December 22, 2020
By Madison Howard

If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last year, it’s that any event can go virtual. Conferences, happy hours, and virtual trade shows still translate when brought to the computer screen, often with as much as 8x the number of registrations that in-person events have. This broadened reach and increased accessibility opens up new opportunities for meetings and events.

While trade shows flourish in-person, much of what makes them what they are – networking, appointments, leads – still works virtually. Trade shows aren’t just for in-person events, but for virtual events and hybrid events as well.  According to Forbes, there will be a comeback for trade shows - we've already seen it. But they do need to be approached differently, and having the right strategy in place will help you thrive in the virtual and hybrid world.

In this post, we'll cover:

What is a virtual trade show?

A trade show typically happens on a show floor, but when the event goes virtual, a trade show exists on the screen. With the help of virtual event technology, a virtual trade show can have everything you need, from virtual booths, appointments, sponsorship levels, and lead tracking.

Trade shows often help offset the cost of an event, providing exhibitors a chance to sponsor the event in order to gain access to attendees, and virtually it’s no different. A virtual trade show is a place for sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees to connect, network, and gather leads.

Benefits of virtual trade shows

Reach a wider audience

Virtual events tend to see 8-10x the number of registrations as traditional in-person events. The increased accessibility allows virtual events to have a global reach and often cost less, creating a lower barrier to entry for attendees. There is no travel, lower registration costs, and less time away from the office, leading to significantly higher attendance numbers. An increased audience means greater visibility and more leads for your exhibitors.

Increased visibility during events

We know that with in-person trade shows, one of the keys to success can be location, location, location. Veterans of these shows know to try best not to be at the entrance (but be nearby!), try to score intersections with multiple traffic flows, and be near snacks, coffee stops, or restrooms.  Virtual changes all that—sorry!

There is a good amount of real estate to offer exhibitors during a virtual event to maximize their exposure. Prominently feature them on your virtual event’s homepage and in dedicated areas with sponsor and exhibitor lists that are easily searchable for attendees.

Allow them to sponsor sessions. They can target attendees and gather lead information from those sessions’ participants. Each exhibitor can also have their own booth within your virtual exhibit hall, where they can display details about their company and booth staff and share relevant links and other content.

Meet with interested attendees

The biggest aspect of a trade show is meeting with attendees—with appointment-setting being at the forefront. That face-to-face can go virtual. Use video conferencing capabilities to make appointments easy to set up in either a one-to-one or one-to-many setting. Attendees and exhibitors can also pre-schedule appointments with each other, helping booth staff to fill their schedules with the right virtual meetings.

Capture more leads

Using virtual booths and virtual event tools, make it easy for attendees to request to be contacted by exhibitors. They can share their interests and contact information directly with exhibitors. These contacts become inbound leads, ones that are more qualified than others who haven’t raised their hands.

How do you create a virtual trade show?

Don’t worry. You’ve done this before – just not virtually. Planning a virtual trade show involves finding the right event software that can support your goals, communicating with exhibitors, and being ready for anything. At the top of the list is making sure you offer exhibitors everything they need to make their participation in your event worthwhile. That means appointments, trade show booths, branding, opportunities to engage with attendees, and of course, lead capture.

Find the right virtual trade show platform

Your needs will vary depending on the size of your event. When looking at providers for trade show solutions, think holistically. Is there an event tech platform out there that offers the virtual solutions to power your events as well as your trade shows?

Building a total event program, one that uses the right event tech to support your virtual, in-person, and hybrid events, will allow you to track results on the same platform, making success easier to define and prove. Come up with a list of features you’ll need at your trade show and look for providers who can offer you the solution you need.

5 features to incorporate at virtual trade shows

It goes without saying that event technology is the key to virtual trade show success. As you plan, make sure to include the following features when creating your virtual trade show. Think about aspects of in-person trade shows and apply them where you can. 

Sponsor and exhibitor lists

Have dedicated areas within your virtual event for your sponsor and exhibitor lists that are easily searchable for attendees. They can be organized by sponsorship level to give prominent placement to your most valuable sponsors and exhibitors.

Virtual exhibitor booths

Virtual booths with video conferencing allow exhibitors to display branding, company details, and the ability to meet face-to-face with interested attendees.

Virtual meeting rooms

Attendees can meet with exhibitors right from their booth through video conferencing. You can also allow attendees and exhibitors to request and pre-schedule appointments with one another.

Inbound exhibitor leads

Help exhibitors drive inbound leads by letting attendees submit their interests and instantly share their contact information directly to exhibitors.

Exhibitor documents

Help attendees to learn about exhibitors by allowing them to upload relevant content right to their exhibitor booths, such as digital brochures, videos, and links.

Make your exhibitors virtual trade show booths stand out

virtual trade show platform

There is one big thing to remember here: A virtual trade show is still a trade show. The time and attention you’d bring to an in-person trade show must be brought virtually. That means thinking about exhibitors and giving them the tools to be successful. Learn from virtual trade show examples. Make sure that your exhibitors think about the following:

  • Branding: Your booth is the best representation of your company. Consistent branding, logos, and anything to stand out goes a long way with visitors.
  • Clear video and audio: Trade shows are normally noisy, bustling affairs. But on virtual you have total control. Ensure that those working your booth have great mics, cameras, and a reliable internet connection.
  • Virtual collateral to share: It might not be a physical one sheet, but a digital one is better – no one can lose it! Have collateral at the ready to provide attendees with more information.
  • Quick commercial pitches to intro company: Prepare a 30-second pitch and practice it ahead of time. You don’t want to stumble over the basics when you’re trying to impress during an appointment.
  • Offer sponsorship opportunities: Give exhibitors a chance to be more visible to attendees. They can sponsor sessions, have their logo on the event website, and more.
  • Send swag to attendees: For a special touch, give attendees a gift. That can be credits to a food delivery service, treats mailed to attendees, or traditional swag like journals and pens.

For more ideas, read 5 Tips to Be Successful at the Virtual Trade Shows You’re Attending.

Sponsorship opportunities for trade shows

Sponsorships are a key revenue driver for many events, and most of the opportunities available tie back to your virtual trade show. Your sponsor offers will appeal to those companies involved in the trade show or looking to connect with attendees. To maintain or grow your sponsorship dollars each year, you need to continually prove the value of the investment. That means maximizing sponsor exposure and offering new and creative sponsorship opportunities.

This is even more important for virtual events, where many of the more traditional sponsorship ideas may not apply. Event technology has opened the door for organizations to get the most out of this channel – and be able to collect the data to prove the value of their sponsorships.

What to offer sponsors and exhibitors

  • Email Communications: Allow sponsors to include their logos in your various email sends, like invites, confirmations, reminders, or even dedicated sponsor emails
  • Registration: Highlight sponsors during registration with dedicated survey questions to gauge interest or drawing attention to sponsored sessions
  • Featured Sponsors: Maximize exhibitor and sponsor visibility by featuring them on high traffic areas of your virtual event
  • Sponsored Sessions: Allow partners to sponsor sessions at your event to give them exposure to target groups of attendees. You can indicate sponsored sessions on your event agenda which sessions are sponsored and send lead information from session participants to your partners after the event.
  • Sponsored Video Ads: As attendees log in to a session and wait for it to start, allow sponsors to play a commercial during this time to showcase their company and offerings

Plan a virtual trade show

Keep the connections alive. Plan a virtual trade show that allows exhibitors to connect with attendees and drive leads. With a virtual trade show platform, you can build a virtual trade show with greater accessibility for attendees that feeds sales pipeline for yourself and exhibitors.

Quick checklist to make the most of your virtual trade show

  • Send pre-event communications to tease exhibitors and get attendees to sign up for appointments
  • Offer sponsorship opportunities that increase brand awareness and drive leads to exhibitors to offset the cost of the event
  • Get the right tools in place to capture leads, power virtual booths, and video conference with attendees
  • Plan networking events that extend your show flow to happy hours and sessions
  • Have attendees schedule appointments before and during the virtual trade show
  • After the virtual trade show follow-up between sales and marketing to close leads quickly
  • Look to reporting and analytics tools to prove event success to stakeholders

Conclusion

One thing holds true in 2021 and beyond:  the event landscape has broadened, and it’s up to trade show planners and marketers to excel in the virtual, hybrid, and in-person worlds. With the right event technology and strategy in place, your virtual trade shows can be as successful as your in-person ones—perhaps even more successful.

Take it one step further - brush up on your virtual conference skills.

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Madison Howard

A graduate of the College of William and Mary, my passion for writing began before I could read, with a nightly verbal diary dictation transcribed by my obliging parents.

When I'm not writing, you can find me binge-watching TV shows, baking elaborate desserts, and memorizing pop culture facts.

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