We’re 9 months on from the global exhibition industry practically shutting down and having now had a plethora of virtual events to endure, sorry I mean enjoy, we’re seeing some of the big learning’s emerge. You might have heard a number of early on-line events referred to as ”Just Getting It Done” – i.e. it was better to just do something to try and engage with an audience of a postponed or cancelled show, than do nothing. And I think we can all agree that those early iterations weren’t exactly shining example of stunning engagement or memorable experiences (although I know a huge amount of hard work went into them). As I’ve said before in Blogs, they were created out of necessity as opposed to any kind or organic desire. They were however, brilliant learning platforms for organisers, exhibitors AND visitors about how to prepare for, engage with and benefit from virtual events… after all, even when live events do resume, we’re likely to see virtual playing a much bigger role in Hybrid events of the future. So what have we learnt and how does it help you as an exhibitor prepare for life on the other side?


Spend 15 minutes researching how the industry is responding to virtual events and you’ll find there are some pretty consistent themes coming out around data and content i.e. what visitor’s are sharing and what they’re consuming. There are lots of data sources, but I’m a fan of the Explori / UFI State of the Nation research completed earlier this year. It’s worth having a watch of the Exhibition Marketer’s Masterclass for some top-notch insight but for me there were two key outakes:

  • Visitor Satisfaction at Virtual Events was slightly higher than for Live (3.88 vs 3.86)
  • Exhibitor ROI was lower for Virtual events than for Live (2.33 vs 3.07)

So if we don’t think the early virtual exhibitions were great, why did visitor’s seem so happy with them? This and other research suggests that visitors were mainly looking to consume content at virtual events. Many were on furlough and able to participate in ‘self-development’ workshops or conferences, but couldn’t engage in conversations with exhibitors that might constitute ‘work’. Many businesses were working but in recovery mode and looking to learn about how to get through this, but with cash flow tight weren’t in a position to buy. So for visitors, they were looking for content and they got it by the buckets-load – but in a fairly bland and un-engaging way (we’ve all seen those endless days of webinar after webinar). For these visitors, meeting exhibitors and networking was secondary and many hadn’t yet grasped the tactics or the etiquette of how to be an on-line visitor that was of any value to exhibitors. So no wonder exhibitors weren’t happy – but it’s absolutely not all the organisers fault. Whilst some of the early platforms didn’t have the capability to do more than offer a link to a website and off-line messaging, we have seem some fantastic developments in event tech that are now delivering much better networking, seamless interaction and live experiences. But as I said right at the top, so what? What does any of this mean or matter if you’re planning for a 2021 show that is now likely to have if not a total, then at least a partial virtual element?


We’re hearing increasingly from event organisers that virtual platforms are generating more data than ever, reaching wider audiences globally and new domestic audiences that would never have made the time sacrifice to attend an in person show. That’s all great news for you exhibitors but it’s only useful IF you know what you’re going to do with it. You’ll have heard us bang on previously that on average 16-20% of all visitors to a show are likely to be in your defined target market and in a position to buy – that number is unlikely to be significantly different with a virtual event. You don’t need to talk to 100% of your organisers 200,000 new registrations – you’d be wasting your breath on about 160,000 of them. But could 40,000 make a significant impact on your business recovery? If they could, that’s where your focus needs to be in talking to them directly, consistently and with a solution to their problems. So 3 quick tips on how you make the most of this new found data mine:

  • DEFINE YOUR TARGET – it’s no different than for a live event! Who are you key prospects, what are their names, who do they work for, what buying authority do they have and what’s the problem you solve?
  • COLLABORATE WITH THE ORGANISERS – they are incredibly proud of their shiny new data and want to find the evidence to show how this is adding value for exhibitors. So talk to the organisers about joint comms campaigns, ask them how you can target specific sections of their audience, run a workshop or Masterclass in conjunction with them – get them to work hard to help you get to who you want to speak to . They’re ready and eager to show you the value they can bring so snap their hands off.
  • HAVE A PLAN – remember on average we need 7 contacts before making a buying decision, so as with any live event, have a plan for how and when you’re going to communicate with your targets. A one-off email isn’t going to cut it so work out how you keep adding value, keep communicating and keep them engaged!


As discussed, we know visitors to virtual events are looking to consume content but the reality is we’re all a bit Zoom-fatigued. It’s MUCH harder to keep someone’s attention from behind a screen (hey, are you still paying attention!) than it is in face-to-face conversations. But visitors want to learn, be inspired and have a reason to make further contact with you about how to solve their problems. At a vey basic level, we’re seeing polls, breakout groups, panel discussions and Q&A’s filter into seminar sessions that stimulate debate and demand attention. At a more sophisticated level, we’re starting to see AI and VR, practical demonstrations and experiential tactics starting to creep in. Admittedly it is much more difficult to create compelling content for some businesses than others. If you’re a social media or digital marketing provider, potentially it’s easier to give someone 10 Tips To Boost Your Performance in 10 Minutes than it is if you construct oil rigs. If that’s the case, go freestyle and do something totally different that people weren’t expecting. I heard of a recent (sponsored) seminar where the host offered 10 places only, to the 10 people on the organisers data list they most wanted to speak to. The host found out where the delegates would be dialling in from and sent each of them the same ‘Grazing Table’ – wine, cheese, olives, cured meats (you get the gist) and they all sat round and had lunch. There was some ‘hosting’ of the conversation but mostly delegates just chewed the proverbial fat about their business disruption, plans for recovery, football results and own general wellbeing. For 5 minutes at the end, the host briefly introduced a new software platform that might help each business – every delegate agreed to a full hour follow- up call to go through it in more detail – I’m looking forward to hearing the conversion numbers. Yes this cost money and yes the business could have done it on their own, but with the credibility and data of the organiser it was much more successful. So again, three quick thoughts on how to make content work for you:

  • ASK THE AUDIENCE – so often, we don’t know what we have as gold dust in our own businesses that might be valuable to others so ask your customers, network, employees what they think a great session could be and what they would want to learn or know from your archives!
  • DON’T BE AFRAID TO INVEST – we’ve heard so many comments about virtual being a great ‘cheap’ option. It may (or may not) be less expensive than a live event but it shouldn’t ever be cheap – your delegates will see through that. If you know who you want to talk to and what return you think you can generate, don’t be afraid of investing to get it – have confidence in your ability to convert.
  • GET CREATIVE – we’re all past the point of Just Getting It Done and that’s not going to be acceptable to virtual visitors for much longer. That doesn’t mean you have to have the very latest tech but it might mean rather than talking about the features of your latest widget, you instead share the floor with a local charity you’ve been supporting or interview the 5 apprentices you’ve employed through the pandemic – find stories that people want to hear right now.

It isn’t easy and we’re all learning – no-one yet knows everything about how to be a great virtual organiser, exhibitor or visitor but we’re so much further evolved than we were at the start of the year. Whilst we, as much as anyone, cannot wait for the return of live events, we’re now convinced that virtual is here to stay and that it gives exhibitors even more opportunity to find their tribe, build relationships and grow sustainable businesses as part of a holistic event plan. Now if anyone wants to send me a Graze Box, you can find my address under contacts #justsaying!

If you’re struggling to align your virtual and live event plan for 2021, or don’t know where to start with hybrid why not get in touch and see if we can inspire you – give me a call on 07891 122542 anytime!

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