“Face-to-face events will slowly reemerge after the pandemic, but virtual events and hybrid events will play a permanently larger role in how people connect.”
This quote is from trade show expert Corbin Ball. Judging from recent experiences at virtual trade shows, I think he’s on the money.
These new virtual events are significantly different than traditional trade shows and conferences. You miss the excitement of the large gatherings; the hustle and bustle of the expo floor; the serendipitous meetings and opportunities that arise; and even the plain old handshaking.
Nope, those things aren’t possible with virtual events. But when one door closes, often another opens — virtual though it may be.
A big jump in virtual events and a different approach
As I noted in a recent post on evolving trade show experiences, findings from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research indicated that among organizers forced to cancel 2020 events, the shift to digital grew from 69% in April to 81% in June.
Not only are event organizers adapting to the new restrictions from COVID-19; they’ve been upping their games by using platforms such as Brella, which create an entire new experience.
The recent Manufacturing First Expo — traditionally held in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but virtual in 2020 — was a perfect example. Running on Brella, the trade show featured easy access to a video player for its keynote speakers, with breakout sessions in separate Zoom meetings.
But the most popular development was its networking feature, which gave you the ability to create a profile that included topics you wanted to learn more about, as well as your own products and services.
The system then provided you with a list of attendees with similar interests as your own, from which you could request and schedule meetings.
Are we seeing a more efficient experience?
Like any trade show, sitting on your hands will get you nowhere. When Manufacturing First opened the Brella platform form over a week before the event, I immediately created my profile, and started perusing the list of other attendees.
I requested meetings with potential clients, as well as like-minded marketers. I engaged with companies just to learn about their new technologies or approaches.
And yes, there were some serendipitous engagements — a friend who was attending sent me a note that I should meet someone with similar interests. So the entire experience wasn’t premeditated.
But it was incredibly efficient. Benefits included:
No travel, no hotel, no big attendance cost. I was able to attend a two-day event from the comfort of my own home. A trip to Green Bay from my home would have required nearly five hours of travel, with travel expenses and a hotel stay. The price of attendance was only $50.
More efficient use of my time. Early in the morning I took care of my own company business, and the rest of the day I could focus on the event. I booked nearly 15 short meetings, and there was no dashing around the expo floor to find people.
No residual exhaustion. Travel wears me out. Face-to-face engagements get tiring. Sleeping in a hotel room never results in a great night’s sleep. But I was able to fold the entire event into my day without feeling fatigued or losing a step at work.
Yes, I definitely missed things, but …
The business owner in me likes everything I just listed. Little travel expenses, low cost to attend, little time wasted, lots of great leads. Awesome.
But make no mistake, the human being in me misses the real deal. The exhilaration of going to a new city. The adrenaline rush that comes with meeting new people. The friendships that are forged beyond business.
It’s going to be hard to abandon some of the significant benefits the virtual trade show formats offer, and it’s going to be equally difficult to resist the allure and excitement of in-person events.
Likely we’ll split the difference when COVID-19 finally (hopefully) subsides, and we can get back to our normal lives.
In the meantime, check out my post on 11 tips for attending virtual trade shows and conferences. And enjoy the significant advantages they have to offer.