MindFire Communications, Inc.
Trade shows in a COVID world: What to do now?
March 4, 2021 | Erik Meade

It’s 2021. Where are the trade shows?

We, along with everyone else, hoped they’d be back by now. Typically, they offer a rare opportunity to engage with your audiences face-to-face.

While some trade shows are moving forward with in-person events, many are still virtual. This requires us to rethink our approach to these perennial marketing opportunities.

How do you manage the in-person trade shows during a pandemic? And how do you capture your audience’s attention in a virtual trade show?

Here are a few things to think about as you’re planning for your next big event – whether in-person or virtually:

empty trade show space with outlines of where people would have been

Thinking through in-person trade shows

Safety is #1

The world has changed, and some of these changes will be permanent. We’ll likely always do less handshaking and give a little more distance.

As some trade shows prepare to meet in-person as soon as this spring, safety is paramount. This could mean foregoing the in-person experience altogether, so you keep both your employees and customers safe. Compare the ROI the in-person event offers against the risks your employees would have to take. You have to be sure the risk is as low as possible, and with ongoing circumstances, that may not be the case.

However, if you do opt in for an in-person trade show, you must go above and beyond to show your safety measures. Sanitation stations and hand sanitizer are the bare minimum. The booth will need to be more spacious and plexiglass may be needed to separate discussion areas of your booth. Also, high-touch items will need consistent sanitizing.

Distance is critical

Trade shows are an entirely different animal now. Whereas brands used to try to create more face-to-face interactions in the booth, now that is simply not an option. You can’t use touch screen monitors or ask people to touch or climb into your product. You also shouldn’t have enclosed meeting rooms.

The trick becomes showing your products in a way that doesn’t require touch, but still delivers a “wow” factor when seeing it in-person. This could be an employee demonstrating capabilities or holding meetings in an open, socially distanced space.


We communicate through our facial expressions, but how can that still be done through face coverings?

You could imprint your smiling face on the mask. You could also make a branded mask that stands out as a topic of conversation.

Considering masks are our new normal, explore new ways you can use them to your advantage.

Standing out in virtual trade shows

Make your virtual space a must-visit

One of the difficult parts of a virtual trade show is that your event space can no longer naturally draw foot traffic. You don’t have guests wandering by who happen to visit your booth.

So, how do you ensure that trade show visitors prioritize your virtual booth? Pre-show promotion is key.

You need to give virtual attendees a reason to stop by. This could be something special such as a sought-after expert speaking at a specific time or it could be a show-only special that you promote through your company’s social channels. You could also send a fun invite that plays on the in-person aspect of your booth. A concrete gift provides connection in a virtual space.

With virtual shows, you can’t leave it up to the trade show to promote the event. You need to give a reason for attendees to mark your booth on their calendar.

Bring reality to the virtual space

Despite their nature, virtual trade shows are still all about communication and relationship building. Most attendees are likely pretty sad they can’t travel and meet people in-person. That means you have to create something that goes above and beyond the norm. You need to create a virtual interaction and escape.

Most of the virtual trade shows give you generic booth space. This means every booth space looks the same. To stand out, ask the trade show director what your options are. What boundaries can you push? Can you fill the space with your products and equipment?

Consider bringing a live component to your virtual space? Can employees at your home office go live from your virtual space?

Post-show follow-up

That post-show follow-up is still key. Can you schedule 1:1 Zoom chats with attendees who visited your booth? How can you get that face-to-face interaction that helps build relationships?

Place more emphasis on a considerate, attention-grabbing follow-up that leaves a positive, memorable impression on trade show attendees.

To recap…

Whether you’re in-person or virtual, making your brand stand out is critical and may require more creativity and more effort than before. This will help you stand out and make a positive impact on attendees, guaranteeing that you get the value of hosting a booth or exhibition at a trade show.

If you need help creating memorable trade show experiences, drop us a line.

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