What do people want from a virtual trade show? There are two facets to consider: The attendee experience and the exhibitor experience. That means virtual trade show hosts need to be skilled in planning an event that gives everybody value—and that they are able to maximize the features of a virtual event platform to create human moments and optimize networking opportunities.
An unforgettable virtual trade fair forms connections. It also:
- Captures attention
- Engages using demos and speakers
- Seamlessly shares information
- Offer flexible areas for people to interact
In addition, dynamic online trade shows use virtual event platforms that give event organizers innovative tools and cutting-edge features. They’re able to harness today’s technology to design powerful experiences.
When you host a virtual trade show, you need to know the steps, best practices, and virtual platform you need to design an outstanding event. This guide will give you everything you need for an effective and memorable virtual trade show.
So, let’s begin!
What are virtual trade shows?
A virtual trade show is a digital event that lets companies showcase their products, and attendees gain invaluable industry knowledge and product information. The benefits of a virtual event are easily reaching a global audience and the ability to give plentiful unique opportunities to network.
What are virtual trade show booths, and why are they important?
Just like their physical trade show counterpart, virtual trade show booths are used to introduce attendees to companies and their products and share information about them. Crucial features are branded displays, the ability to have demos and one-on-one or group discussions, and easily downloadable PDFs, brochures, and other marketing collateral. .
Since the purpose of a trade show is to let companies feature their products, booths are an essential part that gives them the space to do so.
Are virtual trade shows worth it?
An immersive virtual trade show is absolutely worth it. Not only can exhibitors set up from anywhere, but it also makes it easier for people to attend—especially if travel or lodging are a challenge.
Other advantages of a virtual trade fair are:
- The potential for increased attendance with an expanded global reach.
- Saves time and money for hosts, exhibitors, and attendees: Online trade shows are far more cost-effective.
- The right virtual event platforms let you track data more effectively and integrate with your business’s tech stacks. It helps event organizers make smart data-driven decisions that maximize engagement.
- Virtual trade shows are more eco-friendly.
- Attendees can access virtual booths, exhibits, and information for longer.
How to host a successful virtual trade show
A successful virtual trade show begins with goals and objectives that center around the attendee experience. Ask yourself, do I know how to create a virtual trade fair that engages? And how do I host a virtual trade show that lets exhibitors provide the information attendees want while also allowing them to feature their brand?
As you get started, you may wonder—how does a virtual trade fair work? In essence, they’re much like in-person trade shows. However, they require slightly different tools and skills.
Whether this is your first virtual trade show or your fiftieth, all you need to do is take these actions to ensure that your virtual trade show is a hit.
Create an attendee-centric experience
It all begins with a question: What do attendees want from a trade show?
The top responses typically include industry insights, competitive knowledge, the best products and deals in the industry, the potential to form business partnerships, and networking opportunities.
Now the question becomes: How do we create an attendee-centric experience? The answer is that you must make all content, the agenda, any speakers, and the brands that you partner with revolve around a great attendee experience. If attendees are engaged, you and your sponsors will get the most out of your trade show.
A great place to start is to create a value proposition — in other words, the unique value your event will offer attendees. Think of this document as a roadmap that outlines the promises you’re making. Each should spell out how your event will benefit and the provisions you need to facilitate those benefits.
Look for trade show partners, exhibitors, and sponsors
Trade show partners, exhibitors, and sponsors are key ingredients to a successful event. You’ll need to know where to look to find the best fit.
You need to find a trade show partner you trust. These partners are companies that join event organizers to co-create or co-organize a trade show. They should be able to help you plan, strategize, organize, and execute the events. Before looking for a partner, identify your needs, expectations, goals, and potential challenges. You’ll also need to clearly evaluate how involved you want your partner to be before approaching them.
From there, look for potential partners and do some background research on them. Select those that fit, and set up a way to meet with them so you can settle on the right one.
Virtual trade show exhibitors want the same thing you do. They want to drum up awareness about their brand, generate leads, and create excitement around a product or service. You’ll need to offer them value and make your virtual trade show worth the investment, and that makes them feel like they’ll attract numerous booth visitors.
To connect with potential exhibitors, use:
- Social media
- Your network
Provide them with transparent information about the trade show and show them how you’ll give them a valuable and seamless exhibitor experience.
Use some of the same tactics mentioned above to find sponsors, but also research who has sponsored similar events.
To make sponsorship more enticing, make sure to offer all the details and offer different budget options. To find optimal sponsors, make sure you are targeting companies that reflect your event values.
Think about ways to offer the most value to your partners, vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors
The value that your partners get out of the trade show depends on the capabilities of your virtual event platform.
You need a platform that lets you set up virtual booths for your exhibitors—and lets exhibitors brand their booths. Virtual exhibit booths should have features like interactive live demos and presentations, ability to engage prospects in live one-on-one or group meetings, downloadable resources, and should be able to capture attendee data for deeper insights.
Additionally, the more interactivity and engagement opportunities you give your partners, vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors, the more valuable their experience will be.
Empower networking at your event
Networking opportunities should be a core feature of your virtual trade show. This will bring in the most value for your exhibitors, sponsors, and attendees.
Use a platform that provides breakout sessions, virtual social lounges, speed networking, a virtual exhibit hall, and features like Fluid Space.
Find speakers and industry leaders for keynotes
Hosting keynotes will help you attract attendees to your trade show. Speakers should:
- Fit your budget
- Be experts in the field, providing thought leadership and a dynamic perspective
- Engage and entertain
- Meet your attendees’ expectations
- Align with your event values and goals
- Have energy that engages and inspires the audience
Build teams to execute different tasks and distribute responsibilities
When looking at how to host a virtual trade show, realize that it takes a team. Going it alone can make the experience overwhelming and challenging.
Like any other event or project, you’ll want to delegate. Create an in-depth roadmap that includes pre-planning, execution, and post-event tasks. Distribute responsibilities to people or teams with the skills to fulfill them. Examples of tasks you can create are:
- Ensuring support for exhibitors
- Onboarding speakers
- Managing vendors
- Scheduling the gifts
- Creating branding and content for the event
- Posting social media
- Finding partners to promote your event
Promote your trade show to gain signups
The better your promotions strategy, the more you’ll drive signups. Learning how to promote an event is important. To get started:
- Understand your audience and know where to reach them
- Use multiple channels to promote: Emails, host committees, website landing pages, your network, newsletters, social media, and cold prospecting platforms
- Design enticing content
- Create a schedule for distributing your trade show’s information
Create a strategy to measure ROI
Tracking your event efforts lets you know where you’re successful and where you still need to improve. Determine some KPIs and a strategy that lets you accurately measure your ROI, whether it’s related to time or budget efforts.
7 Virtual trade shows ideas to boost engagement at event and booths
If your virtual trade show ideas are innovative, you’ll see a boost in engagement. Here are 7 you can start with:
1. Spin the wheel
Prize stalls at events are always a big customer magnet. Your booth exhibitors can arrange Spin the Wheel contests to attract more customers and sprinkle some fun!
2. Virtual Photo Booth
Virtual photo booths are the perfect solution to boost attendee engagement and increase reach. Your customers stay engaged clicking selfies in the photo booth, and you get additional reach when your attendees create content, and share the experience with the world.
3. Provide sign-up swag
One thing virtual trade shows often lack is the swag you get at an in-person event. Encourage sign-ups by offering a swag bonus. After they register, send them swag from sponsors—like t-shirts, mugs, and pens—and let them promote brand awareness when they use it during your virtual trade show event.
4. Maximize networking with competitions and prizes
Get attendees involved with a trade show idea that sparks friendly competition and optimizes networking. Have attendees track their number of connections (with exhibitors, other attendees, speakers) within a specific time frame, and whoever has the most will win a prize from one of your sponsors.
5. Give discount codes for attending sessions
Another great trade show idea that increases attendance to sessions is offering product discounts from different exhibitors.
6. Provide exhibitors an engagement checklist
Give your exhibitors a cheat sheet on dynamic ways to engage and facilitate interactions and ways to capture attendees’ attention. You can even offer a platform training webinar that shows them how to utilize all the features. This not only helps your event but is also one of those virtual trade show ideas that makes you a standout trade show host.
7. Use a platform that’s highly customizable and loaded with engaging features
Grab your attendees’ attention visually. Instead of a bland look and feel, make it easy for them to identify each unique exhibitor and vendor. Exhibitors can take the customization one step further by creating a unique experience from other virtual exhibit booths with presentations, networking opportunities, and more.
4 Virtual trade show best practices
Put a few best practices in play to get the most from your virtual trade show.
Clearly position your trade show
Clearly state your trade show’s industry category and content to attract the right sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees.
Promote your event with a multichannel approach
Find people where they’re at to increase attention by using a multichannel marketing and promotion approach.
Provide a variety of content and downloadables at your virtual trade show
Have sessions, speakers, exhibitors, vendors, lounges, and other content that widens the appeal and keeps booth visitors interested. Encourage your exhibitors to offer a variety of content as well, from videos to 1-to-1 breakout sessions.
Follow up after your event
Reach out via email, survey, social media, and other avenues to find out about the overall trade show experience. Use it to discover your strengths and areas you can still improve.
How to choose the right virtual trade show platform for your event?
The best virtual trade show platforms have one thing in common: Numerous features to connect and engage attendees.
Before selecting, look at the different virtual trade show platforms and their capabilities. Then ask yourself questions like:
- Do booth exhibitors get their own stage, lounges, and networking features?
- Can the booths be branded, and can they hand over digital marketing collaterals like brochures?
- How can the platform empower you to create engaging and exhilarating experiences?
- What does the stability of the platform look like?
Virtual event engagement, networking, and capabilities of booths are the key component to success of an immersive virtual trade show, and the more interactive and customizable the booths are, the more value everyone gets.
You can assess the best virtual trade show software and best virtual trade show platforms by looking at:
- Capabilities of booths like branding, and attendee engagement.
- Networking features like social lounges, speed networking, one-on-one meetings, rich attendee profiles, and Fluid Spaces.
- Engagement features like q&a, chats, interactive demos, gamification, and 3rd party integrations like Snapbar.
- Analytics for real-time prospecting
- ROI and event performance insights
- Ability to measure event and individual booth performance
- Event support (and is it 24/7)
As an example, explore virtual trade show platforms to see if they have booth features like built-in social lounges, 1:1 meeting bookings, and an interactive stage (for demo presentations and keeping retaining attention). Look to see if exhibitors can distribute marketing collaterals like brochures and CTAs that direct to their website.
The central goal should be finding the right virtual event platform that puts the attendee experience first.
What are the best virtual trade show platforms?
There are many virtual trade show platforms out there—but which is the best? Here are the top 6 to consider:
Airmeet has made it a goal to make virtual events more human-centric. They have seized every opportunity to develop features that create standout experiences. G2 reviewers found it easy to use and incredibly realistic. One challenge for users was hybrid events. Some of the top features were:
- 3D lobby.
- Customizable reception.
- Business card exchange
- Stellar engagement features like leaderboards, Q&A, interactive stages, and networking spaces inside booths. Attendees can engage in chat and react with emojis.
- Iframe integrations to make events more interesting, for example, a Snapbar integration that supports selfie booths.
- Superior booth experience.
- Event and booth branding with AirStudio.
- AX360 to help attendees network and connect in meaningful ways.
- Spaces and features for attendees to connect like Fluid Space, Breakout rooms, speed networking, chats, and Social lounges.
- AirIntel to measure event performance and get highly granular reports.
- Aircontrol to manage multiple workflows.
- 24/7 support.
Airmeet’s extensive features earned several G2 badges this past fall, including Best Usability (Mid-Market), Best Relationship (Mid-Market), Users Most Likely To Recommend (Mid-Market), Best Results (Fall), Leader (Fall).
Hopin is an all-in-one platform that’s scalable and designed to closely replicate an in-person event. Hosts find it user-friendly. However, some reviewers on G2 found limitations unless things were set up correctly, which for some people, took time. Some standout features include:
- Live video.
- Numerous event areas, including reception, stage, sessions, and more.
- Networking features.
- Event support
- Customizable registration.
People mention Vfairs step-by-step design wizard as an appealing feature of the platform. But some users that reviewed the platform on G2 said that although support was top-notch, they weren’t quite sure where their money went—in other words the product didn’t meet expectations given the budget. The top listed features for Vfairs are:
- Optimal mobile event application.
- Matchmaking and chat tools.
- 3D spaces.
- Customizable virtual booths and trade show spaces
Dream cast offers plenty of virtual event tech to create online trade shows. In general, people who reviewed Dreamcast on G2 found the immersive experience excellent, although some attendees were daunted by navigating between sessions. Dreamcast did have solid backend support for attendees, and some of their best features include:
- AI matchmaking.
- Event analytics and support.
- Immersive 360-degree venue.
- Live polls and Q&A.
- Business card exchange feature.
HexaFair’s platform aims to deliver unique experiences. Users felt the platform helped increase their conversions and optimized brand visibility. But a G2 user said that it lacked integrations. Overall, some of HexaFairs most notable features were:
- Ability to replicate an in-person layout virtually.
- Draws audiences from around the globe.
- Business card exchange for more post-event connections.
- 3D avatars.
Samaaro is a virtual event platform that creates 3D virtual trade shows that also foster connections. Samaaro is seen as user-friendly and intuitive. However, reviewers on G2 found the chat feature confusing at first. Standout features included:
- End-to-end event solutions
- Networking features
- Sponsor management features
- Registration and analytics dashboard
- Customizable event landing page
6Connex sees itself as a virtual trade show platform that provides an immersive experience. People who use the platform loved the live support feature and user interface. On the other side, some G2 platform reviewers mentioned it lacked the streamlined experience of other platforms. The top features listed are:
- A good UI.
- Available virtual venue templates.
- Customizable virtual spaces.
- Branded booth experiences.
The best virtual trade shows are designed to give attendees industry insights, access to product deals, networking opportunities, and competitive knowledge. They also provide value for exhibitors and sponsors. Put this guide into action using Airmeet as your online trade show platform to create an event that lets everyone walk away with a win.