2022 Is Emerging as the Year of the Hybrid Trade Show

June 22, 2022

Geoffrey Wellen

Geoffrey Wellen is the chief customer care officer at 6Connex, a leading provider of in-person, hybrid and virtual event technology for enterprises worldwide.

Trade shows are back. Kind of.   

While the pandemic put the kybosh on trade shows for the better part of two years, conference and event organizers, as well as meeting planners and associations, ushered in 2022 with a sense of optimism. After all, trade shows couldn’t be put on hold indefinitely. There were sales pipelines to fill, products to announce and customer relationships to maintain. The belief among many was that trade shows could be scheduled, organized and executed just like the good old days of 2019.  

And trade shows are forging ahead to pre-pandemic times. Kind of.  

The pent-up demand has some trade show attendees racing to convention centers. But show organizers have realized in the first several months of 2022 that many people are not ready for big in-person events, as well as how useful and convenient virtual or hybrid conferences have become over the last 24 months. The result is that trade show planners saw big drops in on-site attendance for conferences so far this year while maintaining sizable audiences online. 

Lessons learned under the shadow of the pandemic, when many ambitious organizations hosted myriad hybrid events, will continue to be put into use as hybrid trade shows are now the norm.  Here’s a list of lessons for conference and trade show organizers to keep in mind when planning hybrid events:

Take advantage of virtual and hybrid events’ flexibility.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to event formats, which allows for an infinite mix and match of trade show activities. Audiences can be at home and in person. Speakers can be on-site and off-site. Entertainment can be live and pre-recorded. You can even host one large event, such as an industry expo, composed of both in-person and virtual mini-events and activities: virtual networking events, live golf outings, pre-recorded presentations, live entertainment (that is both live broadcast and recorded for later viewing), live and virtual exhibit halls. The secret to success is embracing the agility of these formats. If you bring virtual and in-person event elements together in a thoughtful way, you can’t go wrong. 

Spend time on the agenda. 

To engage as many attendees as possible, regardless of how they participate, event organizers need to build an agenda that keeps in-person and virtual audiences equally involved. Remember that hybrid events are likely to attract participants with different attendance objectives. Therefore, it’s important to build an agenda that meets multiple needs.  

·      Pro Tip: Consider shortening session duration to 20-30 minutes, since studies show attention spans online are abbreviated. Presentations, expert panels, breakout sessions and networking events all keep attendees moving between content and activities and create an active event flow. And be sure to consider the length of the live event schedule. A hybrid event agenda of 10 a.m.–4 p.m. might work better than the traditional 8 a.m.–6 p.m. schedule of in-person events.

Assess where technology can add value before, during and after the event.

When planning a trade show, map the end-to-end attendee experience for both in-person participants as well as virtual participants. Identify “technology touchpoints” in each journey, trying to create as much overlap as possible.

·      Pro Tip: Prior to the trade show, use a single registration platform for physical and virtual attendees. Provide all attendees with a digital badge in the form of a QR code, which can be scanned at sponsor booths, attendee sessions, etc., so that you are tracking all attendee behavior in a like-to-like fashion.  

Teach virtual attendees how to use the event technology. 

Sure, “Zoom” is now a verb in most people’s vocabulary, but also consider that some innovative apps designed specifically for trade shows may be unfamiliar to participants. Therefore, when planning a hybrid or virtual event, consider how best to over-communicate instructions for virtual participants to ensure everyone has access to the platform and can take full advantage of the activities within it. This may come in the form of a pre-recorded tutorial or by encouraging your sponsors to assign a live “host” at each virtual booth, who interacts with the visitors and walks them through how to download content or participate in a booth activity.

Create moments of connection for virtual attendees.

Virtual attendees don’t have the physical advantage of running into colleagues or collecting swag at sponsors’ booths. Therefore, put a little elbow grease into making these moments happen. Answer the question: How can we satisfy remote attendees’ appetites for what they’re missing? Then, identify ways to make this happen. This can include building virtual networking breaks into the agenda; sending “welcome packages” to all virtual registrants with T-shirts, coffee mugs and trade show collateral; or sponsoring virtual scavenger hunts or contests, where attendees are encouraged to visit various booths or participate in activities in the virtual venue.  

The most successful hybrid trade shows are ones where the event planners embrace a motto of “give your audience as many ways as possible to enjoy virtual content.” You want to give enough so everyone feels included, which may mean overdoing it. 

In closing, while virtual and hybrid events sustained trade show calendars during the pandemic, the reality is that these approaches are here to stay for several reasons:

1. The technology to deliver trade show experiences online has improved.

2. Many participants found that virtual events are just as useful and much more convenient. They are more than just a glorified Zoom call for 6-8 hours. 

3. Done right, hybrid events are excellent vehicles for attracting and engaging new customers, showcasing products, promoting industry experts’ thought leadership, expanding event sponsorships and so much more. 

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.