The ultimate guide to hosting a memorable virtual trade show

Thomas Paris
August 18, 2021
The ultimate guide to hosting a memorable virtual trade show | Hoppier

Virtual trade shows can be a great way to bring people together to talk business, make deals, and forge new connections. But there’s much more to it than setting up a virtual space and leaving your attendees to figure it out.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to host an amazing virtual trade show. We’ll share how virtual expos work, how to make your event stand out, and some of our best virtual trade show tips.

How virtual trade shows work

Virtual trade shows are really similar to physical events when it comes to the planning, intent, and relationships you build with your audience, exhibitors, and sponsors. Where the two differ comes down to the experience, set up, and budget.

Like their in person counterparts, virtual trade shows are all about discovering potential new leads, clients, partners, and opportunities. They’re a chance for people to demo products, find new distributors, or strike up a profitable relationship. All of this simply happens in a digital space instead of an exhibition hall.

At most virtual trade shows, people enter an online space designed to look and feel like a real-life expo. It’s common to see an entrance hall, breakout spaces, exhibition areas, and sponsor lounges. This space can be brought to life with engaging photo and video content, moving banners, and on-brand color schemes. Virtual event platforms give people the chance to chat in groups, arrange private meetings, and share contact information with each other — like handing out a business card at a virtual coffee.

With no expensive exhibition hall to pay for and a less intensive setup to organize, you can successfully run a virtual trade show on a much smaller budget. Instead of paying upwards of $10,000 for a major physical event, you can reduce your cost down to several thousand dollars. Plus, you’re less limited by space and region, so you can attract a truly global audience.

How to host an amazing virtual trade show

A hand holds a light bulb to represent planning a virtual trade show

With lower setup costs and less in-person running around to do, hosting an online trade show might feel like an easy feat. It still takes plenty of care and attention, though, to create the kind of virtual event people rave about. Here are some of our best tips for hosting an impressive virtual trade show.

Design your trade show around people’s wants and needs

With a virtual event like a trade show, you’re bringing people together for a purpose. Understanding what your audience’s main purpose or goal is can help you plan and host an unforgettable event.

Consider who your audience is, both on the attendee and exhibitor side. Think about whether your exhibitors want to host live demos to introduce new products, ramp up their lead generation, or scout out potential partners for collaborations. Survey your contacts to ask them what matters most to them, then design the exhibitor experience around it. Seek out event tech that specializes in interactive exhibitor booths or is designed to facilitate virtual networking at scale, depending on your needs.

While your exhibitors and sponsors are bringing you not only funds to host the event but a reason for your attendees to sign up, you’ll still want to give some thought to the event experience for guests. Find out what they’re looking for, too — whether they want to find partners, network with other professionals, or discover new products to stock their online store. If you can find a way to serve these needs alongside those of your exhibitors, you’re on your way to a great event.

Invest in the right team and tools

You can’t pull off an amazing virtual trade show solo. It’s the kind of feat you can only achieve with the right team of people, and the tools to help you do it.

A great event organizer or manager should be a key part of the team. They’re responsible for translating the concept into reality, and organizing all the moving pieces along the way. Invest in a team to support the technical side, too, and have someone who's great at marketing to help you attract registrations and sponsors.

Alongside a knowledgeable team, you’ll want to invest in tools that make their jobs easier. Consider a virtual event management platform that helps your team stay organized from start to finish and helps you capture registrations and guest preferences. You’ll also need a great virtual trade show platform to run your event — we’ll cover this in detail later.

Introduce plenty of ways to network

One of the best things about an in-person trade show is the chance to network with lots of people face-to-face. While you can’t easily recreate that face-to-face experience, you can offer guests an abundance of ways to get to know each other.

Look for a virtual event platform that makes networking a priority, like one that creates a virtual exhibition space where guests can move a character around and interact with others. Create spaces for networking to thrive, like breakout zones and a speed networking area. Make it easy for people to jump on a quick call with each other, or host a private message chat to discuss business details. Facilitating those conversations will lead to people recommending your virtual event as the go-to for relationship building or closing deals in your industry.

Create an unrivaled guest experience

With a virtual event, it’s more challenging to create that expo atmosphere that people enjoy. The key to getting it right is to invest in the right virtual event platform and put the focus on user experience.

Make your virtual event as interactive as possible. Look for ways to enhance the virtual experience with moving visuals, live demos, webinars, and hybrid experiences. A fun way to take the guest experience a step further is to use Hoppier virtual cards to encourage your attendees to order coffee or lunch they can enjoy as they network. It’s a great way to create that live-event atmosphere, even though you can’t be together in person.

Be a supportive partner to your exhibitors and sponsors

Hosting a winning virtual trade show can be tough — you need to cater to both your attendees’ and exhibitors’ needs. To make this easier, have your team focus on becoming a true supporter of your exhibitors and sponsors, giving them everything they need to make their presence at your event a success.

Ask your exhibitors, sponsors, and partners how you can help them. Offer plenty of information, advice, and support throughout the process — from signing up and customizing their package through to pre-event group chats and post-event follow ups.

Create marketing materials they can use, share expert tips on customizing their stand, and offer ways for them to connect with your audience before the event. You have a shared goal in wanting their virtual booth to be a success, so invest extra energy into making that happen.

What to look for in a virtual trade show platform

Two coworkers log in to a virtual trade show platform

So much of the success of your virtual expo or trade show comes down to which platform you use. A platform that’s hard to navigate, outdated, and offers poor customization for exhibitors isn’t going to cut it. Instead, you need something that matches your needs and provides a great user experience.

The right virtual event platform for you is the one that helps you achieve your goals. If your focus is on engaging virtual booths, look for a tool that allows your exhibitors to create amazing, immersive digital experiences for their guests. If your trade show relies on relationship building and exploring new products, invest in a tool that makes networking easy and features a great way for people to explore and shortlist products they’re interested in.

Some virtual trade show tools allow you to create a highly engaging digital space with an exhibit hall show floor, private virtual meeting areas, and open networking spaces. If you’re on a smaller budget or your audience loves simplicity, a more streamlined, website-based experience could work great. It’s all about understanding your needs and finding the software to match.

Features and functionality

Before you make the choice about which tool to use, think about which features and functionality you need. Depending on the software tool, it’s common to see features like:

  • A website builder (including a landing page and form builder)
  • Social media and email marketing
  • 3D virtual booths with customizable branding and design features
  • A diverse content repository that supports photos, audio, video, and documents like presentations, brochures, flyers
  • Communication tools like live chat, video chat to schedule live demos, workshops, and meetings
  • Engagement tools such as surveys, feedback, and gamification features
  • Networking features like networking lounges, breakout rooms, and virtual spaces for 1:1 meetings
  • E-commerce features like product listing, shopping cart, and payment gateway integration to enable transactions between vendors and attendees
  • Dashboards for the organizer and vendors
  • Customizable analytics reports
  • Integrations with third-party analytics and CRM tools

Think about which of these features matter most to you, and build a shortlist based on this. It’s also important to consider pricing, because tools vary in price considerably. Decide whether you want one tool to handle everything or whether you want something that integrates with your existing event technology stack.

5 virtual trade show platforms to explore

Once you’ve worked out what you need, it’s time to explore different tools and compare them against your must-have features. Here are 5 tools to consider and compare.

1. Gamerjibe

Gamerjibe is a great option if you want a game-inspired virtual trade show. This platform lets your guests navigate a custom 3D environment with avatars that help recreate that in-person experience. If you’re looking for a fun space that gives your guests a variety of ways to interact, this could be a contender.

2. Hopin

Hopin offers plenty of tools and features to host not only virtual events, but hybrid events too. The platform features a virtual expo tool so you can build a digital exhibition hall, plus it includes a landing page tool that helps you create engaging sign up and sales pages.

3. Hubilo

Hubilo is a virtual event platform that puts the focus on deep engagement and building relationships with others, making it a good option if that’s what your audience wants to see. You can set up digital booths that track users’ activity and create ad feature spots for sponsors, adding value for both exhibitors and sponsors.

4. Remo

Remo gives you a way to bring your audience and exhibitors together in beautifully designed spaces built around networking. Guests can navigate the digital space to enter conversations at different tables, spaces, and buildings, then engage through chat, video, and whiteboards.

5. vFAIRS

vFAIRS is a virtual event tool with plenty of customization and branding opportunities for your exhibitors. Create a virtual expo hall with engaging displays, digital avatars, and the opportunity to join chats or set up virtual meetings.

6 Virtual trade show ideas to increase engagement

A happy man gives a thumbs up for a good virtual trade show experience

The best virtual trade shows are those that go beyond the basics and offer their guests, exhibitors, and sponsors more. Here are some great virtual trade show ideas to help you boost customer engagement and success.

1. Connect with your audience before the show

Your virtual trade show is more than just the day itself. Get to know your audience ahead of the event to build relationships with them and create excitement before the doors even open.

Stay active on social media and within digital communities where your audience hangs out. Host a livestream or Q&A chat before the big day, and give your attendees the chance to meet the organizers and sponsors they’ll see at the virtual expo.

2. Host a pre-event briefing for sponsors and exhibitors

It’s not just your audience that you should get to know before the event. Hosting a pre-event briefing session for your exhibitors and sponsors is a great way to strengthen that bond, ease any concerns, and help them approach the day with confidence.

Your exhibitors and sponsors have a goal in mind for their virtual trade show booth, and you want to help them meet it. Use this briefing to re-introduce your team and confirm how your exhibitors can get support on the day if they need it. Share some last minute preparation tips, and give them an update on guest numbers, plus who’s attending and what to expect.

3. Make it easy for people to find each other

Just like at an in-person event, it’s not always easy to bump into the people you want to meet in a digital space. They could be wandering around and exploring booths just like they would in real time at a physical event. This means you need to create ways for people to find each other — especially if it’s a large scale event.

Look for a virtual event platform that makes communication and networking a priority — with ways for people to request a meeting or send a direct message to someone they want to chat with. Create spaces for networking where people can casually meet others, and make it easy to share contact information so people can follow up after the event.

4. Gamify your event

People love the opportunity to win exclusive prizes, access, and discounts, which means that event gamification is still a popular tactic. If you can find a way to add a rewards system to your event, you'll have a fun tactic to engage your audience.

Create a points based system where people can collect points and earn rewards for getting involved. Reward positive actions like attending a networking session, viewing content at an exhibitor booth, and browsing a product gallery. You want to strike a balance between giving people plenty of opportunities to gain rewards while only incentivizing activities that are profitable for your exhibitors.

5. Create a digital swag bag

At an expo guests often walk away with a goody bag filled with product samples, discounts, offers, and treats. It’d take a huge effort to mail these out to your expo guests, but you can recreate the feeling with a digital swag bag.

Build a digital swag bag with product trials, discounts, promotions, and digital bonuses that your guests can unlock and enjoy. Add a Hoppier virtual card too so your attendees can treat themselves to something after the event. This is also a great upsell for your sponsors — especially if they offer a digital product or service.

6. Host engaging breakout sessions

With a virtual trade show, much of the focus is on doing business and building relationships. That doesn’t mean you can’t add in elements that you’d find in a virtual conference though, like a keynote or breakout sessions.

Breakout sessions, fireside chats, and interactive webinars give your guests something to participate in between meetings with potential customers or partners. They're a great way for your sponsors to connect with your visitors, or to add fun sessions like a virtual lunch and learn about a key industry topic.

Hoppier: The perfect companion to your virtual trade show

Virtual events can be easy to run, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to get right. All too often event organizers think that setting up a webinar or virtual space is enough to get people interested, engaged, and raving about your event. The truth is, you need to go further and give your guests something unexpected and fun — like an in-person experience to go along with your virtual trade show.

With Hoppier, you can transform your virtual expo into a hybrid event in moments. Using our virtual cards, you can give your guests, exhibitors, and sponsors an easy way to order coffee, snacks, or drinks from a local vendor. It will help you stand out, give your guests an amazing experience, and recreate some of that in-person atmosphere.

A virtual credit card to use as a gift a virtual trade shows

Hopper is simple to set up and manage, so you can add a hybrid element to your virtual events without the hassle of added event logistics. Create an account, set up a program, and customize your virtual card’s design, balance, and use-by dates. You can also keep the vendor list open or restrict it to vendors who fit a certain theme — perfect for creating a themed digital swag bag to accompany your trade show.

Vendors you can purchase from with a Hoppier virtual credit card

Whether you use Hoppier virtual cards to make those virtual networking moments more satisfying or as part of a virtual expo goody bag, it’s an affordable and simple way to ramp up engagement. Plus, it’ll set you apart from other expo organizers that aren’t as audience focused.

Host a more engaging virtual trade show

Your virtual trade show is the perfect place for exhibitors and visitors to meet, talk business, and make deals happen. Being part of that process positions you perfectly as an organization of choice for both groups. And making your virtual show more engaging helps create more success for everyone involved.

If you’re ready to run virtual events with more impact, we’re here to help. Tune in to our webinar on 7 ways to create memorable and engaging virtual events to discover more concepts, tips, and tricks used by leading Fortune 500 companies and fast-growing startups.

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