I had heard of the group Women in Exhibition, bur frankly admit that that’s about all I knew: that it existed. So I caught up with Katina Rigall Zipay, Creative Director at Classic Exhibits, and someone’s who’s been intimately involved in Women in Exhibition for years. We had a fun conversation and I learned a lot. No doubt you will, too:
Building software to host a virtual event poses a million questions, many of them hoping to address the user experience. And the exhibitor experience. How to keep people engaged, how to keep them from being bored, how to have conversations, how to connect, how to give keynotes. And so on. I recently caught up with Sandy Hammer, co-founder of AllSeated, which has recently launched virtual event software that looks, well, impressive. She and I sat down to talk about it, and to give her a chance to show us a little bit about how it works:
Bill Stainton was a guest on this show three years ago, and I wanted to catch up with him to see how he is doing in the midst of the crazy times. We ended up talking about an article from Entrepreneur he had flagged in his latest newsletter that looked at five trends in innovation and how leaders can use them in 2021. It was a lively discussion:
It’s been a couple of years since I checked in with author, keynote speaker and consultant Peter Shankman, and I was delighted when he said he would be glad to speak with me. I was curious how his business was going, how he was working with clients on how to move into 2021, and of course I was curious to learn how New York City was doing. An eye-opening and salty interview:
We don’t know when tradeshows will return, or what “normal” tradeshow schedules will look like.
We don’t know how many attendees will plan on going because we don’t know how they feel about mixing with thousands of other attendees.
We don’t know how many fellow exhibitors will decide to spend the money to exhibit at the show because they don’t know how many people will actually show up. No doubt some will decide to go; others will hold off for another year.
It’s the uncertainty of it all that is probably the hardest. Not knowing. Like restaurants now knowing when they can finally have full capacity. Like sports leagues not knowing when they can invite a full contingent of fans. Like schools across the country having all students back, knowing that they’ll be safe.
Until then, we’re all stuck in the long slog.
A really freakin’ long slog.
S. L. O. G.
What to do in the meantime, especially if a lot of your job or monthly planning includes tradeshows, events and conference?
Find something else to focus on. Marketing is marketing, and in a recent post, I mentioned a number of ways to market. But what else can you do besides marketing?
I suppose you could try and come up with a viral video or promotion, but chances are the more you actually try to make something viral, the more forced it feels and the less likely it’ll happen.
Maybe you can write more blog posts, or read about what other businesses, both competitors and those that are in different industries, are doing. Learn from them, try new things.
Obviously, every person and every company are dealing with the long slog in a different way. But business still has to come in. Marketers still have to market. Salespeople still have to sell.
Let’s go back to learning. What can you learn that will help you in your current position?
Perhaps one of the first things is to gain some perspective and realize that everyone is in the same long slog. Next: realize that, yes, one day you will get back to normal, and so will everyone else.
Then, determine what you can do RIGHT NOW. What skills do you have that can be used, either inside or outside your company, that can be applied to the current situation. Is there any way you can help others find their way through the morass? Maybe, maybe not.
Mark Schaefer, in his short free ebook The Pandemic Business Strategy Playbook, writes, “the long-term relevance of the brand is more important than short-term sales.” He references several big brands that have put their marketing on hold or shifted to finding ways they can help not by doing ads, but by doing things: offering free food to volunteers and first responders, making donations to hospitals or homeless shelters. In other words, taking action.
In fact, taking action that benefits others, no matter how small or large, is probably one of the best things you can do.
For example, I think many of us have a tendency – I know I do – to walk past the dozens of homeless people I see on the streets in my city every day and try and pretend we don’t see them. They’re standing with hand-written cardboard signs at stoplights, or camped in groups under overpasses, or shuffling aimless down the street. It’s easy to keep walking and ignore them and not even think of them as humans. But when you do take a few moments and offer a few dollars and a smile, it counts. Certainly, to them, and hopefully to you.
The COVID-19 Pandemic will permanently change the world. We don’t know how all those changes will affect us, or what the changes will be. Finding a way to be open to helping people through the long slog is one of the most important things we can do to get through it. And we will get through.
Working from home these days, but still having to attend virtual meetings? Been there, done that. In fact, I’ve used Zoom to record interviews for my vlog/podcast for nearly four years. It’s not always perfect, in fact, usually far from it. But you can do a few things to make it much better, both for yourself and other meeting attendees.
One on one meetings
These are the simplest, as you might imagine. The main goal is to have a well-lit image and to have sound that is easy to understand.
Video: lighting is probably not critical on small intimate meetings. Not a big deal. But if you want better lighting, experiment. Some people like to go all out and purchase lights, such as ring lights, and get a green screen for a background so they can put up a fantastic scene behind them. Not that important. Cool, maybe, but in a sense it’s a distraction. Natural light usually works best, unless its backlight. If you are sitting in front of a window with daylight coming through, and your face is not well-lit, your meeting guest will see you almost as a silhouette. Close the blinds and get some light on your face.
Audio: If you can avoid using the microphone on your laptop or desktop, do it. I use a USB microphone with its own headphone plug. That way I get a good sound both for the recording and for the guest. If I can get the guest to use something other than their laptop microphone, their sound will usually improve. Not everyone has, or wants, a USB microphone, so you have to make do with what’s available. Often the sound from AirPods or the microphone from a pair of earbuds works well. Or at least better than the sound from a laptop microphone. The other downside of using the built-in microphone and speakers from a laptop is that the sound your guest hears isn’t as good as it might be with headphones of some sort.
If you’ve got a meeting with more than a dozen or so people, know where your MUTE button is. It’ll come in handy when some guest has a barking dog nearby, or a train going by, or someone with a leaf blower outside their window. And yes, it’ll happen.
Mute yourself as well, when it’s not your turn to talk.
More Tips and Tools
Wirecutter’s article Use Zoom Like A Pro includes a lot of other items such as screen sharing, silencing desktop notifications, Zoom’s scheduling features, and keeping unwanted guests out of meetings. Lots of good tips here, worth a read.
Other Things to Remember
I upgraded to the latest version of Zoom in the past few weeks and was caught off guard with a new feature: the waiting room. It took me a few moments to realize that I had to manually allow guests into the Zoom room, when prior to that a new guest just showed up with video and audio on.
Also, when you log in now, you’re asked to join the audio. It’s a button at the lower left side of the app. If you don’t do that, other people won’t be able to hear you and they’ll just have to wave at you until you figure it out.
Keep pets and children out of the room. Yeah, right. Not always possible. But let other household members know that you’ve got a Zoom meeting coming up and need the space and time to make it happen.
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.
One of the most valuable aspects of tradeshow marketing is
the ability to reach markets you would not normally be able to reach. In fact,
it’s what has helped Bob’s Red Mill grow through the years. Bob Moore, the
iconic Bob of the company, recognized early that by exhibiting at regional and
national tradeshows, they could get their products into markets that would
otherwise be extremely difficult to crack.
It means going to the right shows where attendees are from
companies that can ramp up distribution, that can become good partners. It
means making those connections and deepening them over the years so that your
products are valuable to them, and their ability to distribute into outlets
that you would have a difficult time doing on an individual basis is valuable
to both parties.
Yes, selling and making connections at tradeshows is
important. But one of the most important things to recognize is that once you meet
and acquire a partner there, part of the purpose of the show is to use it as a
platform to introduce new products. Not only that, but when you’re in those longer
conversations with partners, you can dig deeper into what’s important to them
and their end users, the consumers. Feedback is critical not only to making
sure the right products are being created and manufactured, but for keeping the
lines of communication open and honest. When problems come up, if you have a
good partner, the communication can be candid, and problems can be addressed.
Often a tradeshow is the only face-to-face meeting that partners have each
year, and the value of meeting and shaking hands and seeing people in person
cannot be overstated.
Use the tradeshow as a way to find and open new markets. Keep in mind that relationships will solidify as time goes by and the face-to-face communication is an important part of those relationships. Which you get when you sit down across the table at a tradeshow.