By: Robyn Davis, Exhibitors WINH LLC
Statistics have shown that exhibitors are not having the best experience with virtual events yet; however, if you’re a trade show organizer who depends on exhibitor involvement (and investment) to keep your organization running smoothly, you’ll need to help them overcome the challenges they’re experiencing… as least for as long as you’re hosting virtual or hybrid events.
One of the best places to start in building their trust, renewing their commitments, and improving their experience is with open and honest communication. Specifically, here are three of the most important topics you can discuss with your exhibitors prior to your next virtual trade show:
1. How does your system work, logistically?
Although, as the events community, we have a common language and expectation for the concept of a traditional/in-person trade show, that isn’t the case for online/digital/virtual events yet… so, you’ll need to teach your exhibitors what you mean when you say there are options for things like “networking,” “appointments,” or an “exhibit hall” (and what steps they need to take to get themselves/their teams set up properly in your system, so they can access each of those components).
2. How can your exhibitors use your system to their benefit, strategically?
Very few exhibitors receive any formal, strategic training for face-to-face trade shows and, so far, it appears that even fewer exhibitors have received any formal, strategic training for their virtual trade shows… so, they’ll need your help to understand how to make the most of the platform you’ve selected in order to achieve their goals in key areas like engagement/interaction, attendee motivation and traffic generation, value opportunities/proving ROI, and others.
3. What’s missing from your system, that they’d normally be able to do in person and/or that they might be expecting to do online? How can they fill those gaps?
This is the topic that you may feel the most resistant to – after all, part of your job is to sell “virtual booth space,” right? You may even be wondering… If you’re telling exhibitors about the shortcomings of your system, won’t that discourage them from participating? In my experience, the answer is no. Exhibitors have been feeling as frustrated by all of the forced, last-minute “pivoting” as you have and, in my experience, they appreciate when event organizers are more transparent and honest with them.
The reality is that every virtual system has some gaps (no online experience could “match” the face-to-face experience in every single way); but, by explaining how you chose your platform – what you liked the most about it (or what you thought would be the most helpful) and what weak spots you’ve identified – you’ll be setting better expectations for your exhibitors. By going back through your logistics and strategic trainings to incorporate actionable ideas and workarounds for each weak spot (or to make up for each benefit/opportunity that’s now missing), you’ll be empowering your exhibitors to accomplish more in this unfamiliar and constantly evolving environment.
Across the board, exhibitors are struggling with virtual trade shows. They need your help to see (and, ultimately, obtain) the value of exhibiting at your online event. It may not be your responsibility to discuss these topics with them – it may not feel comfortable or easy – but, it is in your best interest to do so. You, alongside your extended team, have an opportunity to alleviate some of the stress and overwhelm exhibitors are feeling… An open and honest discussion, including these three important topics, is a great place to start.
Through her company, Exhibitors WINH LLC, Robyn partners with event organizers to teach their exhibitors the strategies required to win at trade shows, ultimately improving exhibitor engagement, satisfaction, and retention through her award-winning exhibitor success programs. For more helpful advice and insights, plan to attend Robyn’s upcoming educational session on “Working with Exhibitors in a Virtual World” at Expo! Expo! 2020 or request to connect with Robyn on LinkedIn.