By: Susan DeMatei
All indicators suggest we will continue our social distancing well in 2021, which means the late winter trade shows in North America will be chiefly virtual this year. The vast majority of us have never attended a virtual trade show, let alone hosted a booth in one. So, as we all venture into this new virtual age together, let’s discuss what to expect, how to prepare, and how to “walk through the virtual exhibition hall” to get the most out of this year’s upcoming events.
BEFORE THE CONFERENCE
Try The Software: Your virtual conference will use an online tool you may not have downloaded or used before. Nothing is more frustrating than missing the first 10 minutes because you had to download and install an application. Don’t wait until the morning of the conference to download the software; check that it works on your computer and that you have sufficient bandwidth and a working camera and microphone.
Ideally, during the weeks before the conference, take a quick tour of features and set up your profile name and company name so you can present your best self to the other attendees. If you already have the software on your computer, review the settings. This is not the time to be logged in as your spouse or child. If you have a profile section, fill it out, and upload a picture of yourself. Remember, this is your “face” to your industry colleagues.
Plan Your Calendar: Just because you’re not traveling physically, that doesn’t mean you mentally get to check out. People attend trade shows to participate in live sessions, make appointments, network, and look for new potential partners on the trade show floor. Make sure you block out time for each of these goals. Tell your co-workers and family that you are unavailable during these times.
When you build your schedule, pay attention to live versus recorded sessions. If your day gets full, save the recorded segments for later times and dates.
Virtual conferences aren’t just for learning – networking is possible even through a computer. Set up appointments before the event with colleagues. Attend happy hours or breakout sessions with other attendees. And don’t forget to give yourself some open time to browse content other attendees bring.
Build-in Breaks: One thing you would do naturally is sit down and have a cup of coffee or grab lunch when you’re attending a trade show. Don’t forget to build these in for your virtual tradeshow. These are your responsibility to include and are essential to allow you your brain to change pace to context shift from one activity to another. To keep yourself energized, try to vary activities – so schedule networking or “virtual coffee appointments” in between sessions where you’re listening for long periods.
Consider attending with colleagues to boost your social engagement during the conference. You can accomplish this by communicating with each other between sessions or schedule a meeting afterward to share key takeaways and discuss how what you’ve learned might impact your work. You can also chat with people with Microsoft Teams or Slack during presentations. But be careful you don’t have too many channels going simultaneously, which will distract rather than focus your attention.
DURING THE CONFERENCE
Accessing Booths and Exhibits: When you register, you’ll create an account with a secure username and password. At a later date, the conference should send you an invitation email containing a unique link to the virtual trade show. When the time comes for the event to begin, click the link and sign in.
The conference should greet you with a welcome page, which may appear like you entered an actual lobby with people conversing and meeting. It should guide you into the exhibition hall, where you will find dozens of booths. Click on each booth to see what their services are, chat with an associate from that business, see a brief demo, and ask any kinds of questions you might have. You can also book a video chat appointment, or a booth might invite you to book a 1-1 time later that day. If you do schedule an appointment, the conference tool should track that and notify you via email. You can click on the various parts of the screen to access the exhibit hall, auditorium, or info desk.
If you need help, there will be a technical help desk where you can speak with an event organizer directly or have questions answered about policies, terms, or the event in general.
Attending Keynotes and Presentations: Like any trade show, the conference will provide you with a booth map, a session schedule, and speaker bios. The difference here is this information will be accessible in the main navigation of the website versus on a printed program.
If you have decided to attend speaker sessions, make sure you know the link/location for the talk and be there on time. Live notifications will appear on your screen with reminders about upcoming panels or keynote sessions so that you don’t miss them.
Overall Tips For Attendance:
1. Participate: It may be tempting to remain an anonymous voyeur, but you’ll get so much more out of the session if you reach out to others:
• Introduce yourself in session chats.
• Contribute to discussions and ask questions.
• There’s usually a networking lounge to connect with other attendees per session where you can talk through group or individual chats.
• Participate with hashtags to continue the conversation on social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and Twitter.
2. Pause: Zoom exhaustion is real when you are staring at a screen watching video presentations for too long without taking any breaks. You can get very tired, so a good recommendation is to periodically take a short break, stand up, walk around and get some food or something to drink. That way, you’ll get the most out of the event with those brief, regular breaks throughout the day.
3. Focus: You’ll have to work a little harder than you would if you were physically there to be present.
• Take written notes. The act of writing allows your brain another way of remembering than just auditory or visual cues. It also makes you take your fingers off the keyboard, which signals your brain to focus on the screen.
• Take screengrabs of interesting charts or items to refer to later.
• Watch in full screen, and turn off all alerts, so you don’t get pulled into an update on social media or an email.
4. Stretch: Did we mention breaks? We will suggest it again. It is essential to get up and move every hour to give your brain a quick recharge.
AFTER THE CONFERENCE
Most people plan on watching some of the on-demand sessions, but they rarely do. If you have recordings on your plan, schedule time to watch them within a week to keep the context and connections fresh. Also, reach out to your new contacts and review any downloaded videos or PDFs from vendors that first week after the conference.
Above all, adjust your expectation that you’ll be passively watching other people online in your PJs at home. If you actively include yourself in virtual conferences and are committed to focused participation, you’ll be surprised by all the rewards you’ll find.
Susan DeMatei is the President of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California. www.wineglassmarketing.com