For as nimble and adaptive as the Independent retail channel has been over the past 12 months, you could say the in-person events industry has been even more pressed to find ways to continue on through these trying times. From coast to coast and around the globe, in-person trade shows have essentially been put on hold until we can get the COVID vaccine into enough arms to deem it safe to have large gatherings.
Until that point in time — which seems to be getting closer with each passing day — we’re left with virtual events to fill the void.
Granted, these glorified Zoom gatherings will never completely replace the value found in face-to-face interactions, virtual events have proven their worth and will likely remain in some sort of hybrid fashion once we do get back to “normal.”
And if there’s anything we’ve learned about virtual events throughout 2020 and into 2021 it’s that no two are ever alike. From regional shows, to the network of Furniture Market events, to Nationwide Marketing Group’s own PrimeTime events, and to international behemoths like CES and KBIS/ISB, they’ve all been similar at heart but executed in so many different ways.
That reality has, at least, made it interesting to go from virtual show to virtual show and not get bored in the format or the features that each brought to the table. But it has also given us the opportunity to determine what can be done from the attendee’s perspective to ensure a successful virtual event.
With that in mind, here are five things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your next virtual event.
1. Plan Ahead
Simple enough, right? It really can’t be understated just how important it is to get yourself and your schedule ready to attend a virtual show. When you’re at an in-person event, you can often fill those gaps in the day between meetings wandering a trade show floor, stumbling into educational sessions or happening across a happy hour in a hotel lobby. That’s a little harder to do when you’re attending through a virtual format in the comfort of your own home, store or office.
It’s very likely that the event you’re planning to attend has a show schedule built out weeks in advance for you to cull through. From educational sessions to keynote presentations, find what interests you and start thinking about what you want to get out of the show. Dig through exhibitor lists, identify the key brands that you want to get in touch with during the show and reach out to schedule appointments. The show platform itself may help facilitate those connections for you, or you may have to do it yourself, but start building out that schedule. But, bottom line, don’t try to go in with an empty calendar and expect to have a successful show.
2. Use Your Calendar App
Speaking of calendars… There are two main benefits of organizing everything in your preferred calendar app.
First, you can organize your time during the show. As you sift through educational sessions and set out to schedule meetings, it can be very easy to accidentally double book yourself. Put meeting invites on your calendar during those presentations you want to attend so that you avoid scheduling another meeting over it.
And second, the meeting invites serve as perfect reminders 15 minutes or so before the start of a session or meeting. And, since this is a virtual environment we’re talking about, you can easily drop those crucial details like Zoom links, important documents or other event details, into the meeting so they’re at the ready when it’s time to join the call or jump into a session.
One bonus benefit: Avoiding time zone confusion!
3. Get Familiar with the Virtual Show Platform
Like we said earlier, you’d be hard pressed to find two virtual shows that were exactly alike over the past year. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of virtual trade show platform providers, and they’re all being utilized during this period of all-digital gatherings.
The nice thing about these digital-first opportunities, though, is that these tech-minded individuals understand the challenges with getting the uninitiated up and running with their platforms. In nearly all instances we’ve come across in the digital events realm, providers and show organizers have offered attendees the opportunity to get into the platform early (you need to register and set up your profile anyway) in order to putz around and take the virtual experience for a test drive. Give yourself the chance to get familiar with the platform that you’re going to call your virtual “home” for the next few days.
4. “Attend” Away from Distractions (If Possible)
Back when we used to get on airplanes and fly to trade shows, one of the nice things was we could essentially turn off the work and keep our attention solely on what we needed to accomplish at that particular event. Sure, we’d check email or take a phone call, but the normal day-to-day distractions were kept to a minimum if not completely abandoned.
With virtual shows, we’re often attending from our place of work with all of those same distractions grabbing for our attention as we try to focus on the big keynote or peruse the virtual show floor.
Try to keep those distractions to a minimum. Throw a do-not-disturb sign up on your office door, or something to let people know you’re “out of the office” attending a virtual show. If possible, stay home for those two or three days — or make them half days for yourself — so you can remain focused on the content of the show you’re attending.
Also, don’t forget to limit the distractions in front of you. Silence those email notifications. Leave your mail app closed on your computer to avoid those nonstop pings during the day. Better yet, set an out of office autoreply to give you that feeling of actually being away. Unplug your office phone. Throw on a pair (or invest in) noise canceling headphones. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself in the virtual meeting zone during that particular stretch of time.
5. Build Break Time into Your Schedule
While you’re putting meetings on your calendar and picking which educational sessions you want to attend, don’t forget to build in some break time for yourself. No one wants to find themselves stuck in front of a computer for an entire day. The Zoom fatigue is real, and by the end of the day you’ll be more burnt out than if you were actually at an in-person event.
Something that can help with this: Check if the event will allow you to stream those educational sessions after the show ends. Plenty of organizers give registered attendees the opportunity to view content up to a month (or more, in some cases) after the official last day of the show. Rather than attend meetings from dusk until dawn, spread them out and give yourself the chance to get up, stretch, get some food, and relax your eyes.