Exhibitions are incredibly helpful in generating brand awareness, building a client base, and showcasing your products or services. These events provide great networking opportunities and many businesses (both big and small) rely on them for continued growth. Unfortunately, 2020 threw us all for a loop, and coronavirus has changed the exhibition scene quite a bit and for the foreseeable future. Taking these events into a virtual environment might seem like a difficult feat, but don’t panic. With some careful planning and organization, you can create a memorable, enjoyable online exhibition that grabs your participants’ attention and keeps them talking about your business for some time after.
1. Understand Your Goals
The first step is always the same, whether your exhibition event is in-person or virtual — you need to understand your goals. What do you want to get out of this event? Who is your audience? How can this help your business grow? How many products or services do you want to showcase?
Once you have clearly outlined your goals, you can begin planning. If you have minimal products or services, you’ll probably want to keep it simple and have one room with presentations and links to your content. However, if you’re envisioning a more expansive online trade show, you’ll need plenty of planning time to create a welcome lobby, exhibit hall, theater, networking lounge, and resource center (a show of this size usually takes about six weeks to complete).
Deciding exactly what you need to accomplish can help you determine how to scale your exhibition event. Developing a clear strategy also makes it easier to choose the best digital tools and formats to create a successful exhibition.
2. Spread the Word
Generating excitement about your exhibition event is incredibly important. You’ll want to make sure your attendees are aware of the changes to the traditional format and help them understand how to easily navigate through your virtual environment.
If your exhibition event was already planned for a physical location, the first step will be to alert your audience of the change to an online venue. Make it very clear that the event is not being canceled — you wouldn’t want your numbers to drop because of a simple misunderstanding. Be sure to mention that the change in venue is happening in order to abide by public health suggestions and keep everyone safe. The following are some of the best ways to reach your guests:
- Social media. Post messages on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, along with any other channels you use regularly.
- Email. Send a mass email with at least two follow-ups.
- Press releases and word-of-mouth. Issue a press release and encourage your sponsors and guest speakers to share information through their social networks.
- Website and staff. Be sure to include a banner on your website with event details and have your customer support teams share the information with customers.
3. Consider the User Experience
The trick to creating an engaging virtual event is the understanding that what works in person won’t always work online. Remember that you won’t be able to create the same atmosphere you would with the assistance of special lighting and decorations. Instead, incorporate upbeat music, eye-catching graphics, and top-quality video into your online exhibition to craft that welcoming atmosphere.
Your guests will have a shorter attention span online than they would in person, which makes interactive displays a fundamental part of your exhibition. Your aim should be to have attendees touching their keyboards at least once every few minutes. This will help them stay focused and engage in your demonstrations. Keep your presentations, demonstrations, and webinars broken into small segments (of 30 minutes or less) with a lot of interaction sprinkled in. Here are a few ways you can maximize audience participation:
- Real-time conversations. Integrate a chatbox and have a moderator ask the speakers questions. There will likely be a lot of questions coming in at once, so it’s a good idea to create a voting system–attendees can “upvote” their favorite questions, ensuring that they make the cut. Incorporate Q&A sessions in booths and in the theaters after presentations.
- Gamification. It works in person, and it works in a virtual setting. People love games. They love competition. The opportunity to win something is always exciting and gamification is a sure-fire way to engage your attendees. This can be done through raffles, offering incentives to the most interactive guests, or a variety of mini-events.
- Create a space for networking. One of the biggest draws of exhibitions is networking. Attendees look forward to meeting potential clients and mingling with like-minded individuals from their industries.
Don’t Forget Breaks
Remember to schedule breaks (15 minutes works well) so your guests can explore the lobby and virtual booths. Provide exhibitors with access to a back-end system for their virtual booths. These should allow them to personalize their design and upload visuals and documents. Use broadcast messages to remind attendees of upcoming speakers and usher them back to the theater area for the next presentation.
4. Give it a Test Run
Once the creation of your virtual event is complete, you will definitely want to give it a trial run. This will help identify and eliminate any major bugs that might crop up and ruin your guests’ experience. You’ll want to review all the content to make sure it aligns with your goals and marketing strategy. Ensure that all uploads are complete, on-demand videos run smoothly, and animated content is functioning properly.
Walkthrough the entire event as if you were a guest— it should be easy to navigate and transition from one engagement to the next. Check out each virtual booth and verify that the content matches the exhibitor. Test out any interactive areas and engage in a trial Q&A session with other members of your team.
Every online exhibition should include a help desk area where guests can ask questions if they do run into a problem during the event.
5. Wrap it Up
A successful exhibition won’t end once the event is over. Give attendees the ability to keep coming back for more with access to on-demand content, anywhere and at any time. Get an idea of how your guests responded to the event by analyzing audience behavior across interactions. This valuable information will help your marketing team qualify leads and accelerate transactions. Create and edit highlights from your exhibition event to use in the future to generate leads.
Online exhibitions may be different from what we are all used to, but they have their own benefits. A virtual event cuts down on travel costs and encourages global connections, both of which can actually increase the number of attendees. Before you begin planning your virtual event, please visit our Virtual Events Page to learn how we can help you create an exciting, successful experience.