With the COVID-19 Pandemic already forcing over 2,300 expositions to cancel or postpone until later in the year, many show organizers are in scramble mode looking to quickly launch virtual events and expositions.

While a virtual exposition offers the promise of still being able to serve your industry, association members and exhibitors, and hopefully retain some of the revenue lost, great care must be taken to ensure the virtual exposition is executed in a way that delivers clear value for all participating stakeholders, especially exhibitors.

As we all know, virtual expositions are a relatively new, wild-west type frontier. While people have been talking about virtual expositions for over 20 years now, to my knowledge, I am not aware of any show that has successfully executed a 100% virtual exposition, do you? In fact, I spoke with a long-term association client of mine who tried seven years ago and was only able to get six exhibitors to participate, and none of the exhibitors were able to get much value from their participation.

One of the biggest concerns you must grapple with is that if exhibitor booth space deposits are kept and credited toward a virtual exposition space, and/or exhibitors are charged additional fees to participate – and they do not get value – the potential impact on future space sales and the relationship with your organization may be negatively impacted.

It’s important to remember that even long-term relationships built over many years can be severely impacted by just one negative experience.

It’s also important to remember that many exhibiting companies have lost a significant amount of revenue over the last few months and will be carefully scrutinizing any form of expense much closer than they ever have in the past.

Sure, your big anchor, bellwether and sponsors are probably relatively safe for the future. But, if you’re like most shows where 80% of your booth spaces are 300 ft.² or less, this is the group at most risk.

With these thoughts in mind, here are seven important considerations for show organizers looking to launch virtual expositions:

  1. What type of content, programs and incentives will you offer to drive attendees to participate?

  2. How will you promote to be able to create a sense of importance, urgency and scarcity of access to the content presented?

  3. Because there is a huge difference for an attendee at a live face-to-face event versus on their computer – where the distraction level is magnified 100x – how will you keep them engaged online so they don’t get bored, distracted and click out?

  4. Once attendees visit the virtual event, assumedly for content, how will you drive attendees to the virtual exhibits and then to specific exhibitors’ booths?

  5. What will you do to make it possible for exhibitors to promote to their target audience before, during, and after the virtual exhibit?

  6. How will you help prepare exhibitors to create a virtual exhibit that actually works? And to take full advantage of their virtual exhibit?

  7. How will you measure and report attendee registration, activity and traffic to individual exhibitors?

In closing, I believe the success of your virtual exposition will hinge on your ability to drive enough attendees to the event, quickly match attendee interests with relevant exhibitors, have immediate and strong pull-through to drive high-levels of engagement between attendees and exhibitors, and last but not least, ensure your exhibitors actually know how to create content and an interactive virtual exhibit that works.

PRO TIP: Your virtual event vendor should be very good at communicating the technical side of setting up a virtual exhibit.  A final and equally important question is “Will your vendor also be good at guiding exhibitors on how to create and execute a virtual exhibit that actually works?

Please Share your thoughts! Which of the questions did you find most eye-opening or interesting? What answers or insights are you willing to share to help our industry succeed in the virtual exposition space?           Please comment below and feel free to reach out directly to me with additional questions.

Wishing you the best for a highly successful virtual exposition!

7 Important Considerations for Show Organizers Considering Launching Virtual Expositions