience means greater ticket sales and attendance numbers.
Attendees do not have to book accommodation or make travel arrangements making the cost of admission much more manageable.
By promoting your brand, company, or event to a larger audience, you will be investing in brand awareness, brand expansion, and increased revenue.
Better Data Collection
Because of the digital environment that virtual events are hosted on, a virtual event will allow you to collect data organically on your attendees.
With the right platform, it is easy to track virtual attendees as they move through the event space, such as view the virtual booths that they visited, view the materials that they downloaded, identify ways that they interacted with exhibitors, and track data on session popularity.
This information can be used in the future to provide more valuable content, improve marketing strategies, and appeal to the right sponsors.
The Main Features a Virtual Trade Show Should Have
Virtual trade shows have a number of elements and features that provide real value to event attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and organizers. Virtual trade shows are largely powered by an events platform, which can set up an interactive experience that replicates traditional trade shows.
Here are some of the standard features of a virtual trade show:
- Interactive virtual trade show environment
- Customizable virtual booth experience for vendors
- Live chat options for networking and Q&A
- Streaming video for presentations, webinars, and branded virtual booth experiences
- Scheduled video, audio, or VR sessions
- Potential e-commerce platforms to enable on-the-spot sales
The events platform allows attendees to travel within the virtual event as if they were at a trade show in person. So, think of setting up your virtual event with a floor plan that addresses and accommodates the unique needs and requirements of each vendor.
You can set up a virtual lobby where attendees can mingle and explore the available vendors. From there, attendees can travel to different parts of the trade show.
Customizable trade show booths can allow vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors to display their brand within the confines of digital space. These booths not only include branding and messaging, but live text, video, and audio chat, product demos, and downloadable materials like product guides and specs.
Integrated into the layout of the virtual trade show should be networking opportunities such as live chat, scheduled breakout sessions, panel discussions, and Q&As. This will enable the virtual meeting participants to engage more deeply with the content and each other. It also allows exhibitors to capture leads and develop deeper brand connections.
Services to Add That Will Set Your Trade Show Apart
Listed above are the common features of a virtual trade show. But if you really want to stand out, there are a few things you can do to set yourself apart.
Consider adding the following:
Gamification: Gamification is the use of game-like elements and competition outside of a typical video game or sport setting. Implement things like virtual scavenger hunts, quizzes, and live polls. This will increase audience engagement, provide additional value, increase sponsorship opportunities, and keep people talking about the fun they had at your event long after it is finished.
Translation Services: Accessibility is the name of the game. To accommodate the needs of all your guests, consider adding live translation services. It is also a good idea to consider accommodations for individuals with seeing or hearing impairments.
On-Demand Video: Beyond language considerations, a global audience can mean multiple time zones. Allowing your video content to be downloaded or viewed on-demand means that all attendees can view and engage with your content when it is most convenient for them. It provides value to the attendees and eliminates scheduling headaches for you.
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality: With increased availability, VR experiences are being more common. Adding virtual or augmented reality elements to your event will create a more interactive environment, increase engagement, and improve the overall experience.
Getting Started With Your Virtual Trade Show
Planning a virtual trade show is similar to planning a physical trade show but with a few unique considerations.
For more details on how to plan a virtual trade show, see our post: How to Create a Virtua