While it may still be unclear exactly when face-to-face trade shows will be back up and running again, there’s one thing we do know for sure: they certainly won’t look like what we’re used to.
You’ve likely seen endless conversations and updates on how the show floor layout and logistics will change – in fact, we’ve covered that topic quite a bit on our weekly Virtual Lunches in the Exhibit Marketers Café.
But what about the actual exhibits themselves?
There will likely be mandates on how many people can be in a booth at any given time, as well as how those people are allowed to interact. And while we don’t want to become too de-personalized, there are ways to adapt.
There will be fewer attendees on the show floor, but now you’ll also be incorporating a virtual audience. Don’t be so concerned about the number of face-to-face attendees – it will definitely be a higher quality audience. Those who choose to attend in person will no longer be tire-kickers. And now in addition you’ll have a whole new group of people attending in the virtual environment.
So how can you embrace the changes and move forward to implement them to your advantage?
- Graphics are going to be even more important. You’ll definitely need large, bold graphics that capture attention from the aisle and clearly communicate who you are, what you do, and why attendees should stop and talk with you. They’re definitely not going to enter any booth that doesn’t command their attention.
- Create a guided path for attendees to follow. Use floor signage to self-guide people through the booth. Or you could provide staff-guided tours if you have a larger island booth. I’ve seen this done well in the past, and it may become even more popular because it prevents crowds from clustering at various points within the space. There’s even the option of having a self-guided tour via an app on the attendee’s own device.
- Allow for more open space in your booth. Exhibitors always have a tendency to overcrowd their space with both staff and stuff – that’s got to change now!
- Hands-free technology will become a key element. Using touchscreen tablet kiosks or monitors may be a thing of the past, at least for now.
Attractions & Promotions
- Hands-on product demos will become challenging to implement. People probably won’t feel comfortable handling the same item that others have touched. So is there a way to make your demos hands-free, like in some kind of interactive app using QR codes in the booth? Or will you have to visibly sanitize the items repeatedly throughout the day? Could you use augmented reality or virtual reality to demonstrate things?
- Pre-show promotions will be even more important now. Communicate what to expect in your booth and how things will work (like do they need to download an app before they arrive).
- Is there a show-based app that will allow you to include your promotions? If so, take advantage of that.
- Stop the fishbowl drawings – NOW! While these haven’t been a good idea for a long time, they’re really not going to be a smart move in this new environment. In fact, some people have predicted that exchanging business cards won’t be popular for the near future.
- Consider sponsoring elements that will help you connect and interact throughout the year. Talk with your show organizer about virtual networking opportunities, ongoing education, etc. This also shows your support of the community and industry.
- Crowd-gatherers are probably not the best strategy now. If you’ve used a theater space within your booth, consider how you can repurpose that space to spread out your other displays. (This also goes for hosting celebrities in your booth – figure out other ways to draw people in.)
- Your staff will have to be better educated than ever! Even if they’ve been doing shows for years, they’ll need to be re-educated on these new standards. But you don’t have to go it alone! I’ve been working with exhibitors for more than 20 years, teaching them how to engage, qualify and disengage. So feel free to reach out to me and we can discuss ideas for your team.
- Pre-schedule appointments with attendees. This will help with traffic flow and ensure you have the right staff on hand to answer their questions.
- Handshakes (and hugs) are out – at least for now. What other ways can you convey a warm welcome and connect with attendees?
- Follow-up is more crucial than ever. Attendees may feel like they didn’t get as much in-depth information in the booth, so be sure to send them as much as you can after the show to fill in the blanks.
- Beware of the new giveaway clichés like hand sanitizers and masks. Think beyond those to find helpful tools that attendees will appreciate, like a mask extender strap, phone stands or chargers, webcam privacy covers, earbuds, and more. You might also want to give items they can take home and share with their families, like puzzles, games or picnic supplies.
I certainly don’t have all the answers on how these practices will or should evolve. But you have time to brainstorm now with your team, since most shows won’t be held in person for at least a few more months. So get creative and come up with ways to adapt and innovate, then please share your ideas either here in the comments or in one of our upcoming Virtual Lunches!
We’re entering a whole new world – none of us knows how long this stage will last, but we definitely can all be prepared. Take the time to figure it out!
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