The Future of In-Person Trade Shows


Hybrid trade shows may become the trade shows of the future since the technology for delivering a top-notch experience, regardless of whether an attendee is at the show or connecting remotely, is advancing rapidly. But even though virtual events kept us connected through the pandemic, the need for in-person connections has never been stronger. So, while it will make sense to ensure that your products can be experienced virtually and that your branding lends itself to digital spaces, you’ll also need to reinvent your in-person experience to focus on engagement in ways that draw people to your events.


The trade show of the future will be different, however. In the Inc. article “What You Need to Know About the Future of Trade Shows,” CEO Jim Schleckser explained:


In the past, it was imperative to have a strong presence at trade shows as suppliers and customers. You needed to staff your booth with enough people to handle all the connections you needed to make, or you needed a big enough team to cover all the potential vendors in the room. Those days are over. In-person events will be much smaller moving forward.


Revolutionizing the Trade Show

What will draw people to an in-person event? The key to effective trade shows for the future may require you to examine the type of space you have, the experience you intend to deliver to people who attend the show, and how you use the time you have with the people who attend. If the in-person experience is no different than what attendees could experience online, what would be the motivation for attending in person?


"Let's stop bemoaning decreased attendance and missing aisle carpet,” charged Travis Stanton, editor-in-chief of EXHIBITOR magazine, in the Aug/Sept 2022 issue article entitled “Resolve to Reset.” “It's time to accept our new reality and make the most of it. Doing anything else is holding on too tightly to the past, which won't serve us well personally or professionally."


So now that we’re back to in-person events, how do we get people to attend in person?


Give Them a Reason to Travel

People are aching to travel again. Give them a reason to. Stanton advises us:

Understand [that] your audience is ravenously seeking connection. As such, in-person experiences and authentic engagements are more essential than ever. If you go into 2022 shows with your 2019 playbook, you're either irrational or lazy. Times have changed, and your approach to engaging, qualifying, and conversing with booth visitors mut shift as well.


Embrace the Opportunity to Redefine Your Goals

"[Marketers] need to recalibrate [their] objectives,” explains Stanton.


If there are fewer attendees walking the aisles, perhaps you need to direct your attention away from amassing a certain quantity of leads and instead rethink your strategy to attract higher-quality leads, establish more authentic connections, learn more about prospects' challenges, a better understand how you can meet their wants and needs.


The future of trade shows will certainly look different, but it is an exciting time to be involved in the industry. I, for one, plan to go with Stanton’s advice to “let go of the past, embrace optimism, and focus on the future.”

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