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Successful Digital Trade Shows

COVID-19 put in-person tradeshows on hold, but you can still hold one online. In this guide, we'll discuss not only how to run a digital trade show, but how to make it successful.

Nov 10, 2020 • 6 Minute Read


Many of us remember traveling for our all-important trade shows yearly, quarterly, monthly, or even more. However, those came to a screeching halt in early 2020 when COVID-19 hit the world.

Because trade shows can house tens of thousands of people in a small area from all over the world, they were one of the first things cancelled. But that doesn't mean you can't have a virtual trade show. In this guide, we'll discuss not only how to run a digital trade show, but also how to make it successful.

The Pivot to Digital

The first large trade show cancelled was Mobile World Congress, a telecommunications-focused trade show that was set to take place in late February in Barcelona, Spain. It was cancelled within weeks of the go-live date, and there was no time to pivot.

However, most of the shows that started to cancel into March, April, and May did so with enough time that they could move to a virtual platform. Many of these shows have seen record numbers of registrations because they are often free and no travel is required. But how do you get people to attend and then keep them there? You need to provide these things :

  • An easy-to-use platform that works
  • Engaging content
  • Live feedback
  • Fun, entertainment, and something unexpected

An Easy-to-use Platform That Works

You need to provide an easy-to-use platform for your customers. It must be intuitive and it must work. You may be reading this and thinking, "of course," but many trade shows do not function well.

If you are running a smaller trade show and have just one session at a time, you must set it up so that the presentation moves from one session to the next. Do not make your customers go back to another page to see the next session if there aren’t simultaneous sessions running at the same time. I recently attended a trade show that didn't do this, and it was so frustrating to have to click out and in when there was only one thing to watch at a time. If you are running a larger trade show, you must make it easy for your customers to pivot from one session to the next. You should have a platform that reminds the audience what is going on and makes it easy to get there in one click.

And of course, the platform needs to work. No crashing, no latency, and no glitches. We understand that "tech happens," but we have now been doing the virtual trade show thing for six months, and your customers expect that you have figured it out.

Engaging Content

What do your customers want to hear about? Find out and show it to them. The content must be about what they want to hear. I recommend that you do some market research on your biggest customers and the audience you want to bring to the show to understand what they want to hear.

Do not "go with your gut" and put up content that you think they want to hear about. You must truly showcase what they want to hear. We are all in 1001 meetings every day, and people are not going to sit in more meetings if it isn’t what they want to hear about.

You cannot make it a sales pitch. If they can go on your website and get the same info, then why do they need to stick around? You must add value to the content and provide something that the audience cannot get from Google.

Live Feedback

The platform needs a space where you can interact with the audience. Because of technical limitations and the need for a working platform, as we talked about in the first section, many of these trade show run in "mock live." That means the sessions are pre-recorded because if there are two or more presenters, they are not in the same place, but they are watching live with the audience so that they can answer questions live and interact.

This human interaction is so important right now, so doing things that are live (if your tech allows) or mock live is key.

Additionally, having the option for live chats is key. These human-staffed chats should be able to answer questions about how to access things and the platform as well as content and products. You need people who can staff both so that there is a way for customers to reach out and get instant answers. They are only going to wait so long to "figure it out" before they get frustrated and leave.

Having live sessions and interactions provides value above and beyond content found on the web. Your employees are your best and most expensive asset, so be sure to use them to create human contact the people need.

Fun, Entertainment, and Something Unexpected

We all want good content that keeps us engaged, but we are also human and we want to have a little fun. One of the best parts of in-person trade shows was visiting a fun city and getting to see and eat new things. You can break up the day by having celebrity speakers and/or performers. This helps keep people around and it allows them to bring in their families to enjoy with them. Engaging families allows professionals to stay on longer because everyone is entertained.


Making the pivot to digital trade shows is not easy, but continuing to engage with your customers is key to long-term success. You can really stick out from the pack by hosting great virtual trade shows. You just need a great platform, great content, great engagement, and great fun!

I would recommend my course Developing Digital Fluency to help you communicate effectively, digitally.