How to Vet Virtual Trade Shows

COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into onsite trade shows and conferences for the foreseeable future. Businesses have had no choice but to pivot towards virtual events, which has left attendees asking tough questions.

How does a virtual tradeshow work? Can it still help my business? Will this still be worth my time and money?

There has been a learning curve. Trade show hosts are discovering what technology and planning are necessary for a successful virtual event, while attendees are learning how to stand out on screen and make the most of their time.

As businesses get more comfortable with this concept, virtual trade shows have started to offer real opportunities in the absence of in-person gatherings.

Still, virtual trade shows may feel like a large jump from traditional events. If you’re feeling unsure about exhibiting your company or sponsoring a show, we suggest testing the waters first as an attendee.

This allows you get the lay of the land of virtual events in your industry while saving the additional money you’d spend exhibiting or sponsoring. (Plus, you can also pick up tips if you choose to be a digital exhibitor in the future.)

If you’ve decided to give virtual trade shows a shot, here are a few factors to consider as you navigate this new experience and think about which shows you’d like to attend.

The Pros and Cons of Attending Virtual Trade Shows

Virtual trade shows are (obviously) a much different experience than traditional ones. And like any business investment, these digital shows offer both pros and cons to attendees.

Let’s take a closer look:

Pros of Virtual Trade Show Attendance

  • Considerable Cost Savings: Let’s face it – attending trade shows is expensive. Virtual events have severely slashed those prices by removing the large cost of travel and lodging. This saved budget could be used to attend more virtual trade shows or invest more in other marketing channels.
  • Networking Opportunities: Because a virtual event doesn’t require travel, events like these can attract a more geographically diverse group of people, which helps increase your networking possibilities. Of course, it’s not exactly like in-person networking and may take a few different skills. Still, it’s a major opportunity to virtually make important connections.
  • Content Sharing: Virtual conferences allow you additional ways to share your marketing materials. You can attach one-pagers and sometimes even video to your profiles for easy access. You’re already on your computer, which you means you can send marketing materials or information to potential clients in the moment, as opposed to that evening or post-show. If in the future you choose to become a sponsor, you may even have additional exposure through display banners, sponsored breakout sessions, branded virtual waiting rooms or online agendas.

Cons of Virtual Trade Show Attendance

  • Different Experience: One of the biggest benefits of attending a trade show is the networking possibilities. There’s a buzz of excitement in the air as attendees meet new people, make introductions on the floor or get into conversations at a lobby or bar mixer. That feeling is hard to replicate when you’re at home in your living room. Most virtual tradeshows will still offer several opportunities to connect with other attendees, but it’s definitely not the same.
  • Potential Distraction: For in-person events, attendees can focus solely on making the most of their trade show experience. Virtually, it’s a lot easier for attendees to get distracted by business deadlines, important emails or things like dirty dishes or laundry piles.
  • Cybersecurity Threats: Large online gatherings can easily attract cyberhackers and criminals. There’s always a small chance that your information could be at risk for virtual events like these. More than likely, any trusted host will take measures to protect their attendees, but for good measure, your devices should have updated anti-virus and malware protections.

Depending on your small business’ industry, strengths and goals, the points we listed above may be more or less important to your decision to attend a virtual event. If you believe the pros would outweigh the cons of these different experience, attending a digital trade show may be a great decision for your business.

Now, it’s time to make sure you’re choosing the event that will be the most valuable to your goals.

Determining The Right Show for Your Business

Your business most likely has a list of criteria to determine whether or not a traditional trade show is a good investment. While there may be some overlap, there are additional questions you should ask when choosing a virtual trade show to attend.

Will This Show Help You Achieve Your Goals?

Companies have different goals when attending trade shows. New companies may be looking to establish contacts, while others may be focused on closing deals and assessing their competition. Companies also go to trade shows to learn more about innovations in their industry or to further their professional learning.

Once you establish your goal, dig deeper into potential virtual trade shows. Think about the following questions:

  • Does the event have a specific focus, like networking or industry development?
  • Are there other additional events, lectures or break-out sessions being offered that interest you?
  • Does the show’s intended audience cover desired industries that you’re ready to make connections with?
  • When is the event, and how long will it go each day? Will this interfere significantly with your work schedule?
  • What is the format of the event?

Who’s Hosting the Event?

If you’re already feeling wary about virtual trade shows, it’s a good idea to go with names you trust. Look for alternative events for shows you normally attend – ones with agendas and exhibitors that you already feel comfortable with.

(Keep in mind that attendance may change with the pivot to digital events. Many trade show hosts will provide an exhibitor list to give you an idea of who you can expect to be there.)

Whether looking to attend a show you’ve been to before or a brand-new show, take a look to see if there are sufficient details on their website to make you feel comfortable about the event, such as:

  • Has the host planned popular in-person events in previous years?
  • How many times have they hosted this event (in-person or virtually)?
  • Have they hosted a virtual event this year already? Was it successful?
  • Have friends or colleagues recommended the show to you?
  • Is the host publicizing the event well so that you can network with qualified leads?

Who is Exhibiting?  

Following our last point, a trade show’s attendance can make or break your experience. It’s important to have a clear idea of who you can expect to be there.

Consider the following points:

  • Is there a provided list of exhibitors?
  • Do these businesses fit your target buyer profile(s)?
  • Are decision-makers from your target companies attending?
  • Does this trade show normally have a high number of repeat attendees and exhibitors?
  • Are any of your competitors exhibiting?
  • Have they been able to secure speakers or lecturers who are respected thought leaders in your industry?

Much of this information should be available on the trade show website, but don’t be afraid to reach out to coordinators if an answer isn’t readily available.

Is It Financially Worth It? 

While virtual trade shows might not require the financial investment of in-person ones, you should still be intentional about what events you’re paying for.

Here are some qualifying points when it comes to virtual trade show spending:

  • How much are attendee tickets? Is this pricing comparable to what you’ve spent on trade shows (not including additional expenses like lodging and travel)?
  • How much time or money will you have to spend on marketing materials or collateral? (Although you won’t be printing, you may still need design and copy work to put these items together.)
  • Will you be able to create these materials in time without pushing off your current workload?
  • Do you have goal projections that can help you measure potential ROI? These projections can include an expected number of leads, meetings with potential customers or partners or professional development tracks you can complete.

Whether it’s in-person or online, trade shows aren’t for everyone, and different formats may work better depending on your industry or expertise. If you trust the host, like who you see on the exhibitor list, have the budget and are comfortable networking online, it’s worth testing.

Need a Hand Preparing For Your Virtual Show?

If you’re ready to take the next and give virtual trade shows a try, we’re here to help. Whether you need a hand putting together marketing collateral to share, or your website and social media profiles need a pre-show facelift, we’d be happy to help get you ready for the big event. Contact us today to learn more about our services.