Traditional Trade Shows and Live Events Are Returning—and Better This Time

They’re set to be engaging and effective

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When the pandemic began in March 2020, one of the first industries to take a hit was business travel. Trade shows and other live events quickly followed in a world where large gatherings of any kind were considered a health risk. Within a few months, we began to see virtual events sprouting up online as an alternative to face-to-face shows.

As that trend matured, and as event organizers honed their virtual approaches, it looks like these online events are here to stay. Even as the pandemic retreats and it becomes safer to gather in person, virtual events will likely remain a key part of how businesses and their employees get together to display, discuss and demonstrate their latest products and services.

Participating and engaging from anywhere
Forced to get creative about how they hold events during a pandemic, some organizers have adopted a hybrid approach. Cloud-based digital event platform ON24 says the hybrid event encompasses both physical and digital tactics, effectively allowing marketers to “scale up or down based on safety concerns for themselves, sponsors and audience members.”

Here’s how it works: There are in-person “live” attendees as well as a virtual component that allows the audience to participate and engage from anywhere. The digital components of the hybrid event can include Twitter chats, livestream sessions, targeted landing pages, virtual networking experiences and other interactive elements.

The virtual portion broadens the event’s message and reach because it’s easier and cheaper for attendees to participate. Hybrid events also attract attendees who wouldn’t otherwise have the time or resources to be able to travel to a live trade show, and they can literally live forever online and be offered on demand long after the show is over.

People can attend from anywhere—their homes, offices or vacation spots—utilize breakout rooms to connect with small groups, and select the best use of their time (e.g., only those keynotes that are most relevant). “[Hybrid] events allow you to mix both in-person and digital experiences,” ON24 points out, “giving your gathering a sense of immediateness both online and off.”

Virtual is here to stay
Even as people begin to resume their normal routines and as business travel kicks back into gear, the hybrid event is here to stay—and for good reason. It allows marketers to reach a broader audience, creates opportunities for more one-on-one interactions with prospects, and utilizes advanced communication tools to extend those relationships past the day of the event.

Online events also set the stage for better networking—in many cases, the very reason that professionals attend trade shows and conferences in the first place. Registered attendees at the recent ProMatDX 2021 logistics show, for example, could set up short, virtual “appointments” with potential customers and business partners in advance of the actual show date. The show also featured a matchmaking portal that used artificial intelligence (AI) that allowed both sponsors and attendees to determine how to tailor their interactions based on specific interests. The show host plans to use the AI-enabled networking tool at its next live event.

The virtual setting also allows show organizers to pack more content into a shorter amount of time, and helps attendees make the most of their time. Dedicating a few hours to an online event versus taking five days out of a busy schedule would be a no-brainer for most, and also opens the door to attend even more events within a truncated time frame.

The new breed
Whether hybrid or fully virtual, the “new breed” of trade show also breaks down some of the barriers that exist when thousands of people converge in person, expecting to make valuable contacts and meet new prospects. Arranging these meetings is never easy, but meeting someone in the online format and then sending them a LinkedIn invitation presents an instant connection opportunity to solidify that interaction.

For brands, hybrid events provide good sponsorship opportunities. Much like podcasts, which cater to specific listener segments, virtual events can be narrowly targeted to certain groups. They also provide different touchpoints—advertising, banner ads, breakout sessions, etc.—for brands to create new connections with the audience. And because the shows are evergreen and available on-demand, the longevity of those touchpoints is better than you’d see with a live event.

Hybrid events also appeal to millennials and Gen Z professionals that are accustomed to digital interactions and to having choices. With many of these individuals working remotely, the opportunity to participate in a relevant, engaging event—and one that invites and supports safe social interaction—may be particularly compelling for the younger audience.

Looking ahead, it’s becoming pretty clear that virtual and hybrid events aren’t going away. In fact, the model will continue to evolve, but the bottom line is that organizations that don’t embrace it now will miss out. People are accepting this new way to connect, and the unique way that it brings us together to interact and collaborate.