Virtual Trade Shows: Will They Replace Face-To-Face Shows?

May 18, 2013

When it comes to “virtual trade shows”, I agree with Gertrude Stein’s long-ago observation: There is no there, there.

A virtual event and an in-person event can each be described as a “trade show”. True … and a TV turkey dinner and mom’s Thanksgiving turkey dinner are both “turkey dinners”.

There are virtues to “virtual”, but for some purposes, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Let me give you an example. I’m on the advisory board oftheCollegeof Socialand Behavioral Sciences at UMass Amherst, my alma mater.

At most meetings, at least one person attends “virtually”. Time and again I’ve witnessed the vast difference in the value of the same member’s input when he or she attends in person, as opposed to attending virtually.

Admittedly, attending a meeting or trade show virtually beats not attending at all. Time and money considerations may dictate the use of virtual technology in some instances.

I’ve asked two of my fellow advisory board members that have participated both in the flesh and from a distance for their insights:

“When I was based in Hong Kong, the comparison between my virtual and physical presence at board meetings in Amherst was, literally, night and day.  There is simply no substitute for being there.” - Ben Happ

"As a Board member for the past six years, one critical point stands out. The entire experience is much more positive when I attend in person. Dialing in from a remote site yields significantly less benefits. You must be there to make it happen.” - Kent Elwell

Our UMass board gets together for dinner the evening prior to each meeting. The  camaraderie produced at those dinners has resulted in a chemistry that makes the board meetings especially productive. You might be able to hold a virtual meeting, but a “virtual dinner”?

The points made by Ben and Kent are equally applicable to trade shows. Trade shows, after all, are meetings. They are meetings of buyers and sellers, of course. But buyers meet with other buyers, sellers with other sellers. It’s a community where we learn from one another. That’s not possible to replicate “virtually”.

(PDF) Download: Secrets to Help Attendees and Exhibitors Stay Connected after the Show

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