Using Technology to Create Connections

Using Technology to Create Connections

One of the challenges event planners faced in 2020 was how to create connections among attendees in a virtual platform. But it’s not necessarily a new – or online only – problem.

Nancy Drapeau from the Center from Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) shares trends and data from their report on trade show matchmaking in this rebroadcast of our Virtual Lunch in the Exhibit Marketers Cafe.

Here are links to items mentioned in this interview:

About Nancy Drapeau:

Nancy Drapeau
Nancy Drapeau

Nancy Drapeau is a 27-year market research veteran, with most of that spent in the B2B exhibition industry. At CEIR, she conducts industry-wide studies and reports on industry trends. In 2019, she was named to BizBash’s 1000 Most Influential People in Events list. She is a well-respected industry speaker and is a member of the Industry Insights Association and Event Industry Council’s (EIC) Research Committee.


[00:00:00.390] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to the Trade Show Insights podcast, Season 15, Episode 21.

[00:00:20.000] - Marlys Arnold

I'm your host and exhibit marketing strategist, Marlys Arnold, bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results. On today's episode, brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe, we've got a rebroadcast of our virtual lunch where we're talking trade show matchmaking techniques and trends with Nancy Drapeau from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

[00:01:02.520] - Marlys Arnold

Our guest today, I've known for a long time, I'm sure many of you have known for a long time, but Nancy Drapeau is a 27 year market research veteran. Most of that time spent in the B2B exhibition industry. And she's, of course, with the Center for Exhibition Industry Research or CEIR. And there she conducts industry wide studies and reports on industry trends. In twenty nineteen, she was named to Biz Bash's one thousand most influential people in Event's list. Whew. That's a pretty big achievement. She's a well respected industry speaker and a member of the Industry Insights Association and the Event Industry Council's Research Committee. And she is my go to person when I'm working with a client or I'm writing an article or or a book or whatever I contact answer and say, hey, do you have any stats for me?

[00:01:57.450] - Marlys Arnold

Do you have any data for me or do you have updates on this? So she's going to be here today to share with us about the most recent report that CEIR has been working on. So I'm anxious to have her here. So, Nancy, thanks for joining virtual lunch.

[00:02:11.280] - Nancy Drapeau

Thanks, Marlys. And, you know, I loved hearing all of these other ideas that you're monitoring ourtrends and a lot of good stuff to the notion of retro and everything else. I could start talking about those things with you. This is great, all the insights you're giving folks that are listening in. So I'm privileged to be here.

[00:02:31.020] - Marlys Arnold

Well, thanks, Nancy. Yeah, you and I have some great conversations. Sometimes we kind of go down a lot of rabbit holes.

[00:02:35.700] - Nancy Drapeau

I know you do.

[00:02:39.480] - Marlys Arnold

Well, let's start out talking a little bit about this matchmaking report that CEIR did. You did it in partnership with Swapcard. Right.

[00:02:47.280] - Nancy Drapeau

This there. There it is. There Marlys. You want to know anybody can go to our website and download it for free. This research CEIR did for Swapcard. So the white paper part was written by Michelle Bruno for Swapcard. But the detailed reports, the results, the study results are also in that document. So it's a great resource for those who are interested. Pull it down.

[00:03:14.190] - Marlys Arnold

It is. And the fact that it's a free report so everybody can go grab it and get all, get access to all that wonderful information and Alan will put that link up too so we can have that for folks to go click on. So let's start out let's talk a little bit about who who did you interview? How was this study done? Who are the people that you talked with?

[00:03:35.430] - Nancy Drapeau

Right. So we reached out to executives at organizations that traditionally run well, traditional trade shows or manage those types of events in North America. So the United States, Canada, Mexico. So the end result now, this survey was fielded right in the midst of that first wave of COVID. So members of Siso IAEE and those who subscribe in some way to TSNN, were all invited to respond to that study and result, we have one hundred and nineteen executives from those different regions, really nice, high quality audience that participated. So it was fielded in mid-May through early June.

[00:04:25.070] - Marlys Arnold

Which feels like a lifetime ago now.

[00:04:27.560] - Nancy Drapeau

It does. It was great to be able to talk about attendee matchmaking in general in the midst of everybody scrambling and trying to figure out what to do?

[00:04:38.600] - Marlys Arnold


[00:04:38.944] - Nancy Drapeau


[00:04:38.980] - Marlys Arnold

Yeah. Well, and I know you can't really share, but you've also you're working on a part two. And so you redid that study again later for part two.

[00:04:48.900] - Nancy Drapeau

Well, so I mean, just in terms of talking about, you know, the pandemic and its impact on the trade show industry, we've done multi-wave surveys with US trade show organisers as well. So we do one in April, repeated in June. And we could we saw that each month that we ran these studies, organizers that had postponed events till later in twenty twenty were forced to cancel because of,

[00:05:17.870] - Marlys Arnold


[00:05:17.870] - Nancy Drapeau

You know, what was happening in the marketplace. So what was originally like forty five percent switching to some kind of digital activity by June was up to over eighty one percent were going to some kind of platform among those that were forced to cancel. And there was a very large incidence of cancellations by that time. So the Research Council said we need to get a better handle on what's going on out there, what what's in a virtual event, baseline data in a rapidly changing business environment. So, yeah, we launched a survey which is actually global in scope.

[00:05:54.020] - Marlys Arnold

Oh, wow.

[00:05:54.820] - Nancy Drapeau

Yeah. So this is in the United States, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia in particular, a little bit from Europe. So I'm in the midst of analyzing that data. We're going to do our first release of the top line findings next week on the 8th of December at Expo Expo. So if anybody's going to Expo Expo, ya know, get on the list our session. I'm with Matthew Donegan-Ryan from Swapcard. They, too, have underwritten that particular study. So again, you'll hear the key findings and examples of how events have done well in responding to the trends that we've uncovered. And we will do more research because it keeps changing, right?

[00:06:44.830] - Marlys Arnold


[00:06:45.800] - Nancy Drapeau


[00:06:46.250] - Marlys Arnold

It does. I mean, yeah, it is. It's been hard this year just to keep up because things have been evolving so quickly and and innovating and changing in the trade show world. Well, so when we talk about a matchmaking in the networking, let's kind of, frame that what what different types of activities are we talking about or were they talking about in the survey answers?

[00:07:09.680] - Nancy Drapeau

Right. This study focuses on what's happening at physical trade shows. But I would assert that elements of what we're studied are most are applicable in the virtual or hybrid model.

[00:07:24.020] - Marlys Arnold

Well, because it was still tech. I mean, it was using tech ...

[00:07:27.590] - Nancy Drapeau

Well, in part part. So the categories of networking that we quantified were unstructured, right, and the largest percentage of organized sixty four percent pardon me, offer some kind of unstructured matchmaking. That's the receptions, the meals, special activities where folks can kind of interact with each other, serendipity serendipitously or, you know, through other methods of communication. But then what this study takes a look at is the use of technology or concierge services. So where there's a self-service feature, half of those organizers do offer some kind of matchmaking or networking opportunity where, in part, it's driven by selfserve, more so to help exhibitors find qualified attendees or attendees to find exhibitors. To a lesser extent, what really important, as well as for attendees to find each other, that peer-to-peer networking is important when you go to a trade show is a very, you know, profound aspect of being at an in-person event to a much lesser extent. Thirty one percent offer staff assistant concierge, you know, that old fashioned concierge handholding process of reaching out to attendees, recruiting them, getting them to commit, etc. So those are the categories of matchmaking networking that are out there.

[00:08:56.300] - Marlys Arnold

I'm actually surprised there's still that large of a percentage that's doing the concierge service because that that's a very ... time intensive, labor intensive process for the show organizer to get involved with, so that that is kind of unusual. But again, going back to the the tech world, there is a lot of the technology now that's using the AI and things to help match. I know. I was just well, actually, it was it was on a Swapcard hosted event, well I mean, it wasn't a Swapcard hosted, but it was on the Swapcard platform, an event recently. And they had that little you know, these these people kind of like on Amazon when it's like, you know, you might also like this. It would pop up with a list of people you might want to meet these people. So it was kind of an interesting way to have that, you know, recommendation, that personal recommendation to some degree of who to go network with.

[00:09:53.650] - Nancy Drapeau

Right. I think you need to know your target audience, you know, really high end the CEOs and the like. Still boomers, they might want that handholding and the like, I imagine, over time ... millennials are the largest generation in the workforce. I mean, technology is like another limb, right? They don't think twice about it. But to the issue that you're talking about, retro, you know you know who was driving that retro movement? It's younger millennial folks, including my son, and, well, they're Gen Gen Z. But what did he buy recently? He bought a disc player, one of those little forty five players. I saw this. I do judging of booths at FIT their exhibit program and those issues of retro, are very strong among younger folks. However, there's a digital element to that.

[00:10:48.960] - Marlys Arnold


[00:10:49.900] - Nancy Drapeau

One of those LPs, you know, you've got a Bluetooth enabled function on that, not just an old ... right. So but so it's coming in a different form or Polaroid cameras, right?

[00:11:00.720] - Marlys Arnold


[00:11:01.450] - Nancy Drapeau

Yeah. So but back to networking. We shop online, so there is an expectation, there is a behavior to co-opt right and leverage to full advantage for in-person events or hybrid or a completely virtual I mean, those tools should be used. I would imagine people will expect that they have access to this and, you know, whatever.

[00:11:31.880] - Marlys Arnold

Oh, definately.

[00:11:31.880] - Nancy Drapeau

Yeah, those searches aren't that good. Be careful. If your algorithms, if you rely purely on AI, be careful. Somebody better be watching the outcomes of that to make, to assure satisfaction that it delivers to the promise. But yeah.

[00:11:47.750] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that's true. And, you know, and the thing with the AI, I think it'll continue to get better over time. And it probably at this point, I'm sure a lot of it is that, you know, the more people get involved and actually use the platforms and really take advantage of it, I think it will get smarter and it'll learn from there. But just just the fact of the, excuse me, that it gives you suggestions of people you might want to go meet. I just thought it was kind of cool and kind of helpful.

[00:12:16.520] - Nancy Drapeau

Right. I think it's a great tool. You know, our attendee ROI report series that we did in 2018, another resource to pull down for free. You know, people pre-plan.

[00:12:30.320] - Marlys Arnold


[00:12:31.160] - Nancy Drapeau

And they track what they're doing. So in essence, there are these various interactions and that tool for preplanning, the you know, to find suppliers, to set up those meetings with new and prospective suppliers as well as, you know, folks you want to meet, it should be part of the offering. Again, I don't care whether your shows in person or online or a combination thereof, why not do that to enhance the value and the opportunities that participants will get out of investing in one show? Right. But our research suggests that this availability of networking tools is really first and foremost invested in predominantly. It's more apt to be the case of the organizer pays for this service because they keep their exhibitors happy. Right. So they want to make sure the sales leads and the quality of those sales leads are the best that they can be. And then on a secondary level, supporting the needs of attendees. So that...

[00:13:38.870] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and let's kind of on that, let's talk about, are attendees and exhibitors using it. What did you find in the study on that data?

[00:13:46.850] - Nancy Drapeau

According to the organizers, they say about half of those that have access to whatever tools are available are using them. And there's a little bit of frustration, right? You can lead a horse to water, you can't get them to drink. And I mean, it is what it is. Isn't that true as well for show mobile apps, right.

[00:14:05.540] - Marlys Arnold


[00:14:06.470] - Nancy Drapeau


[00:14:06.760] - Nancy Drapeau

Well, go ahead.

[00:14:08.600] - Marlys Arnold

Oh, I was just going to say and the thing is, they don't really have a way to track face to face how much people are using. So they don't really know if it doesn't involve an app. They don't really know. There may not be more than half the people at a physical show that are really, truly getting involved in networking, and meeting people. I mean, there may be a lot of people that are just walking the show floor and not going to the reception or whatever.

[00:14:33.080] - Nancy Drapeau

Well, it all depends upon what the attendees want to achieve.

[00:14:36.120] - Marlys Arnold


[00:14:36.590] - Nancy Drapeau

And if that's what they want to do and it's the nature of an open platform buying event, that's fine. As long as everybody's happy. But I mean, I you know, obviously platforms that allow folks to set up these events and they're using the tools within the systems made available by the organizer. The power of that data is tremendous for a number of purposes for the organizers, for the exhibitors and attendees. Right. So that's the power of using a self-service platform or even a concierge one. But those, again, the culture staff assisted is, you know, again, is not as pervasive out there. It's the self-service platform.

[00:15:21.350] - Marlys Arnold

Right. Right. So are show organizers offering incentives for the attendees and exhibitors to really use these tools, or is that just kind of they just put them out there and say, hey, here you go.

[00:15:36.530] - Nancy Drapeau

Fewer than half that offer selfserve platform, forty two percent offer something. And what they might offer is free entrance into the show and to a lesser extent, free hotel. So 31 percent or something like that. Whereas concierge now that's where, see, the concierge model is a higher end one, you know, where ...

[00:15:58.100] - Marlys Arnold

Well the hosted buyers and all that format.

[00:16:01.070] - Nancy Drapeau

Yeah, but it's the same incentives of of free entrance and a little bit more of an offering of free hotels. But there's a catch if you know where you get these incentives, on average, you need to show up to like 10 appointments or a minimum of six. So, you know, if you're going to get a freebie, you need to make sure you're showing up in that situation. But what I found interesting is this, show up rates are quite similar, whether the self-service platform is used or concierge. So now exhibitors show up at a higher rate, over 90 percent, and it's like 80 percent show rate for attendees. So that's incredible. Right?

[00:16:48.110] - Marlys Arnold


[00:16:48.980] - Nancy Drapeau

But it might be the case then, that's because, you know, selfserve I mean, there's a there will be a niche of buyers that or attendees that are accustomed to doing everything in their lives that way, they might not want to be bothered by anybody. They're just looking for what they want to do, set it up. But to have those tools that do that, such that they feel like it's it's maximizing the investment of going to a show. That's fantastic, right. They show up. And that's so, in essence it suggests that once somebody commits to an appointment, they're going to follow through.

[00:17:24.970] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and I think that's awesome. And I know one thing that I keep hearing over and over again that one group of people that really have actually kind of enjoyed the virtual side of things this year are the introverts who maybe aren't as good about networking in person, but they're not as intimidated in doing it in a virtual platform or using the app, like you said. So it's kind of interesting to see how that's been evolving this year as well.

[00:17:50.240] - Nancy Drapeau

Perhaps we have no data on that, but that's an interesting perspective.

[00:17:54.920] - Marlys Arnold

Well, I also wanted to share that. It just so happens that tomorrow I am the moderator for ExpoChat and we are going to be talking about how to make virtual networking work better in a virtual platform in the virtual world. So so there is the the link. And I know again, it's long. You can just go to and click on the ExpoChat link up at the top of the page. But but yeah. So that will be our topic of conversation tomorrow. So if you are here with us today live and you want to go check it out and get involved in a more in-depth conversation tomorrow. There you go. There's your opportunity. So. Well, let's talk a little bit about. And again, I know you can't really go into the second half of this, but doing the first part of of the study, did you find at that point, were there starting to be any trends that were emerging in the virtual side of things?

[00:18:50.450] - Nancy Drapeau

Well, we did add some questions related to COVID in that first survey. So, again, at that time, forty five percent of surveyed organizers said they were being forced to go to a virtual platform, but their perception is going virtual enhanced the importance of attending networking as an area of focus and as well at that time, about 42 percent were actively looking for providers, for platforms to run their events virtually. Now, it doesn't go much deeper than that in that study, but again, relating to the global study that we just completed and again, I want to motivate folks to join me on the 8th of December. But inevitably, you know, we're all in this together in the midst of an unbelievably profound transformation, a period of experimentation. I mean, one thing to share it's that COVID has pushed traditional trade show organizers into the virtual realm, but there was an interest there. And so now they just had to jump in, I suppose, in the water faster. And everybody's swimming so simply that. Everybody's trying to figure this out. So it's wonderful, Marlys, that you keep offering these comment periods of discussing with folks, everybody that's listening. And if, you know, if it's important for you to figure this out attendee engagement, as well as the virtual platforms, listen in to as many presentations that are out there. Why? Because we're all experimenting. Nobody's got the secret sauce yet. Right. But inevitably, attending networking is quite an important element. I would assert it's a challenging aspect for virtual events more than for, right, for physical events. Other aspects of virtual events might be something that has longevity moving forward. I don't know. We might be chatting about that next week, but just just keep monitoring everything. There's a lot of great content to the issue of models that are happening, what's working, what's not working in the lot. In a year's time once COVID is behind us, it'll be very interesting to see what sticks.

[00:21:15.530] - Marlys Arnold

Exactly. Exactly. Well, and in the virtual realm, I mean, there's the one to one video chats that have been happening. The roundtables, like what I mentioned we're going to be doing next week at our holiday gathering. We're going to have the round table, virtual round tables. Those are really cool. And I can at our event next week, you'll get to see it in action and then I'll be sharing a little bit more about some of the other things that that particular platform does that I think are really cool and I'm really excited about. But, you know, and then there's also some of the software is offering like private chat rooms. And so there's a lot of different things. And like you said, Nancy, I mean, so many of these things are evolving and there may be the the latest cool thing that hasn't even popped up on the horizon yet. But it is like we said earlier, it is the opportunity for companies to innovate and come up with creative solutions. And I think that, you know, so many platforms have done that this year. And made it made it possible know like you said back when you guys did the initial study, there were a lot of things that probably hadn't even fallen into place yet, that now people are starting to to take advantage of some of these different platforms.

[00:22:28.900] - Nancy Drapeau

I think the biggest opportunity is connecting to a larger community. Right. As it relates to networking, I think virtual has a much harder time delivering something of meaning from the other side of the equation. Maybe it's easier if you've got a service, something that's not tangible. But you were talking about, were you're talking about something about the sense of smell at the beginning.

[00:22:52.900] - Marlys Arnold


[00:22:53.950] - Nancy Drapeau

Something about the smell. Are we going to smell-a-vision? I don't know. What I mean, it's kinda like, you know, do I want a potato chip or do I want to Pringle, you know, I mean, if we're going to have to reproduce something and evoke it over, you know, into the virtual space, that's that's a I don't even know if I want to do that. You know what I mean? I don't want to, you know, pizza sauce. I want to taste it. Right.

[00:23:19.390] - Marlys Arnold

Like the Star Trek replicator ya now, just hit the bottom and then it appears.

[00:23:23.350] - Nancy Drapeau

That would be amazing. But I don't know how long that'll take.

[00:23:26.030] - Marlys Arnold

Yeah, I don't know. Well, but but I mean, it is really cool to see the kinds of things that have been happening in the in the virtual networking. And like I said, we'll talk more about, you know, a lot of people will be sharing examples and ideas tomorrow on ExpoChat. So, Nancy, thank you so much. You know, the time just flies by and there's still so much more we could cover. But I really appreciate you being here today and for for sharing all of this insight that CEIR has gathered. And everybody remember, you can go download that report for free, that matchmaking report. So go get a copy of that. And one thing that we didn't mention is in the back, there's actually a checklist of how to design a matchmaking program. So, you know, some great, great resources, great information, great ways to move forward. So, Nancy, thank you so much for taking time out to be here when you're in the middle of getting that next report ready.

[00:24:27.160] - Nancy Drapeau

Pleasure. Thank you for letting me join us today.

[00:24:34.900] - Marlys Arnold

You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode, show notes at And if you'd like to join us for an upcoming weekly virtual lunch, you'll find information on that at

[00:25:01.540] - Marlys Arnold

If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device, simply search for Trade Show Insights in Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button. Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons copyright license, you may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embedded on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes.

[00:25:36.310] - Marlys Arnold

To learn more, please see the link in the sidebar. The show notes at Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our show Notes and Archives at You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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