In a world where the show must go on, a new and increasingly popular avenue is virtual conferences. We are seeing many organizations adopt this method and hold informative, productive, and connective online events. Follow the tips and tricks below to get the most of out attending your association’s virtual conference.

#1: Treat It Like an In-person Show

While attending a virtual conference is not a direct substitute for an in-person conference, it is a still conference. You should plan your experience the same way you would for any conference to attain maximum productivity. Just like in-person events, virtual events still aim to connect association members with stakeholders, suppliers, and other association leaders across the country. A virtual conference still has all the aspects of your typical conference: trade show floor, professional development, networking, maybe even a social evening – you know the drill. The only difference is that you can attend from wherever you’d like!

#2: Make a Schedule

An in-person conference will likely be accompanied by a program. Between education session, exhibit hall hours, networking parties, and more, you are used to your trade show experience being planned for you. Since the exhibit hall and education sessions no longer have specific set times (except for live sessions), you can access anything you want at any time you want. But with this great power comes great responsibility. Be sure to learn about all the different aspects of the event before it starts; plan out which booths you’ll want to visit, which educations sessions you’d like to attend, and which social activities you’d like to participate in to ensure you are able to enjoy the full experience.

#3: Utilize the New Technology

Exhibitor booths are now virtual chat and/or video rooms. You can access each virtual booth from the “show floor” page and quickly connect with exhibitors at your leisure. From the show floor page, you can also see the number of visitors at a booth, indicating whether the booth staff are occupied. When it comes time to meet with exhibitors, utilize any notetaking features the platform may offer. Be sure to “scan” your badge to exchange contact info for follow-ups and make the most of a video or chat conversation by capitalizing on your unique one-on-one time. Suppliers appreciate virtual booths that allow for more focused and uninterrupted conversations with visitors, so take advantage of this one-on-one time!

#4: Enjoy the Experience

We know the platform may be intimidating at first but with a few simple clicks, you can find yourself in a chat lounge connecting with association friends, closing a deal with a new partner or (if your platform has been gamified) collecting points and finding yourself on the top of the leaderboard! There are so many new and fun aspects of virtual conferences. You can easily spend your entire day online … and we won’t even know you’re wearing sweatpants.

#5: Follow-up with Leads, as Usual!

Once you make a connection with an exhibitor, organize a follow-up meeting to discuss finer details after the event. Many virtual platforms also allow you to take notes throughout the show and “scan” badges when you visit a booth. These notes and scans can be exported from the platform to make follow-ups even easier!

Please also read my colleague’s article on Zoom Fatigue to ensure that you’re not draining yourself over the course of a virtual event. To learn more about planning a virtual trade show or event for your association, read my colleague’s article, Association Trade Shows Gone Virtual.

Lessons Learned: Strauss’ First Virtual Trade Show

In mid-September 2020, a client with which we work held its first virtual trade show. The Promotional Product Professionals of Canada’s Natcon Virtual was a huge success and a big feat for Strauss. We learned a lot, grew a lot and, with the help of our technology partners at SAGE, ended up putting on a great two-day virtual trade show.

To sum up the show, our main takeaways were

  • The first steps of planning a virtual trade show are difficult and may seem grim; it may take a while to get association members and your board on board. However, it’s worth it in the end!
  • Exhibitors enjoyed the virtual platform much more than they originally thought they would; booth setup was simple, and the online platform allowed for more focused conversations
  • Attendees were pleasantly surprised with the ease of navigating the online platform and everyone appreciated reconnecting with their industry
  • There is always room to grow and improve based on the limited constructive criticisms we received. We will apply much of it to our next virtual endeavour

All in all, we are just like everyone in this new virtual world. We are still learning and will continue to learn as we plan further virtual conferences and events. Stay connected to the Strauss blog to learn about our more virtual journey.