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How Virtual Trade Shows Can Prepare First-Time Exhibitors for the Real Thing


Has your business never exhibited at a face-to-face trade show before? Had you thought about exhibiting, but then restrictions due to the COVID pandemic shut down those plans? Been thinking about exhibiting at a trade show but not sure when things will be “back to normal”? Wondering if there’s a way to start preparing for when in-person trade shows do finally get back into full-swing?

We recommend trying out a virtual trade show to prepare you.

If you’ve never planned for or executed an exhibit marketing plan for your business, then you likely can only imagine all that goes into the pre-show, live show, and the post-show planning. Even from minimal research, you probably concluded that it’s a long list, and you’re right!

From planning how your physical exhibit will be designed and the experience that you want attendees to have, selecting the right trade show floor booth staffers to get the job done, deciding how you want to capture leads, picking the right messaging to reflect your brand and goals, executing a speedy follow-up plan with the leads you obtain, and promoting the entire event from the beginning stages of your planning to the end of the show – you can see there’s quite a bit that goes into successfully exhibiting at a trade show. As this obviously isn’t the whole list, we can assure you that there are many boxes to be checked when it comes to planning and executing a trade show. You can find a complete timeline and checklist here if you’re interested.

What we have recently found is that if you’ve never experienced all that goes into it, doing a virtual event first can eliminate some of the heavy-lifting that you’ll experience when you finally do pull the trigger on exhibiting at an in-person trade show. How you ask?

Virtual trade shows can help you figure out messaging and content that works before investing in a real exhibit.

One very time-consuming piece of the puzzle that we mentioned above is messaging. Figuring out exactly what you want to tell your prospective buyers can be tricky to narrow down. There are plenty of ways you can go about sharing a single message, so finding out what method resonates best with your audience can be done through virtual exhibiting.

Check with the show organizer first to ensure they will be providing you proper analytics to track attendee engagement at your virtual show. If so, you could do A/B testing with different types of content. Here are a few examples:

  • You could offer two different webinars with different topics and messaging types.
  • Let your audience choose between the two, or track which one they gravitate toward first to gain some useful insight on which topic is more appealing to them.
  • You can compare which presentation attendees viewed the longest and if more people viewed an entire presentation more often than the other.
  • You can gauge how often certain questions were asked so you can prepare your trade show team to answer those types of questions when you execute your first in-person trade show.
  • You could even test responsiveness to different keynote speakers. (Don’t forget to include a bio and a list of prominent industry affiliations.)
  • Perhaps your target audience prefers to hear from the CEO of the company rather than an outside spokesperson, or maybe vice versa.

Understanding your viewing and engagement statistics from your virtual trade show can help you determine what’s working well and what isn’t resonating as much so that you can fine-tune content in the future!

If the messaging you choose dictates the way you want your exhibit to look, this could also save you time and money in the future as well. Before purchasing graphics, it will be helpful to know what resonates the most with your target audience.

Virtual trade shows can give your trade show team a lot of practice and preparation to speak fluently at your in-person exhibit.

You never really know what a trade show attendee is going to ask your booth staffers until they ask it. Sure, you can role play and prepare them for the common questions that you often receive and the types of questions that you already have listed on your FAQ page, but there are always those questions that you may not be prepared for. A virtual trade show is a great way to prepare for those questions that might catch your trade show team off guard.

If you do plan on executing an in-person trade show exhibit in the future, then delegating your expected trade show team to be involved in live chat options and Q&A sessions will help them start feeling comfortable in this type of atmosphere. They’ll gain a lot of insight on answering questions on the spot as well as lots of practice for fine-tuning their pitches and wording.

Virtual trade shows can help you nail down a successful follow-up plan.

Following up with your audience is a step that many exhibitors tend to forego, although it’s one of the most important since so much time and money is spent to make those initial connections! Don’t make the same mistake of throwing away these valuable connections that you make at your virtual and in-person trade shows.

Reaching out to your audience is an important next step to seal the deal on sales and keep them engaged after your event. Even if they aren’t quite ready to make a purchase after your event is over, it’s still valuable to stay in touch and continue offering them value until they are ready to make that purchase. You could send them a post-event survey with an incentive for completing it (perhaps to be entered in a prize drawing), you could offer them additional value such as an eBook, or let them know about your next event with a link to sign up for it.

These are some of our best tips for following up with your trade show leads – in a nutshell:

  • Qualify your leads by understanding where they are in the buying process.
  • Reach out as soon as you can to make sure they don’t end up searching elsewhere.
  • Be consistent in contacting them for the first few weeks after your trade show to stay top of mind.
  • Tailor your follow-up content to cater to them specifically, rather than simply adding them to your newsletter email list.

There’s quite a bit of thought required to plan and execute a successful trade show, so while in-person trade shows are on the back burner and slowly re-opening, consider a virtual trade show!

You’ll be able to start understanding your audience a little better, figure out messaging that resonates best, help your trade show team prepare, and begin to understand the follow-up process and what methods work best when doing so. When you are ready to hit the gas pedal on your first in-person trade show, you’ll already have so many things checked off your list to get you started, and Skyline Exhibits will be there to help you through the rest. We offer exhibit management, exhibit design, installation and dismantle, and asset management programs, all while ensuring that your trade show runs smoothly.

Let us know if you have any questions about getting started in the trade show world.


About the Author

In her experience at Skyline's corporate office in St. Paul, Minnesota, Briquelle Neyens immersed herself in trade show research and the ins and outs of exhibit sales firsthand. She also engaged with Skyline's wide-array of products and services from an insider's perspective. Her blogs portray her expertise on what it takes to be a successful trade show marketer. She enjoys generating information that will help all trade show marketers in their decisions to become successful on the trade show floor.

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