The Future of Hybrid Trade Shows and Events

August 11, 2020

Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts serves as CMO of PGi, where he is responsible for all marketing operations worldwide, driving growth opportunities and building brand recognition for the company within the communications market.

In-person events and trade shows are going virtual, a significant shift forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the question is, will these events remain virtual for the foreseeable future?

A recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll on PGi’s behalf found more than half (54%) of employed Americans who now work from home due to the pandemic said they are not comfortable going to large, in-person work-related conferences or events this year. This unwillingness to attend in-person events should come as no surprise.

Many organizations are saying that even when virtual events become physical again, they will require a hybrid approach so attendees have options to remain safe and comfortable. This means some aspects of the show, whether exhibitor booths, keynote speeches or networking gatherings, will remain virtual for greater access and reach.

Going virtual is not a sacrifice.

Organizations, both large and small, are transitioning physical events into digital experiences that are equally compelling and engaging. In addition to cutting travel and other show-related costs, attendees find this is a better way to attend an event, while hosts find such events often increase ROI and attendance. That’s because virtual events have the opportunity to be more engaging than in-person events, and they are often more scalable and can easily grow with an organization.

Planning and executing a virtual meeting is more than setting up a camera and hoping it goes according to plan. It requires the same planning and attention to detail — everything from a script for presenters to handouts for attendees and an agenda — to lock down third-party speakers, thought leaders and experts. 

The key to success.

Taking an event virtual isn’t just about executing it quickly. It’s about increasing the connection among attendees. To do that, first, take a moment to define the event’s goals and what you hope to accomplish. Then, create a program around those goals. 

It’s also imperative that an organization look at an event as the audience would. Look at the agenda, the sessions and the schedule’s flow to make sure the event is engaging. 

It also requires laying the groundwork for success before the event. Once the plan is in place, set aside time for ample preparation for everyone involved, including the speakers and the team members managing the technology, so the event itself goes as expected. 

The event is just the beginning.

Remember, the event should serve to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. As part of the process, consider what the post-event steps will be and decide how to launch them to not lose any momentum.

The shrewd organizations employ advanced analytics to measure success and understand how attendees engage with their brand. They also know they can create content based on an event, archive it on a microsite and re-engage post-event with attendees or reach new audiences who could not attend.

Done well, virtual events can lead to more immersive experiences for attendees, offer longevity through recordings and provide an even stronger sense of community.


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