Might It Be Time to Reconsider The Merits Of The Virtual Trade Show?

For years, advances in technology have stimulated the imaginations of professional association management, trade show producers and exhibitors with the concept and possibilities of staging virtual conventions, meetings and trade shows.

As online data speeds increased, device capabilities advanced, and the world’s connectivity became a reality, the possibility questions were usually answered with some doubt, traditional thinking and a general lack of enthusiasm.

Complicated technology issues, connectivity application software confusion, device compatibility, appropriate content development and a general lack of knowledge all played a part in the idea quickly reverting to the axiom of “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.”

There were way too many tried and true financial, social and common-sense human benefits supporting the convention, trade show, and meeting worlds to consider any new virtual concept that few saw as technically viable, socially acceptable and cost effective.

The idea of virtual annual conventions with technical paper presentations, workshops and lectures, supported by something of an inanimate show floor where exhibitors’ products and services were presented was far beyond the realm of possibility, reality and acceptance.

A professional association’s annual convention with show support is traditional, significant and historic. It’s where members within all segments of an industry gather together to learn and share the latest knowledge, technology and industry insights.

What could possibly disrupt such a time honored, viable, successful and valuable enterprise?


Without a cure or vaccine immediately available, and with most people reluctant to travel, professional associations now have to think about staging virtual events to maintain connectivity, communications and viability with their members. In many cases, the loss of their show exhibitors’ financial support will negatively impact their annual operating budgets.

Today, the internet, along with social media, meeting and face-to-face communications technologies can most likely facilitate the broadcast, live stream and/or re-play of seminars, workshops and technical paper presentations. Attendees register as usual, select their areas of interest to view and experience all the important aspects of the convention in the safe comfort of their home office.

But what about the virtual trade show portion of the annual meeting?

The exhibitor’s challenge is a bit more complicated.

While workshops, seminars and technical PowerPoint presentations are somewhat pre-planned and well-focused, the effective utilization of the virtual trade show requires the exhibitor to present products and services with more theatrical finesse to capture the attendees’ attention and interest.

As part of the pre-registration package an attendee receives, the trade show exhibitor listing includes a brief description of new products and services being exhibited. Next to each product listing there would be a link to a brief presentation of those products. That presentation needs to be informative, well done and engaging.

We as a society have been raised on Hollywood’s ability to show and tell us stories that compel, move and stir us. Their scripts are magnificently written, the cinematography is brilliant and actors convince us and dramatically lead us through their stories.

Anything produced by an exhibitor for a virtual trade show presentation has to be able to compete with what Hollywood has shown us over the past 60 years. If not, the results will be akin to trying to get strangers to watch your home movies taken with a 16-millimeter camera shown on a bed sheet taped to the living room wall. It won’t work.

Backed by creative audio and visuals, the exhibitor must also find new ways to engage a prospect face-to-face, if possible, in order to simulate the live exchange as it happens on the trade show floor. With questions and concerns answered, product features and benefits discussed and next steps established in developing a purchasing plan, the virtual trade show has viability.

Virtual trade show exhibitors can use the money and resources usually spent on in-person trade show expenses – booth design, shipping, drayage, travel and accommodations, to name just a few – to invest in producing leading edge theatrical product presentations that entertain, educate and motivate attendees to become new customers.

Once stimulated, responses should be in a person-to-person, two-way conversations using any technology that brings sales and prospects together. Finally, virtual trade show exhibitors will want to adjust their goals, strategies and tactics to maximize their exhibiting effectiveness while taking every opportunity to remain flexible, positive and committed to excellence.

General Douglas MacArthur once said, “There is no security on this earth, there is only opportunity.”

The COVID-19 pandemic might be the catalyst that forces the entire meeting, convention and trade show industries to seriously consider leaving the old ways and, out of necessity, adapting new ideas that move us forward.

Source by Peter C LoCascio

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