As we get ready to rock a new trade show season, we’re seeing some interesting shifts in approach that bear discussion. There’s little expectation that trade shows and large-scale industry events will return to their former glory anytime soon. Still, the value of the in-person experience is undeniable—and clearly, we are all eager to engage and connect.
Virtual was cool for a minute and a fine experiment, but the Zoom fatigue is real. And if you’re like us, you’re probably just dying to wear pants again. Right?
While there is still a pervasive element of the unknown in terms of who will actually participate and how many people are ready and willing to attend, the band most certainly will play on. So, let’s dive into a few trends and predictions and talk about how the trade show industry is reorienting itself to improve attendance and add value to the in-person experience.
Trade Show Trends for 2022
Most who attended this year’s CES in Las Vegas offered a similar sentiment. Although the program was shortened by a day from its usual week-long extravaganza, most attendees believe they could have easily shaved another day or two off.
Some mainstay exhibitors were conspicuously absent, while some opted to participate in the online event and not maintain a physical presence at the show. And though the event sponsors were quite eager to get back to business, attendees were a lot less enthusiastic. In the final accounting, it’s estimated that 40,000 people attended the show, only about 25% of what they had in 2020.
Of course, CES is a mega-event, so, understandably, any change in attitude or approach would be experienced at scale. However, insights gained will undoubtedly inform the road ahead.
Smaller Venues, Shorter Programs, Targeted Regional Solutions & More
In speaking with some of the country’s top trade show producers, here are a few ways the industry is reorienting itself to improve attendance and add value:
Incentives and Experiences
Attendees and exhibitors are more discerning about what shows to attend and will base their decisions on the value they derive, both for themselves and their business. The desire to meet face-to-face is strong, and you could argue that it’s even more critical, given the complexities of the past couple of years. If exhibitors—and the events themselves—focus more on the human aspect and the higher purpose of “why” they’re attending, that’s where we all win.
Smaller, More Targeted Regional Trade Shows
The more specific a trade show can become, the more relevant it will be to establishing meaningful connections. Smaller, localized, or regionalized shows will reduce the travel attendees have to do, so much of the hesitancy will be removed.
Trade Shows with Intention
Technology, storytelling, hyper-personalization, connected systems, and integrated virtual/live show presentations will build on everything we’ve learned over the past two years. Authentic content creation is another strong theme, as is data-driven everything, so experiences that cater to those ideas will be a compelling draw.
Sustainability and environmental impact are arguably more important and talked about now than before March 2020. Companies, trade show producers, and organizations must adopt sustainable practices and behave in more environmentally-friendly ways to stay relevant. Whether companies or entire shows choose to take the Net Zero pledge, it’s part of a new wave of collective commitment and one that will build community.
Health and Safety will Continue to be a Top Concern
Though we’re learning to live with Covid, we’re not quite to the point where we can ignore it completely. Organizers and participants need to do their best to ensure the safety of their representatives and show attendees, which means adopting clear and enforceable policies to put everyone’s mind at ease. Safe environments can be managed using technology and a data-driven approach. The top safety factor for trade show events will continue to focus on vaccination status and/or proof of negative tests. Still, we must also continue to require masks, sanitation stations, and touchless features like QR codes, digital badges, and online registration and check-in.
Digital Options Will Continue
Building out a digital alternative in addition to in-person experiences will continue to capture new participants. It’s critical to take a broad view of people’s tolerance levels and preferences and offer options that work for everybody. As the trade show industry shifts back to in-person, these are the trends shaping the way forward so organizers can continue to wow and attract those who are ready and willing to attend.
If you or your team need help planning for a trade show or industry event, schedule a call now to speak with us about how we can help your company move the needle in 2022.