Although virtual trade shows have been around for years, most businesses haven’t paid much attention to them until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2020, the trade show industry saw a spike of virtual trade shows out of necessity as companies looked for opportunities to network and expand their business despite international lockdowns and social distancing regulations. Although most individuals still prefer in-person trade shows, the reality is that, for now, virtual trade shows are the best opportunity to connect with industry decision makers and pitch your organization’s products or services.
What are they and how do they work?
Given the sudden relevance of virtual trade shows, many professionals are motivated to quickly adapt to this new trend in networking and sales. Additionally, many individuals remain unclear of how a virtual trade show operates and what to expect.
Virtual trade shows exist within an online platform, meant to replicate the trade show experience through your computer. In a sense, these trade show platforms act like unique social media platforms, created specifically for attendees of that trade show. Some of the major platforms include vFairs, EventXtra, Hexafair, INXPO, 6Connex, Brella, among many others vying for market share in this competitive space. Although each platform has unique features, they all follow a similar structure, allowing users to experience live keynote presentations, attend breakout sessions, present via virtual booths, and provide the structure to allow attendees and presenters to network.
Setting up your virtual trade show profile is paramount to your success at these events. Your user profile serves as a first impression to other attendees you may reach out to. Here are some tips to help you master your virtual trade show profile setup:
- Start early! Prior to attending a virtual trade show, the organizer will send out an email allowing you to begin curating your profile. The sooner you do this the better! This will not only give you ample time to create the perfect profile, but it will also give you a better chance to schedule meetings with targeted contacts that will also be attending.
- Develop a captivating introduction. Most virtual trade show platforms require attendees to create a brief introduction on their profile. This serves as an initial elevator pitch that other attendees will have easy access to and they will likely review prior to accepting a meeting request. It is important to succinctly state who you are; what your company does; and your purpose for attending the show. The best introductions keep it light, friendly and focused.
- Link your socials. Within your profile, most platforms will allow you to insert the URLs for your website and social media accounts. This is an excellent opportunity to gain LinkedIn followers and increase your website’s SEO; both great methods of improving engagement with leads and referrals.
- Choose your interests. Many platforms allow users to select different interests to provide attendees with potential networking matches. It is important to select these interests in a methodical way. Are you a Jack of all trades? Or do you operate in a niche specialization? Overall, different ways of choosing your interests on your profile yield different advantages yet it is important to strategically predetermine your approach in a way that aligns with your organization’s goals for the trade show.
Do your homework
It is essential to treat virtual trade show preparation with the same importance as in-person trade shows. Virtual trade show platforms allow you to browse portfolios of other attendees and exhibitors to help plan your networking strategy prior to the trade show. It is recommended to identify attendees and exhibitors you wish to network with and schedule virtual meetings with them as early as possible, as oftentimes attendees’ calendars fill up during the show.
One advantage of virtual trade shows is the ability to do targeted research about the individuals you plan to meet with prior to the show. With most online platforms, attendees are able to easily access the bios of other attendees, browse their company websites and scroll through LinkedIn, all from their virtual trade show portfolio. Any insights you can gather about other attendees, prior to a one-on-one chat, impacts your ability to make a lasting impression with each individual.
When reaching out to attendees that you wish to meet with, make sure to lead with a brief introduction of yourself, your company and why you are interested to chat with them. Use the information gathered while researching attendees to procure a message that intrigues them to look forward to your conversation. The more personalized, the more effective.
While attending a trade show from the comfort of your home can make the experience more convenient; attendees must keep in mind the golden rule of any trade show – you only get out what you put in. This is particularly true when attending a virtual trade show, since it may be easy to slip back into your daily work-from–home routine. The simple key to success with virtual trade shows is to be active and engaged throughout the duration of the show. Block time off your calendar and set auto-replies for your email so you are able to be fully present for the plethora of events, speakers and networking sessions.
Attending sessions and events in real time allow attendees the opportunity to interact with other attendees and ask questions directly to speakers. An advantage to this type of interaction in a virtual trade show setting is that other attendees are able to view each question being asked during a live session. Insightful questions during live speakers can make you and your company stand out in a large group of attendees and yield further interaction and engagement.
If your company is interested in presenting at a virtual trade show, this will require serious preparation, likely beyond the scope of preparation for in-person conferences. Since each virtual platform has a slightly different method in allowing companies to present, it is important to know the platform you will be using for a given conference by understanding its capabilities and investing in the development of quality, digital assets for that event.
The most important materials to prepare are digital tools that give brief, digestible insights into the product or service you are promoting. Here are some examples of content companies should consider developing prior to exhibiting at a virtual conference:
- Videos. This might be the most effective tool for virtual exhibitors. Most virtual platforms allow exhibitors to post video content to their exhibitor page and is often the first item attendees look at before entering into a conversation with a company. Investing in a high-quality video that engages attendees is paramount for success at these virtual trade shows.
- Product Demos. Depending on the platform, some virtual conferences allow exhibitors to have live video interactions with attendees. Since this correspondence takes place via live video, companies are looking for creative ways to build make-shift studios in their offices to effectively showcase their product’s capabilities in real time. For platforms that don’t permit live video interaction, companies are investing in developing demo videos specific to the products they are aiming to promote.
- Product Images. Although this may seem like a given, it is vital to have high quality, digital images of the product you are promoting. A big advantage to in-person trade shows is the ability to have attendees physically interact with your products. High quality product images help attendees better understand your product and provide the additional bonus of projecting professionalism onto your company’s brand.
- Case Studies and Testimonials and Fact Sheets (oh my!). Having these types of PDFs easily accessible from your exhibitor page helps to further engage attendees that are more than curious in your product or services. High quality, visually appealing informational documents can help push potential leads past the introductory phase and motivate genuine interest.
- Be present. While presenting at an in-person trade show, companies must have employees manning the booth at all times. The same should apply for virtual conferences. As attendees visit your exhibition page, they have the opportunity to have live interactions with exhibitors, either via chat or video. It is important to deploy employees who are both great conversationalists and have a level of tech-savviness to deal with the occasional technical glitch.
Network, network, network
Each virtual conference platform includes a variety of ways to capture the trade show networking experience. They key to getting the most out of networking in virtual trade shows is to take every opportunity to engage with attendees, while collecting emails and LinkedIn connections. Many platforms offer live chats, slack channels and virtual happy hours or trivia to help attendees engage in a more relaxed fashion. Although it may be difficult to have the same type of meaningful interactions via virtual conversations, the ability to drive engagement from virtual networking sessions should not be underestimated, especially when attendees adequately prepare for each conversation.
Are online events the future of trade shows?
While virtual conferences and trade shows have been around for a while, it is apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic has generated a sudden boom in their relevance. Although there are many advantages to virtual trade shows, the missing human element of in-person conferences creates a divide in opinion regarding which type of event is most effective. Given the current circumstances of our world, whether you are enthusiastic or not about virtual conferences is irrelevant. Virtual trade shows are necessary for the foreseeable future and companies that depend on trade shows as a method of business development must be prepared to succeed in a virtual conference setting.