With the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the differing re-opening plans among the state governments in the United States, man show organizers are left with the decision to postpone or cancel their live events or move their show to the digital realm. Earlier this year, CEIR sent out surveys in April and June to U.S. show organizer executives to understand the depth of COVID-19’s effects on the future of the B2B exhibitions industry. Results showed that there is a significant increase to move shows from in-person to virtual. In April, 15% of executives were moving their show to a full virtual trade show. In June, that number jumped to 41%.
As more and more organizations move their shows to the unknown territory of digital, wouldn’t it be nice to have some guidance from your industry peers on their experience? Members of the IAEE Young Professionals Committee who have produced or in the process of producing their shows have shared their tips and lessons learned when transitioning to virtual events.
Shannon Binger, CEM
- Be sure to have a timeline including deadlines for Design, Production, and Testing that works for internal stake holders and vendors.
- Plan your front customer support team and communication with a communication tree on how to triage questions. Plan for support from vendor with their customer service emails and numbers.
- Institute a shared document “tracker” where you can place all requested changes and mark the priority. We used this as a basis for each check-in call the week prior and week of the conference. We will continue to use it until the site comes down.
- Plan daily check-ins at least once a day the week prior and week of the conference. Our vendor offered “office hours” where the vendor project leads were available during set hours (8-5) in a zoom room where us organizers could “stop in” to discuss questions/talk through concerns.
Corinne Dwyer, CEM
- Make sure you allow plenty of time for marketing and testing, we didn’t have the turnout on our attendee side that we had hoped for, and our vendors paid to participate in the event and weren’t happy with the turnout.
- Try to make your speaker sessions interactive and live where attendees can do a Q&A and submit comments, record the session and then post it to your website or on YouTube for people to view later—this can also allow for edits to be made before you post it online for the world to see.
- Schedule the sessions in a virtual event at specific times and make sure that there’s plenty of content to fill the time and availability for different schedules of attendees.
As a GSC, we have introduced our own virtual event solutions, so getting acquainted with that side of this industry from what I typically would in my role has been fascinating. I am learning about new capabilities and how to service our clients in a way we have not before! Something I thought was cool about the platform was the AI recommended matchmaking. The platform will pair you up or recommend another attendee to you based on similar attended sessions, roles, etc. While I much prefer face-to-face, this is a smart and tech-savvy solution to keep engagement up!
Stephenie Hawkins, CEM
- Schedule breaks between sessions- even if it is 5 minutes. This way you don’t have to panic when speakers run over for a live session or pre-recorded session. It also gives time to fix any technical issues with streaming.
- Assign someone to each room to serve as a moderator for the text chat. This person can also let you know if there are any AV issues. We set up a Teams channel for everyone to use to communicate. Now I can easily use it to compile my post show report. Before the event, we hosted a moderator training and shared answers to common questions and the messages they should post at the beginning and end of the chat. At the beginning of every session, they remind everyone to follow the code of conduct.
- Definitely meal prep ahead of time– I haven’t left my home in 8 days. On the plus side, my feet don’t hurt.
- Try to get as many answers ahead of time– is chat open for every session, if so, when does it close? Are we going to display the attendee list for conference and/or sponsored sessions? What info can we pull from the platform and how long will sponsors have to wait for leads? Do we want to close caption all sessions? What plays during breaks?
- It is even harder to get traffic to the sponsor’s “booths.” Exhibitors are so used to everyone coming to them that now they have to adjust their mentality and go after the attendees. Definitely incorporate sponsors into the educational program (as moderators, panelists, etc.) so they can interact with attendees. You could also incorporate sponsor commercials into the conference. Encourage sponsors to have giveaways and promote them- those pages are getting the most traffic for our events. Allow sponsors to host a virtual meet and greet with a popular speaker or host a mixologist to teach everyone how to make a cocktail/mocktail, etc.
- We have live music every night and it has been really popular. We also have a relaxation feed that connects to the Monterey Bay Aquarium- it is a nice break and cost us nothing.
Attendees LOVE networking opportunities!!! We start and end the day with networking sessions in Whereby- the attendee has to knock to enter the room and we require them to share their full name and turn on their camera. We limit each room to 12 people. Another division of the company is using Remo for networking and says it is great.
- Have grace with yourself and the team- this is all new!!
Kyle McMillan, CEM
One thing we’re seeing is that exhibitors don’t care as much for the 3D experience, making it feel like they’re at the show Sims style. It looks cool but is a ton of effort and doesn’t have the value. Our exhibitors aren’t wild about having to stay at the computer all day to be available for a zoom call (like if they’re booth offered live zoom chats the staff has to be available all day) They’re looking for opportunities to connect throughout the entire event (so match making and chats and even attendee tinder have been requested).
Kate Stewart, CEM
I am hoping we can pull my show off in March but in the case we can’t, my tip would be to do your research ahead of time and have some virtual platforms in your back pocket so if you do need to shift to virtual, you aren’t losing precious time.
Rename your virtual programs – don’t call them by the same name as your in-person programs but rather something that ties together. This allows you to create hybrid experiences for your events with both the virtual program and the person program as we move on from COVID.
We hope these tips help you and we would love to know if you have tips of your own. Email CEIR’s Marketing Manager, Jannat Choudhury if you have tips or want to share your experience with the industry.