Will virtual trade shows replace in-person events?
Shoptalk last week became the latest conference to roll out virtual events, as numerous in-person gatherings have been canceled or postponed due to directives to avoid unnecessary travel.
Trade shows, fairs and conferences on down to annual meetings and company get-togethers are all quickly being reimagined as digital-only. Even if in-person events are able to return by the fall, it is assumed conferences will be required to implement social distancing practices, such as providing ample space between booths, one-way aisles and limiting the number of attendees.
Educational sessions are expected to translate more easily online than exhibit floor activities. Pre-recorded sessions can be watched at the viewer’s optimal time.
Livestreaming also promises more interactivity for digital audiences versus the occasional texted-quizzes at seminars. America’s fumbling with Zoom sessions, however, points to some challenges. Avi Reichental, founder of XponentialWorks, an advisory firm specializing in artificial intelligence and 3D printing, told Forbes, “Some people are naturally better on video than others and some people might unintentionally ‘showboat’ or talk over others when connected remotely.”
Shorter sessions are also expected to be necessary for a laptop-bound audience.
Conference producers are attempting to bring expo floors and networking to virtual life, as well. Beyond digital talks in large and intimate settings, Shoptalk is introducing an expanded video conference-enabled version of its Hosted Retailers & Brands Program that promises to bring “thousands of individuals from hundreds of retailers and brands together with thousands of individuals from hundreds of sponsoring companies for upwards of 10,000 onsite, one-to-one meetings each year.”
In launching its series of virtual seven-day market weeks, The Toy Association said, “Just as if walking a show floor, virtual market week attendees will be able to explore a calendar of daily events, browse exhibitors by category, and book appointments for virtual demos and chats.”
Beyond the value of seeing and feeling product at booths, face-to-face meetings have long been seen as critical to building trust.
“Trade shows are very sensory in nature,” Cathy Breden, CEO at Center for Exhibition Industry Research, told Crain’s. “You use all five senses to feel and experience them, whether that’s examining a new product or shaking someone’s hand to build a relationship.”
- Shoptalk Launches Groundbreaking Virtual Events With Initial Focus On COVID-19’s Impact On Retail & Ecommerce – Shoptalk
- Trade shows try adapting to a world of virtual meetings – Crain’s New York Business
- The Toy Association Unveils “Toy Fair Everywhere” New Virtual Toy Market Weeks to Kick Off This Summer – The Toy Association
- 6 Things to Think About When Creating a Virtual Conference – Adweek
- Embracing the Chaotic Side of Zoom – The New Yorker
- The reason Zoom calls drain your energy – BBC
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will virtual conferences be a temporary solution addressing current realities or permanently replace many in-person events? What do you see as the keys to producing successful virtual conferences?