On July 24th, a relatively small tradeshow-industry event took place in Orlando, Florida. It was an attempt to show the world how tradeshows, events and conferences can successfully work in today’s pandemic-affected world. Kevin Carty of Classic Exhibits attended – and the company exhibited – and shares his take on how it all went.
Also referenced in this episode: Brad Kleiner of Grounded by Cedar Root. Check his website, and a previous episode where I chatted with him about sales training, leadership coaching, and one-on-one coaching and more.
Yes, tradeshows are going virtual. They have been for some time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many shows into the digital world that might not have done so as quickly. Just a cursory search on Twitter with the hashtag #tradeshow gives you a bunch of shows that are moving to online.
The Consumer Electronics Show recently announced they’re going virtual for the next go-around. Others are following suit. In discussion with industry managers and exhibitors, the feeling is that, frankly, no one knows when “normal” will return and exactly what it will look like. There are certainly efforts to get things off the ground, like the recent Together Again Expo, a tradeshow industry event in Orlando last month.
But overall, shows are still being cancelled and / or postponed.
For example, the Snow & Ice Symposium (there’s such a thing?) has gone all virtual. Just add ice to your glass! (Click the images below: it’ll take you to the original tweet in a new tab).
Here’s another virtual expo that I’m not sure about:
Even shows overseas are going by the wayside thanks to the pandemic:
And many more, to be sure. The state of the events, conference and tradeshow industry is upside down, but it looks like many shows are going digital as best as they can. It’ll be interesting to see how the shows unfold and to see how, even when face-to-face shows return, how virtual aspects will remain. And how many exhibits and attendees will show up. And when.
A few recent newsletters that have popped up in my inbox have gotten me to thinking about B2B in the age of a pandemic. The tradeshow world is virtually shut down. Conferences aren’t happening. Events are 99.9% gone. Many of the writers behind these newsletters offer insightful observations about how business is now being done: what’s changing and what’s not.
I’ve compiled several of these thoughts and added a few of my own.
“Zoom Fatigue” has become a meme. But connecting via digital is about the only way to connect. Yes, you can pick up the phone – and I do – but a video call is more personal. Of course, there’s an extra step involved: you have to agree on a time and schedule the call and send the link. But taking those steps evinces a commitment to the meeting you might not have otherwise had.
Email: staying in touch is a little harder in this day and age. Many of the contacts I have are either working from home or have been laid off. Others are in the office only part time and their presence at work is not a given. Every company is dealing with the situation in their own way, and if an email isn’t answered in the time it typically would be, try a phone call.
Beyond Zoom, email, and phone calls, create shortvideos that address challenges a typical customer might have. A recent Orbit Media Studios post examined what happened when they added video to their content strategy. It’s led me to create short videos every week to see if they get attention.
Bottom line on Digital
Be present online more than you ever have been before.
Know your priorities.
What’s important for your company? For you? For your employees? I spoke with a handful of distilleries in Oregon this week to see if they were making hand sanitizer, as many of them did at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many had made the product and were still making it but it was not a priority. A handful of them, though realized that there was a market there and it was going to be there awhile and were actually ramping up production. Others felt it was not their core business and they would rather be known for their high-quality distilled products.
Understand your customer’s priorities
Every customer is going through something different. Find out from as many as possible what their biggest challenges are. Segment them. And if you can help them, do it. Some might need to wait another month or two or three.
Find and form valuable partnerships
Partnerships can take you places you couldn’t go on your own. Manufacturers, builders, factories, processing plants. Keep an open mind to what the possibilities are and ask good questions. You might uncover an opportunity that you had no idea existed a few months ago.
Communicate clearly to everyone
It boils down to listening twice as much as you talk. Find out what’s important to other management members, employees, team members, clientele, prospects. But make sure to let them know what’s important to you as well. We’re all in this together, and communication will be the key.
Remove friction whenever possible
Just like forming a new habit, the easier it is, the more likely you’ll form that habit. It’s like saying to yourself that you’ll put on your running shoes each morning and run around the block. There’s not much friction in putting on your shoes. Once you have the shoes on, it’s easy to go around the block. After you do that a few times, it’ll be easier to run a half mile. Then a mile. Then two, five and so on. By reducing the friction to get anything done, both for you and your clients, the easier it will be to get bigger things done. Start small where there is little friction.
Acknowledge that it’s not business as usual
The final piece. We all know that, but many of us are acting as if it’s still 2019. Are you? It’s not. We’re in the future to stay. And it’s a different world. It’s not business as usual.
Here are some of the resources that helped inspire this collection:
Exhibitor Magazine just sent out a pair of reports detailing research on how tradeshow attendees view the coming return to “normalcy” for tradeshows, events and conferences.
In the first report, Enigma Research polled 2000 live event attendees to gauge their level of comfort or anxiety in the potential return to live events. ExibitorOnline’s report is here, along with a link to the full report. There’s no op-tin or cost for the report, but you may need to register at ExhibitorOnline.
Some of the takeaways include:
Over a third polled say they would immediately return to shows, but most indicate they’re okay with waiting.
Over two-thirds say they’d be likely or very like to travel to another city for an event.
While most attendees agree that safety measure such as hand-washing and hand sanitizer and cleaning are necessary, they’re split on other measures such as who should or must wear a mask.
Next, Exhibitor’s senior writer Charles Pappas recently discussed the World Health Organization’s recommendations for tradeshows and events in a webinar. The discussion included takes on a potential vaccine, how the virus is transferred, having asymptomatic people at shows and more. Check the article here and download the full report or watch the webinar at the same link.
What is the future of tradeshows, events and conferences? While most people in the industry I speak with think things will (mostly) get back to normal at some point, that may still be some time away. Which leaves virtual events as one way of keeping the clock moving forward.
This week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee offers a chat with Kaleidoko’s Jonathan Tavss, who discusses a recent virtual event he helped facilitate, and what the future of tradeshows and events, combined with a strong digital presence, might look like:
The tradeshow, event and conference industries are not dead. It’s just sleeping. It’ll awaken at some point again and roar to life.
In the meantime, time on your hands. Maybe, maybe not. I certainly have time on my hands. And I have to bring in a little income.
So, I’m driving for Uber Eats and delivering food three to four hours a day. Not bad money, actually, for the time involved. My older son, who’s in his late 20s, had been working as a cook in an upscale restaurant which had to close when the coronavirus restrictions here in Oregon went into place. When we went skiing together a month ago, he told me that he’d been driving for Uber Eats a few hours before he went to work, and then a few hours after he got off in the evening. Now that the restaurant closed, he’s doing it eight hours a day, six or seven days a week. Likes being in his car (it’s new), listening to music, and bringing food to people.
I thought, I can do this. And making a few extra bucks (it’s actually pretty good pay) was enticing. It took a short while to get signed up and approved, and now I’m delivering food from restaurants to people a few hours a day. Sometimes lunch, sometimes dinner.
It gives me a lot of time to think. And listen to rock, or podcasts. But definitely time to think.
And I got to thinking about systems. What kind of systems does it take for an Uber driver (or Door Dash or Grub Hub or any of those companies) to get an offer to drive, accept it, pick up the food and deliver it in a timely manner while it’s still hot?
The driver needs:
Smartphone with app
Address to pickup
Address to deliver
The smartphone has all of those items, other than the car, built in. GPS. Mapping. Internet connectivity.
The customer needs:
An app to order food from
An address for the driver to deliver it to
A way to pay (credit or debit card) they can use through the app
The restaurant needs:
A system that receives incoming orders and gets them to the kitchen in a timely manner
Ability to prepare food quickly and have it ready for pickup within a few moments
As I drive from a restaurant to a drop off point, it’s common to get another offer to pick up another order before the current one is delivered.
During my drives, I keep thinking what an intricate system this is. What an elaborate dance it is to transmit an offer to a driver that’s in the area, about to drop off one order, to deliver another order. As an Uber Eats driver, it’s all optional. Don’t want that one? Don’t take it.
Then I get to thinking about the systems built around tradeshows and events. About what the show organizer needs. What the exhibitor needs. What the visitor needs.
Think about the systems that must be in place for all of that to work to a positive effect on a regular basis. Design and fabrication of tradeshow exhibits. Shipping, setup/dismantle logistics. Travel and lodging. Product development and production.
As a participant, you only can see and control what’s immediately in front of you. But as a tradeshow marketing manager, you can exert a lot of control over how your company exhibits. How your product is presented, how your company is represented by the exhibit and the booth staff. Who sets up the booth, who handles shipping and so on.
Now that the tradeshow and event industry is on hiatus, maybe it’s a good time to examine your systems that hold everything in place from your perspective and see what can be improved.
After all, while I don’t mind driving a few hours a day delivering food, I’d rather get back to the tradeshow world full time soon.
While many of us are working from home, trying to juggle work schedules with kid demands and more, we are looking forward to a time when things return to at least semi-normal. On this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I chatted with Heather Haigler of Switch Four about their new tradeshow management software, WorkTrip – for the remainder of 2020 they are offering free access. Here’s the conversation we had about that and other things that were on our minds:
In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I wanted to see how companies that rely on the tradeshow and event industry are doing. Friday afternoon I invited a handful of them to chime in to see how they’re working to deal with tradeshow cancellations and the upended event landscape. Guests include Kevin Carty of Classic Exhibits, Marcus Vahle of Share Experience Company and Andy Saks of Spark Presentations.
Shout out and thanks to all to participated, including Stacy Barnes of Eagle Management, who also passed along her thoughts which are included in the program.
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: the positive, upbeat “can-do” attitude of all that I have spoken to in the event industry, including partners, colleagues and clients, who all are working hard and planning on how to deal with the situation to make the best of it.
You built an event calendar out for the year. You planned,
you upgraded, you designed and produced new graphics, maybe you even invested
in a new exhibit. But if the show doesn’t take place, how can you make the best
use of your upgrades or your new graphics?
A couple of suggestions:
Put together a short video, maybe a minute or less,
that you can share on social media. Explain that while you were planning to
launch a new product or debut a new booth, but the show cancellation prevented
you from doing so. Instead, show it off in the video. If it’s just a graphic upgrade,
show those off in the video. If it’s a new exhibit, your exhibit house should
have provided 3D renderings – show those off as well, and make sure to tell
your clients and prospects and social media followers that you’ll be using it
as soon as you’re able at the next show – whenever that is.
Use social media to launch the new products. If it’s
feasible, have a little contest and give away some samples. Pick a few winners
and mail them the samples.
Convene people for a Zoom virtual meeting. Maybe even make it a virtual tradeshow to where you can show off your new booth renderings – and hey, if you want to go all out and it makes sense for you and you have the room, set up the booth and use that as a backdrop for your Zoom call. Show it off!
Do one-on-one outreach to clients. Make calls, send
emails. If convenient (or wise), schedule coffee or lunch. Keep in touch! Heck,
schedule a Zoom call and send a coffee gift card ahead of time so they can have
a fresh cup on hand! Talk to them about what you were going to do with the
Other promotions: create a small brochure and mail it to your clients and prospects showing off your new products that you were going to debut at the tradeshow. Have a sale. Offer free shipping. Do a BOGO sale.
Bottom Line: It looks like the frequency and functionality of tradeshows and events are going to be drastically cut for the foreseeable future. Don’t wait to figure out what you can do in place of tradeshow and events. There’s always something.