After a long year of COVID-19 shutdowns, restrictions and cancellations, trade shows have returned for the summer and fall 2021 season. Some of the biggest trade show organizers have already announced in-person events… with some key changes, including larger and more varied virtual components.
While many Americans are looking forward to traveling again, it has yet to be seen just how many will do so for in-person networking events. As events resume across the country and the world, here are some changes you can expect to see in and around the exhibit hall.
Increased Virtual Attendance
While virtual programming has been incorporated into larger trade shows for a while now, the pandemic gave the big push a lot of smaller shows needed to get on the virtual train. Audiences are going to expect default virtual programming options or tracks. Virtual trade show content is no longer an “add-on” but a “must-have.”
According to a survey by North Star Meeting Group, 76 percent of event planners are preparing to provide both virtual and physical events concurrently.
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Higher Expectations for Virtual Options
Now that audiences have a taste of how easy and seamless virtual programming can be, their expectations for what constitutes a great virtual event are going to be higher. Gone are the days where you could post three or four video sessions, offer a chat room, and call it a virtual event worth signing up for.
Savvier virtual audiences will expect interactive content where they can ask speakers questions live and make connections with other attendees in private group chats. Using technology to create networking matches or organizing small, topical chat groups or Zoom rooms will also be more widespread as organizers and attendees get comfortable with these technologies.
💡 Related: How to Host an Irresistible Trade Show
Different Makeup of In-Person Audiences
The flip side to more virtual attendees is that there may be fewer in-person attendees on hand to interact with your show booth over the next year or two. Consider which customers are more likely to attend virtually and which will likely be in person (geography may be a big factor, as will seniority).
Exhibitors would do well to focus specifically on highlighting a few key products and services this year that they know will resonate with in-person attendees instead of lugging the whole portfolio to the show.
More Theatrical Show Experiences
To entice more in-person attendees, trade show exhibitors and organizers will need to up their floor game. Attendees will expect to be educated, entertained, and most importantly - wowed! With the added risk that travel poses - especially over long distances, to attend crowded events - the journey needs to be worth it.
Exhibitors will need to rethink product demonstrations to make them more theatrical, entertaining, and engaging. Booth giveaways and other perks will need to be carefully thought out to provide real value to attendees. Who wants to fly halfway across the country while trying to adhere to various, rapidly-changing COVID-19 protocols only to come home with yet another branded tote bag and a handful of pens?
Trade shows have been becoming increasingly high-tech over the years with the mainstreaming of digital passes, RFID technology, and other advancements. Concerns about hygiene will now result in leveraging technology to create fewer high-touch exhibits.
Expect to get asked to scan a QR code instead of filling out a form, for instance. Fewer touch screens and more voice and motion activities displays will become more common. You can also expect a lot more custom apps to help you navigate show floors and interact with exhibitors.
Questions About Event Marketing?
Whether you are new to the event marketing space or looking to take your virtual component to the next level, check out how our experts can help you create experiences that captivate customers and cultivate new connections.