Welcome 2023! For the past couple of years, we have transitioned from full-fledged in-person trade shows, to the complete virtualization of events, and now back to a strong physical presence at events. The trade show industry is one that weathered massive change, and the truth is that we learned a lot about the industry and what people need and want through the virtualization of meetings.
We can’t say enough about how pleased we are to see sold-out shows and to shake hands with people in person again. That being said, we have a few key takeaways after shifting to a largely digital and virtualized world for a number of years.
Looking back at the virtualization of our industry.
“The new normal.” At this point an overused phrase, and we all know what it means. For every person across the world, their lives were in some way impacted by shutdowns, social distancing, and all these now-common phrases that were not even a part of our regular vocabulary until 2020.
From zoom calls to virtual exhibit halls, living rooms became offices while event spaces and office buildings sat empty. The trade show industry had to adapt. Virtual events were quickly springing up as annual meeting and exhibition planners scrambled to breathe life into a seemingly squashed concept.
We saw accomplishments and failures during this time. Anyone working from home probably had or witnessed at least one video call blooper – from not knowing how to find the mute button, to the infamous news reporter who was collared up and professional from the waist up, unaware that his skivvies were in plain sight.
Virtual meetings and exhibits went through many trials and tribulations, and it was all about adapting, listening to attendees, and making quick logistical decisions to make things happen – correctly.
Overall, virtual meetings were victims of the state of technology itself. The user experience was hampered by the overhead of webcams, navigation controls, linked resources, and the inability to express oneself as quickly, effectively, or personally as well as in-person. We can liken it to the early days of the petroleum age: before the conglomeration of Standard Oil brought safe and consistent blends to gasoline – the engines of transportation were hampered by poor experience. Today we take for granted that nozzles, octane, level of purity and acceptable additives conform to a common platform that engine manufacturers can design to and consumers can purchase and utilize.
None of this is a fault or lack of effort by the virtual meeting industry. The goal was simply ushered to address the needs of the world at the time. The most successful means of virtual communication, arguably Zoom, was the simplest and most commonly distributed denominator. Zoom did not require navigation, extensive profile setup or even advance planning. Fast forward to the virtual meeting industry which aimed to replicate the magic mix of trade shows: chance encounters, visual flair, and ability to quickly break boundaries on the fly through eye contact and spoken word or in conjunction with hands-on demonstration.
Here are some of the top things we learned during this time, and how we are using them now as we happily return to live events:
- Virtual meetings are a great tool, when used in moderation. When something is shiny and new, as human beings we tend to overuse it. But the truth is, errors can occur, and things get old, fast. Now that we have the option to work with a hybrid of virtual and live event planning, knowing what your audience wants is more important than ever. Just because you have it all, doesn’t mean you need to use it all. Pick and choose what and how much you want to present virtually, and make it excellent.
- Use the right technology. Before you choose a virtual partner for an event, get to know the tech and the support they offer. If you run into a glitch – and let’s face it, they happen – you want to be able to fix it fast before you lose your audience. Rely on solid, vetted tech partners to make sure your virtual attendees have a great experience.
- Virtual reality has come a long way. The technology that is being presented to us today is a literal portal that can transcend time and space. We are able to create virtual trade show spaces that are an augmentation of the live event, with actual staff and interaction. The range of what is offered is so vast, it is important to know what your specific audience is interested in, and to offer it to them. Some industries may choose to stay on the virtual highway, while others will offer some things virtually and come back to physical experiences.
- Personal time, health, and prioritization is important. Time is our most valuable asset. Across the board, there is no doubt that the virtualization of work as a whole has had huge positive advances for time management and prioritization of what is truly important in life. A lot more people are realizing that a 2 hour one-way commute isn’t worth the time spent away from family, friends, or doing whatever you love the most. And that it’s ok to say that. As far as meetings go, some people simply can’t make an event, and that’s ok too, because now they don’t have to miss it at all.
- There’s nothing like an in-person meet up. All this being said, it is astounding that technology has put us in a place where people are able to attend shows virtually that they would have missed entirely due to logistics before. However, there is nothing quite like an in-person meetup. Humans are social creatures, so by nature we are energized and motivated by meeting new people, shaking hands, going to dinners, attending events, and networking.
The virtualization of meetings changed our industry. There are some great things that came with it, and others that we are happy to leave in the past. Overall, it is wonderful to see the world become more connected in unprecedented ways, while our classic in-person trade show favorites stay intact.