With many in-person tradeshows and other live events canceled due to COVID-19, many organizations and industry groups are looking to virtual tradeshows as an alternative.

You may be interested in exhibiting at or sponsoring a virtual tradeshow as part of your marketing mix. If you are, this article will help guide you on what to expect and what you should look for from a virtual tradeshow opportunity.

Attractive, Intuitive Event Spaces

The show host is responsible for creating an inviting virtual lobby, exhibit hall, and meeting rooms. It should be intuitive to access the event’s schedule, find exhibitors, participate in sessions, and generally wander around to see what’s of interest—just as an attendee would at an in-person tradeshow.

If you aren’t comfortable and confident using the show’s interface, attendees will likely struggle as well.

Exhibitor Profiles

The event platform should allow you to create a robust exhibitor profile that can serve as your “tradeshow booth.” You’ll want visitors to have easy access to your content and sessions, as well as engagement tools such as chat, Q&A, and discussion forums.

The host should be able to provide you with profiles of registered guests who visit your booth, such as name, company, contact info, and other data they capture from attendee registration forms. This can allow you to get to know a prospect and engage with them in a more meaningful way, just as you would at an in-person event.

A Robust Content Library

The event platform should offer you strong and flexible capabilities for a content library. You should be able to upload content at any time throughout the event, organize content logically (for example, by buyer persona, product group, or other attributes), and track who accessed what content.

Support for Live Streaming and Scheduling

You may want to seek out a virtual tradeshow that offers you both live streaming as well as pre-recorded sessions.

Make sure your live events don’t conflict with the overall schedule of the tradeshow. For example, you won’t want to schedule a live roundtable discussion during the tradeshow’s live keynote presentation.

Engagement and Networking

The most challenging aspect of virtual events is engaging your audience. Engagement features include live polls, live chat, Q&A tools, and social media integration that allows your audience (or you) to post and share content from the event in real-time.

Networking features you should look for are robust attendee profiles, group and private chat for attendees, one-on-one meetings, and live roundtable discussions. The more engagement and networking features offered, the better chance you have of keeping your audience interested.

Registration and Lead Retrieval

The host should offer attendee registration and lead retrieval tools. Find out in advance what information you will receive about attendees.

So far, there are no instant lead capture systems for virtual events such as badge scanning at in-person events. But as an exhibitor, you should be able to click on the profile of anyone who visits your booth. You should also be able to see who attended what attended sessions, engaged with your staff, or downloaded content.  

Security

The event host should be able to demonstrate the security measures in place for the event. Some virtual tradeshow platforms are new to the market and are still working out the kinks, while others have been around for years. Experience counts in terms of providing secure connections and protection for data. Ask the trade show host about compliance with GDPR regarding data security and privacy.

Support

There are a lot of moving digital parts when exhibiting at a virtual tradeshow. You’re bound to run into a few bumps along the way. How will the host support you? Find out ahead of time what kind of help is available to you and when for the technology or business processes involved.

Three Tips for Exhibiting

Many of the same best marketing practices for in-person tradeshows apply to virtual tradeshows: planning, promotion, event execution, and follow-up. Here are a few extra tips to keep in mind when sponsoring a virtual event:

  • Choose your speakers and booth staff wisely. Whether you are live-streaming a session or offering pre-recorded presentations, use speakers who are comfortable in the digital arena. Staff your booth with people skilled at both online chat and moderating a virtual roundtable. This requires both writing and speaking skills. These aren’t necessarily the same as the hand-shaking, person-to-person skills.
  • Pre-Book virtual meetings. Many companies taking their trade shows virtual will share with exhibitors a list of attendees like they would for an in-person trade show. Look for the most promising attendees and try to pre-schedule meetings with them. Many meeting-scheduling tools allow you to include an access link to a virtual meeting to make the process even more seamless. You can also promote your meeting sign-up link on your social channels for interested leads to sign themselves up for meetings with your team.
  • Promote your presence during the event. You’ll want to do your usual pre-show marketing around the tradeshow. In addition, look for ways during the event to advertise your presence, presentations, or content. Your vendor may offer sponsorship packages that include banners, top positions, branding, and other opportunities to increase your visibility.

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