One of the most popular and effective ways to promote your business, learn about industry trends, network and build relationships with vendors and customers is through trade shows and conferences. At Red Maple, we regularly attended the National Retail Federation show each January in New York as well as several other technology and retail industry shows. The last big event we participated in as an exhibitor live was the NRF conference in January 2020 in New York City. Soon after that, everything changed and shifted. When COVID-19 swept across the country in early 2020, the trade show industry came to a screeching halt. From large corporations to non-profits to professional organizations and associations, thousands of groups had to cancel or postpone their trade show, conference or convention.
Many industries and organizations made a pivot, moving events online with virtual conferences, meetings and even smaller “trade shows” taking center stage online throughout 2020 and into 2021. This past year, more groups started hosting live events again with COVID safety protocols and often smaller attendance, some by design and others by necessity.
As we move into a new year and new challenges with the pandemic has left many groups many are wondering what the trade show/event landscape will look like in 2022 and beyond.
- Smaller, more focused events: This is one trend that you could see across many industries. Instead of large, broad-based conferences, there will be smaller more focused events. As businesses face struggles with staffing and logistics, they need events that provide a strong ROI. Trade shows will be more focused on the needs of its customers. In addition, some associations will bring their show on the road with shorter, smaller events in various cities. This will make it easier for attendees to get there.
- Safety and sustainability: According to experts at BizBash, which is a news organization that covers the event industry, many event organizers and planners are requiring COVID vaccinations and/or testing for participants and that has helped the event industry host more in-person events. That is a trend that is expected to continue as well as more safety standards such as contactless check in and digital badges. In addition to COVID safety, sustainability is also a top priority for the industry. This renewed focus is due to two main factors: November’s United Nation’s Climate Change Conference and the Joint Meetings Industry Council’s Net Zero Pledge. As we move into 2022 and beyond, more events will focus on promoting eco-friendly events with COVID related safety policies and procedures.
- Experiences and incentives: For many reasons, those who attend conferences, conventions and trade shows are going to be more discerning about which events they will attend. Many companies and organizations now have time restrictions and limited financial resources. Because of that, event organizers are focusing on more meaningful experiences that truly offer benefit to their attendees. Instead of big, flashy experiences, they will be more smaller gatherings that are more focused and intentional To motivate people to attend in person event, there needs to a key incentive: worthwhile schedule of events that offer true opportunities to connect with others in the industry; interactive and informative sessions and again – special experiences.
- Hybrid events are here to stay: Chances are you participated in at least one virtual event or conference since the pandemic began in early 2020. Then as events started to pivot back to in person, many groups began organizing hybrid events – a mix of in-person and virtual sessions. Offering a virtual aspect at an event also broadens the potential audience reach as those who could not swing the travel can now participate from the comfort of their office or home.
Whether you are planning to attend an event in person, virtually or participate in a hybrid event, there are a few key steps to take to choose the best events for your company or organization and to ensure you are getting a good return on your investment.
- Budget: Determine what your budget is for a trade show or conference. Include travel costs, meals, special client dinners etc. If you are planning on being an exhibitor, determine your budget for booth space, marketing materials, videos, etc.
- Goals and objectives: What is your overall goal for attending the conference? Are you promoting a product or service, planning a launch, or is more geared toward training and education? Once you determine the main goal for attending a conference, set some measurable objectives. For example: return with 10 qualified leads.
- Make a list: Once you have determined your overall goals, make a list of potential events that will help you reach your goals and objectives. Then research the events: their focus, date and location, programming, exhibitors, attendees etc. Create a spreadsheet to compare the events and determine which you can attend
- Review the schedule of events: Review what is on the agenda of the different trade shows/events/conferences on your list. What topics are they covering? Who are the speakers, panelists/presenters? What opportunities are there for networking and meeting with prospective clients or partners?
- Check attendee List: Find out who else will be attending the conference, including who will be exhibiting. Are they from companies or organization that are potential clients, partners or vendors? Are the speakers or presenters, experts in your industry who can provide strong educational or training opportunities?
The good news is that the event industry has adjusted well to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and have made changes and improvements that could bring more meaningful and rewarding experiences for you and your team members.