Event Management & Data

How to Plan a Virtual Trade Show

Victoria Rudi
May 24, 2024

Table of Contents

Virtual trade shows are a fantastic forum to bring people together to discuss business, create new connections, and generate business. Even better, their main components – i.e. networking, exhibitor booths, product launches, and so on – work virtually.

Swapping the show floor for a virtual space doesn’t need to be a headache, nor should it hinder your attendees’ expectations of a trade show, which is where this article comes in.

We’re going to show you how to plan a virtual trade show that will get everyone talking about it. We’ll discuss the ingredients you need to run a successful virtual expo and show you how to make your event stand out from the crowd.

Virtual trade shows: What you need to know

Virtual or in-person, the basis of a trade show is always the same. First, to bring leads, clients and partners all under one roof. And second, for them to mingle and generate business. The difference is that all of the action takes place in a virtual space, which looks something like this…

You enter an online space that imitates that of an in-person trade floor. With this, you have an entrance hall, main stage, breakout spaces and exhibitor spaces. These spaces can be fully customised with banners, different colour schemes and different types of video content. Then inside you have your participants participating in different activities, exploring the virtual space and interacting via chats and video networking.

As for the benefits, first off, there’s no need to hire out a large scale venue which not only saves you time in terms of set-up but also saves you a big amount of money. And secondly, with no restriction on location or space, you can attract much larger audiences on a global scale.

How to plan a virtual trade show

So now we’ve got the basics done and dusted. Let’s get to the more nitty-gritty stuff and by that, we mean how to plan a virtual trade show. Here’s your own step-by-step plan on how to run one.

Understand your participant types and their needs

Virtual trade shows are all about bringing people together, for a reason, which is why you should always have a clear vision of what it is your participants want to get out of attending the event.

When we talk about participants this refers not only to attendees but also exhibitors and sponsors. Taking this into account is extremely important because each participant type has its own set of unique needs.

For example, attendees might be there for the networking and researching, exhibitors for product demos or lead gen, and sponsors for visibility. Whatever the reasons are, it’s down to you to find them out, so spend some time speaking with your participants.

Knowing what matters to each participant type the most means allows you to build the experience around them, something that is crucial when it comes to adding value and demonstrating ROI.

Remember, the sooner you can grasp the needs of your participants the sooner you’ll be able to design a valuable and engaging trade show for them.

Get the technology right

The largest factor that contributes to the success of your virtual trade show is the technology that you choose. This has a huge say in the final outcome of the event, so identify your needs and find a platform that can deliver them.

As an example, if the main purpose of your event is to connect buyers with sellers, find a platform that offers different networking dynamics such as speed dating and matchmaking. Or, if the aim is to provide an avenue for your exhibitors to sell their products, then choose a platform that offers interactive exhibitor booths and integrations with e-commerce platforms.

Whatever the reason, your chosen events platform should serve you in two areas. First, to meet the varying needs of your participants, and secondly, to enable you to achieve your desired goals.

Introduce plenty of ways to interact and network

One of the main reasons your participants will be attending your virtual trade show will be to interact and mingle. It’s all about finding ways to facilitate conversations so that your attendees can forge relationships and ultimately close deals. The goods news is that there are plenty of ways to do this.

First, include a live chat. This is a great way to encourage interaction amongst your guests. To get the most out of this, make sure to have moderators that can guide the conversation, and ensure that attendees are actively participating throughout the event.

Second, find a virtual event platform that offers different networking formats such as speed networking, matchmaking and breakout rooms. Creating different dynamics adds variety and provides different opportunities for your attendees to interact with each other.

Create an immersive attendee experience

For any virtual trade show to be a success, you need to do more than just the basics. You will need to create an immersive event experience that empowers the attendees to share their ideas and to feel connected at your virtual trade show.

The key here is to offer your attendees variety, so the more things on offer the better. The most popular aspect of attendee interaction is gamification in the form of quizzes, trivia, or even escape rooms.

Additionally, you can think about creating dedicated channels or feeds, where attendees can meet and interact among themselves. Or you could offer a photo booth where attendees take a snap of themselves and customise their selfies with branded animations.

Support your exhibitors and sponsors and demonstrate ROI

If your exhibitors and sponsors are successful at your virtual trade show, then your event is going to be a success. This is why you must go the extra mile by guiding and supporting them with everything they need to hit the ground running.

It’s also worth creating educational content in the form of tutorials, guides and checklists to help your exhibitors and sponsors familiarise themselves with the virtual space. This makes it much easier for them to envisage how everything works, and more importantly, maximises their participation.

Finally, it’s extremely important to demonstrate ROI. The best way to do this is to send a report at the end of the event outlining all of the key metrics that have been achieved.

Final thoughts

Virtual trade shows are a great way to bring people together at a significantly lower cost than an in-person event.

To make your virtual trade show a success, think about the needs of your different participant types, how you can demonstrate ROI to them, and then build your event accordingly.

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Victoria Rudi
Senior Content Specialist
With a Master’s degree in Event Management and a keen follower of SaaS technologies, Victoria is an event content master, producing insightful and valuable for Eventtia’s blog and beyond

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