The Future of Trade Shows, Part II

July 5, 2021
The Future of Trade Shows, Part II

A walk down memory lane might do some good when pondering the road ahead for trade shows.

Channing Muller, a public relations specialist in the events industry, thinks back to her days playing SimCity when it first emerged in the 1990s. She wasn’t alone. The game in which players created their own environment, filled with different zones, and then explored it for hours at a time, captivated millions on the internet. “Now people can do that for business,” said Muller.

Intrado Digital Media President Ben Chodor, meanwhile, turns to the times he’d watch the big screen at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York. After a movie screened, filmmakers and actors would do a live Q&A going behind-the-scenes of the production. “They were making it a real immersive experience,” recalled Chodor of the offering only available to those who attended that very screening. 

What does a video game and movie showing have to do with events? Potentially a great deal. The above scenarios are the building blocks of two ways in which a digital component can be incorporated into a three-day trade show. 

Oculus and other virtual/augmented reality technologies make it possible to create digital trade shows where attendees, or more accurately their avatars, visit and do business with exhibitors. And flipping the switch on Chodor’s experience, unique experiences such as interviews and backstage anecdotes are increasingly popular methods to directly engage remote audiences.

Yes, trade shows are coming back — perhaps faster than imagined. But there’s no going back to the pre-pandemic formula, said keynote speaker and event consultant Bob Mitchell, who has an extensive media background. “It’s no longer the circus that comes to town,” he said. “Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. There’s a little bit of reckoning going on, but it’s a healthy reckoning.”

Health and safety concerns will not be the only obstacles organizers overcome to fill convention centers and expo halls. Smaller corporate travel budgets and new office workflows developed during the pandemic will force some CEOs to send fewer staff on-site to a trade show. How the event company responds to its online community may do as much for brand loyalty as the physical event itself.

As we continue our look into the future (see Part 1 here), TSNN sought out several event professionals to explore how technology will be integrated into trade shows.

Virtual Maintains the Connection.

“We will see F2F events come back but they will be more purposeful due to slashed travel budgets and increased restrictions,” said John D’Adamo, heads of USA Sales for VenuIQ. So even if an event stays strictly physical during the show, it will behoove all parties to maintain a connection online the rest of the year. Companies like Cvent, Juno, Glisser, Swapcard and more are among the many touting the ability to create a 365-day ecosystem. 

Sam Lippman, president and founder of Lippman Connects who has more than 35 years of hands-on experience producing exhibitions and conventions, noted this will be more important —  and successful — for certain industries and sectors. An example would be a group looking to purchase a large machine every five or six years, and therefore does not need to be on top of the latest trends. But a technology-based organization should already be hardwired into the idea of maintaining connections year-round via a device.

Content Will Be Bite-Sized.

David Stevens, director of global events and field marketing at Alation, said a lot of criticism over virtual events is due to the misuse of technology. “Let's rethink what we did instead of doing the same old thing,” he said. “You have a new situation but you applied the old rules, and your old way of thinking didn't work. Surprise, surprise.”

For instance, rather than broadcast all of the education and general sessions as they happen, planners should condense them into “digestible” segments, Chodor suggested. Arguing content is king, he said the ultimate purpose will be to allow the event to live on for days, weeks and even months. Watch how TV shows like “Saturday Night Live” break up episodes into separate YouTube clips and how Netflix encourages the swift transition to related material and you have a jumping off point.

Furthermore, intermixing behind-the-scenes elements with what on-site attendees witnessed adds value to remote audiences. 

Sponsors Will Dictate Progress.

Want to know where shows are headed? Follow the advice Deep Throat gave Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: “Follow the money.” For events, that means the clients pouring cash into the show are ultimately going to dictate the pace of digital evolution. “Sponsors will begin to drive the experience, instead of buying into one,” said US Bank Event Marketing Strategist Jodi Reichstadt.

Chodor agrees, and said limiting exposure to in-person gatherings won’t make much sense. “Sponsors, for the first time, are starting to go, ‘Whoa, I did this virtual event and it wasn't the same as physical but my branding lasted for a really long period,’” he said.

There Will Be a Battle Over Data.

Arguably the biggest benefit of virtual events is all the information that is captured, beginning at registration. There are more than enough companies to assist in that digital transition, but not all have the same philosophy over who owns the information. 

A preview of this debate played out at the all-digital UFI European Conference in June. During a striking panel, CEOs of major leading platforms laid out competing visions. ExpoPlatform founder and CEO Tanya Pinchuk argued event organizers are entitled to full and exclusive use of their data, an opinion shared by Grip CEO Tim Groot. 

“I think the only genuine way to prove that the data will not be used in any way other than we meant to use it, is to have this written in our agreement,” Pinchuk said.

However, Swapcard President and CEO Baptiste Boulard argued that platforms should control the data. Swapcard, he said, maintains the records for three years and only deletes it when an attendees doesn’t sign on to an event powered by Swapcard for another three years.

Gamification Will Take on Different Forms.

Scoring points and awarding prizes based off of event app engagement is about as far gamification goes now. But if Muller is right with her SimCity comparison, it is going to get a lot more interesting. “Software developers have proven they can create virtual experiences for trade shows that will provide additional reach for both event hosts and exhibitors,” she said.

But not everyone is convinced we’re about to dive into video game territory. “I’m not avatar-driven,” admitted Chodor. “It’s something you enjoy the first 10 minutes into it, but no one has perfected the maneuvering.”

There Will Be Failure.

That’s OK. No one quite knows how everything will play out. And what works for one group may not be right for another. “This year is harder than last year,” said Mitchell. “Last year, it was either you pivot to virtual or you cancel. Now there are so many choices.”

Photo Caprtion: The Birdly VR Experience is an example of engaging new technology at booths.

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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.