How to exhibit at a virtual event

By 10th July 2020Events, General, Marketing
How to exhibit at a virtual event

Coronavirus has seen live conferences and exhibitions cancelled for the foreseeable future. Event organisers are scrambling to pivot their physical face-to-face events to virtual events. In this post we explore the many positives of exhibiting at a virtual event. We also include a few things to consider so that you can make the most of your presence.

A quick overview of what you can expect in this piece:
– The positives of a virtual event
– Questions to ask the organiser so you can know what you’re committing to
– Planning your attendance
– What you can do to make the most of the event in the lead up, on the day and once the event is over.

Understandably, many companies are finding these times challenging. Whilst virtual events won’t be a substitute for face-to-face interaction, they will bring alternative opportunities to engage with your target audience. Event organisers are working hard to ensure that the virtual event experience is of value to both delegate and exhibitor.

Here are a few clear positives:
1. Visibility in a time of crisis is crucial. Having a presence at a virtual conference will show you’re still there for your clients and prospects. Also, when physical events return, you will have benefitted from increased brand awareness.

2. Reduced cost, so fairly low risk. No need to send your staff, marketing materials or printed literature to the far reaches of the country (or planet). While we are big believers in physical events, as ‘people buy people’, a physical stand is unnecessary thereby reducing cost. Virtual events are often cheaper to sponsor too.

3. More environmentally friendly – less travel and waste reducing your carbon footprint.

4. You may find you have greater reach. Sitting behind your laptop may also give you a geographically wider audience base. People who were unable to visit the live face-to-face conference may be available to attend the virtual conference instead. Win-win!

5. Great opportunity to try something different. As marketers there’s nothing more exciting than getting out the creative toolbox and trying something new.

6. No physical discomfort. Your feet won’t be sore after days of standing.

“Whilst virtual events won’t be a substitute for face-to-face interaction, they will bring alternative opportunities to engage with your target audience.”

Questions to ask the organiser
So, your physical conference has been cancelled, and there’s a possibility to exhibit at the virtual event instead. What questions should you ask the organiser to make sure you know what you’re committing your resources to?

Q1. Has the organiser ever run a virtual event before? If so, what were their experiences? If they have organised one before, they should be able to give you valuable feedback. Ask them what has worked well for exhibitors in the past.

Q2. Is it free to attend for delegates and is it open to anyone or is attendance strictly controlled?

Q3. What will the format of the day be? How will they keep the attendees’ attention? By understanding this you can prepare your resource and action plan accordingly.

Q4. Does the virtual conference platform work across all devices?

Q5. What does a virtual exhibition stand look like? How will you be able to proactively generate leads? What functionality will be available to you? i.e. can you host video, video conference calls, PDF downloads, private chat and demos from your virtual stand?

Q7. What sponsor promotion will there be in the lead up to the event?

Q6. What attendee data will be available to you post event?

Planning your attendance
Once you’ve decided to go ahead, then something similar to your usual planning for a conference can begin… perhaps with a few differences? It’s worth thinking about the best way to get your message of support across to clients and prospects. Video tends to have the best engagement rate and 88% of marketers reported that video gives them a positive ROI according to the Wyzowl State of Video Marketing 2020 survey. However, you need to look at your in-house resource and capabilities.

Whatever format you choose, the content that sees the best results is carefully crafted with your audience in mind. You also need to consider that a message that may have once struck a chord with clients and prospects may now be inappropriate, for example, due to coronavirus. Your messaging should be memorable and impactful and your content should be relatable, written for humans, insightful and educational. As with a physical conference, make the most of the build up by having a pre-event social media campaign to promote your attendance.

“You also need to consider that a message that may have once struck a chord with clients and prospects may now be inappropriate...”

Preparation is key
If delegates are able to contact you during the live virtual event in real time, think about pre-preparing communications. Make life easier by drafting messages that could be used in a sequence to begin conversations. Also, perhaps compile a list of questions that can be asked to understand a delegate’s situation and pain points? This will be especially useful if dealing with multiple enquiries in one go.  Think about members of your team who are the best people to do this accurately – perhaps under time pressure. Have a back-up plan for any technical difficulties such as home internet issues. If possible, have a run through to make sure the team understands the platform functionality and is comfortable with their defined roles/responsibilities.

On the day
Much like a physical event, what you put in will be what you get out of it. If you’re used to being passive on your stand, then your chances of success will be slim. You should be proactive in engaging with delegates on the platform by encouraging delegates to visit your virtual stand to find out more about how you can help them. A bit like networking in person, you don’t just walk up to someone and try to sell them something, you try to find out more about them and their needs. It’s the same in the virtual world.

In your preparations you will have crafted messaging that resonates, focusing more on empathy and how you can help clients and prospects rather than hard selling them the feature/benefits of a product or service. As with a physical event, being present at the event is only a part of the total opportunity for reach, so have a member of the team active on social media with messages surrounding the event too.

Post event exposure and follow up
Once the event is over and digital devices are put away for the day, be sure to post your final wrap up messages on social media. You can repurpose content you used from the event to show what people missed.  Follow up with attendees that you communicated with or who opted to find out more, where appropriate. The good news is, unless you’ve been walking around with your laptop, your feet shouldn’t hurt!

Events may look different than we are used to, and whilst a virtual event is not necessarily a substitute for face-to-face interaction, planning, pre-event promotion and post-event activities aren’t dissimilar. It may be that in the short-term we see a hybrid physical events with virtual events as interim measures. Now is a great time to be involved in mastering how virtual exhibitions work, so make the most of the opportunities that they may bring whilst looking forward to the days when we can meet safely in real life once again.

If you would like help or advice with your event strategy, please don’t hesitate to contact us or call us directly on +44 (0) 1730 719 600.

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Author Charlotte

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