Virtual Trade Shows: A Realistic Alternative to Business Travel?

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Jan 01, 1753

A Virtual Future

What exactly does the future hold for virtual shows? Those who have hosted such shows say they have plans to continue to build out this part of their business. Handley says MarketingProfs has two live events and two virtual events on the schedule for 2009, including the B2B 2.0 EXPO slated for March. "We’re definitely going to hold more of them and develop that part of the business," says Handley. Camahort Page and Myers say they will continue to host virtual shows as well.

Yet Ramos wonders if attendee enthusiasm will continue as more conference planners begin to take notice of this medium as a viable option. "Virtual trade shows are now a novelty," she says. "Once that novelty wears off, will we find that we still pay attention to the virtual?" She notes how the ability to attend virtual events on the spur of the moment could make them enticing to attendees. But on the other hand, will attendees pay attention to the content if they didn’t first have to pay attention to the details of attending a physical show that required them to make a commitment to pack a suitcase and leave the office? Time will certainly tell if attendees will be as committed to virtual events as many organizations are to further developing this format.

Interestingly, to continue the growth of the medium, organizations need to concentrate on the same areas that enable traditional physical shows to grow. To make virtual shows a continued success, companies must pay attention to the details, adds Ramos, such as the content, the execution of the show, and participation of the right exhibitors.

However, some aspects unique to a virtual show also require close attention. "You have to have security and server space," notes Camahort Page. You also have to have an understanding of your audience, and if they will truly accept the medium, adds Handley. At this point, it seems as if the benefits of virtual shows outweigh the drawbacks for many companies. If there is a time for companies to expand their virtual offerings, now appears to be it.

"If just on the green benefits and the cost savings, the time is right to experiment," says Ramos. Adds Camahort Page, "You need to allocate resources to this part of your conference; it will cost you money and resources." 

Elsevier plans to continue researching and experimenting with the virtual conference world. "It’s something we believe in," says Clear. "We’re doing this in a measured and controlled way. But my personal belief is that this will be a large part of our business and our conference business. Our growth is centered around the physical conference and introducing the virtual conference." 


A View From the Podium: Presenting at a Virtual Show

While virtual shows enable attendees to save travel dollars and time, conference presenters reap the same benefits. It also serves as an effective way in which to get their messages across to an interested audience.

Scott Gidley, CTO and co-founder of DataFlux, was a speaker last November at the DAMA-NCR Wilshire Virtual Symposium. He says getting ready for his presentation was no different than an in-person show, yet the travel component was vastly different. "We had a presentation to give, just like we would at a real-world show," says Gidley. "We didn’t have to worry about shipping a booth, getting travel arrangements, and finding time to get away from the office. So, from a cost and a time perspective, it was obviously different."

For a speaker, virtual shows certainly provide a less intimidating platform on which to speak compared to the podium placed in front of room full of people. However, Gidley notes that when you’re not in the same room as your audience, you don’t really know if you’re engaging your audience or if they’re even receiving your message. "Not being able to see the nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, heads nodding, note taking, is always difficult," says Gidley. "At a real-world show, you know if you are connecting with the audience. At a virtual one, you don’t know if the attendee is actively listening and taking notes or just passively listening and playing solitaire or checking emails."

Gidley says that he has received positive feedback from attendees. He feels that most people will take an hour out of their day to learn about a new technological offering if it doesn’t mean they have to leave their desks to do so.

However, Gidley says that if he could change one thing about the format it would be to enable attendees to interact with speakers throughout a presentation and not reserve that communication for the postpresentation Q&A session. "It doesn’t have to be a formal Q&A session, but the audience could use opportunities to say, ‘Wait a minute. You lost me at the last slide. What are you really trying to say?’" explains Gidley.

Like virtual show hosts, Gidley says that he will continue to support such events. "We won’t be replacing our physical trade show calendar with a virtual one, but we do see it as another way to get in front of interested people," he says.

Companies Featured in this Article:






Quest Software, Inc.


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