What Trade Shows Should Do Now – Part 1: Prepare for a Comeback


Prepare for a ComebackWhile I wish I had a crystal ball and could give you a precise timeline for when the trade show industry will be up and running again, I’m afraid that’s not possible.

But what I can tell you is that whether it’s this summer, fall or not until 2021, we will begin gathering in convention centers across the country and around the world.

And when we do, people will likely be both excited and nervous about doing so.

The pent-up desire for face-to-face gatherings is already gaining steam everywhere.

And as one economist put it, as soon as society starts moving again, so will the money. People are anxious to begin spending again. Money is like water – it needs to flow. Even the terms we use to discuss money – cash flow and currency – are water analogies.

What’s happened in the past few weeks is that dams have been built all over the world that stopped the flow. But there’s no less cash on the planet than there was before the virus. We simply need to get it moving again, and that’s where trade shows can step in and create a waterfall of spending.

But we definitely need to be smart and safe about doing so. Simply opening with everything set up like it used to be won’t work. We must adapt and evolve. We must re-imagine what events will look like and how to best meet the needs of our audience.

So this is the first of a 3-part series on Trade Show Insights to help you do the right things now to be prepared for the future of trade shows. In Part 2, we’ll look at how to keep the lines of communication open, and in Part 3, we’ll discuss how to incorporate virtual elements.

But for today, our focus is on how to prepare for a trade show comeback.

Now in the short term, we may see smaller events with a major emphasis on safety and wellness. Then larger events will return a bit further down the road. Some show organizers may even find ways to take their show on the road by creating smaller, regional events instead of one massive show floor.

Some people may remain hesitant to travel for a while, which is understandable. The first events to open up may likely see more regional, drive-in attendees rather than those flying in from across the country or around the world.

We must find ways to collaborate, even if it’s with those formerly considered competitors. How can we all work together to find solutions and provide clarity amid the chaos?

As we all begin to find our way through to post-lockdown trade shows and events, here are just a few of the questions that need to be addressed (as we discussed during this week’s Virtual Lunchhere’s a link to the replay).


  • What will registration look like? No one will want to walk up to a kiosk and check themselves in on a keypad that everyone else has touched. But on the other hand, they won’t be too excited about standing in the back-and-forth lines waiting for their turn at the reg desk either.
  • And what about health screenings? Will there be mandatory testing before people are even allowed into the venue?

Safety & sanitization

  • Both event organizers and attendees will want some kind of reassurance about the level of cleaning that takes place on a daily basis at convention centers and hotels.
  • Will PPE become a common part of what you get when you check in? (Maybe an opportunity for sponsorship …)
  • What about elevators and escalators? How long will it be before we’re ready to share a ride up to the 27th floor of a hotel?

Trade show floor

  • Will aisles need to be wider to allow for traffic flow? Or should they be made one-way-only, like some grocery stores are doing? What about buffer zones between booths?
  • Will there be limits on the number of people who are allowed into the show at any one time? This could mean staggered show hours so only certain people would be allowed to enter at various times.
  • What about in-booth sampling at food shows?

Conference sessions

  • Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in keynote sessions is likely a thing of the past for quite some time.
  • What about breakouts? Will a room formerly set for 50-60 people classroom style now only accommodate 15-20?

Food & beverage

  • Handshakes will probably not be popular again for a while. Even the idea of gathering in close quarters while nibbling on finger foods may give some the heebie-jeebies.
  • Will buffets (a staple of events) be a thing of the past? Are box lunches now the only option?

These are just the beginning of the questions that need to be answered before anyone can even think of hosting a large gathering!

And what I hope at this point is that our industry leaders and associations step up to craft universal guidelines (similar to the IAEE Guidelines for Display Rules and Regulations) before some government agency decides to tell us what’s best.

So what do you see as the crucial issues that must be addressed before trade shows reopen? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Want to join in future discussions during Virtual Lunch? We’re meeting online every Tuesday (for now) – you can learn more in the Exhibit Marketers Cafe.

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