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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

High-Tech Tradeshows: How Do They Work?

Conferences, meetings and events are familiar sights to most business travelers, just as they’re familiar sights to us guest speakers. But a surprising number of organizations are also exploring virtual tradeshows as an alternative to on-site programs, as a high-tech way to help attendees connect right from their desk without having to travel anywhere – something most have yet to see. But just what are virtual tradeshows, and how do they work, from booths and panels on down to keynotes and guest speakers? Here’s a quick overview that can help fill in some blanks.

Q: How does a virtual tradeshow work?

Virtual tradeshows take place in an interactive, online environment – sometimes 2D, sometimes 3D – where users can wander a simulated show floor; browse computerized booths; and attend panels delivered in the form of streaming audio/video; or mix and mingle with peers and contribute to live discussion via Internet chat rooms. The advantage being that these gatherings – capable of connecting professionals, helping businesses share resources and information, and growing brand awareness – exist on your desktop, with overhead and travel costs for attendees essentially limited to the price of admission, and the daily burn rate of their regular high-speed Internet subscription.

Q: Why the recent popularity with virtual tradeshows? Is it just the obvious: saving money?

Across the board companies are looking to time and save money.  Coupled with today’s increasing demands on executives’ schedules and heightened pace at which the modern workplace moves, these factors severely limit both firms’ and individual professionals’ (as well as guest speakers’ and presenters’) ability to connect and interface, discuss/debate advancements in their field, disseminate information and pursue continuing education. Virtual tradeshows not only allow attendees to sync up with minimal hassle, grow their professional network, build company mindshare, continue their personal growth and stay abreast of pressing developments in both the professional, financial and IT communities. They also allow them to do so at their leisure (say, between one’s morning cup of Starbucks and power lunch) and at a fraction of the typical time and cost.

Q: What benefits do they have over standard tradeshows?

Virtual tradeshows offer unfettered access to information, including the ability to call up nearly all featured presentations and data points on-command. You can also attend a theoretically infinite number of sessions at your time and leisure, given the option to multitask or retrieve digitally stored information at a later date/time when most convenient. Setup costs and overhead are also a fraction of the typical expenditures associated with traditional event planning, given that physical booth transportation, setup and teardown time is essentially eliminated and staffing and training fees can be kept to a bare minimum.

Moreover, as any seasoned entrepreneur can attest, one’s most valuable resource is time: Minimal out-of-pocket costs aside, by reducing the impact of traditional scheduling and travel concerns, virtual events open the door for more industry leaders to attend and participate.

Q: Will they ever replace standard tradeshows? Will business ever get to a point where virtual tradeshows dominate?

Let’s be honest: Human beings are social creatures. No matter how advanced technology gets, there will never be a substitute for good, old-fashioned face-to-face interaction. But while a handshake and a smile will still get you farthest in today’s business world, from the standpoint of both economics and practicality, there’s no reason to think that virtual tradeshows won’t enjoy some measure of success in tomorrow’s business environment.

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