The Problem with Virtual Trade Shows: They’re boring

I think that person-to-person, flesh and blood shows that feature tired feet, over-priced convention center sandwiches, late nights, and blurry mornings are going to be around for some time to come.

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Virtual trade shows are boring. They are so boring that it’s easy to forget they are even happening. I don’t think it is because of the digital format. I think it’s because a virtual format does not remotely demand the emotional, financial, and time commitment from those who attend that physical events do.

A physical trade show is more than an event. It is a process that begins long before you walk through security at the convention center and onto the show floor. In fact, the first step, deciding whether to attend, occurs anywhere from two to six months in advance.

When making the decision whether to go, you have to consider the time and energy cost that comes from traveling to another location and staying there for days. You have to consider what opportunity cost may occur while you are gone. And then there is the financial cost. You have to decide whether you are, if an exhibitor, willing to pay for the booth, the electricity, the furniture, and whatever additional costs may occur: The hotel, the airfare, the freight, the dinners out, the lunches and the breakfasts. If you are an attendee, your costs are lower, but you still have to pay for airfare as well as a hotel and food while in attendance.

You have decided to attend. Now you have to plan when to leave and return as well where to stay. Phone calls and emails pass back and forth between exhibitors and attendees, setting appointments and dinner dates.

You have to pack the day before you leave, making decisions on which and how many articles of clothing you will require. Then there is the trip to the airport, the flight delays, the happy arrival, the cab to the hotel, locating your room, unpacking, and, of course, drinking at the bar.

By the time you get to the show, you have committed so much time and money that you are fully invested. In fact, you have invested so much that you will get as much out of the experience as possible.

When attending a virtual show, you never leave your chair, so there is little in the way of anticipation because your time and financial costs have been so low. As a result, your urgency to get the most out of the moment is minimal. In fact, there is so little investment on the part of the attendees that it is easy to forget a virtual show is even happening.

I am sure it will eventually become possible to put on a virtual trade show that demands your attendance but I think it will have to result from a much bigger commitment on the part of he exhibitor or attendee.

Perhaps, with time, people will no longer be willing to put out the energy to go to the real thing. Until then, I think that person-to-person, flesh and blood shows that feature tired feet, over-priced convention center sandwiches, late nights, and blurry mornings are going to be around for some time to come.

2 thoughts

  1. I totally agree with you and of course I hope you are right, because, among other things, when shows go virtual who’s going to know if you are dealing with a human being or a robot, with a real product or a fake, with a supplier or a swindler. I take permission to quote from an editorial I wrote for Parents’ Choice, No. 3: “In September 1986, Microsoft’s Bill Gates visited Europe aiming to promote the CD-ROM file system standard which had been developed by the High Sierra Group. I listened to his speech in Milan and afterwards I interviewed him for the international IT trade magazine ECE. One of the issues we discussed was the possibility that trade exhibitions could eventually disappear as professionals would simply exchange compatible CD-ROMs with all the useful pictures, texts and sounds for information on companies and products. Fairs are still here instead, and some of them have been growing impressively in the last years. The reason is we need to meet other people, shake their hands and talk to them, and to see the products, touch them and test them. Not all of our world can be virtual!”

  2. Much of what you say here is true. However it should also be considered that our habbits in this regard are already changing. Out of necessity virtual trade shows are the only way to find new suppliers and keep abrest of what’s new. When live shows return costs may well be much higher than before (they are certainly not going to be cheaper) and when compared with virtual events – well there will be no comparison. Retail is on its knees thanks first to Amazon and now Covid-19, if a buyer can pull a range togther without this expense, their manager will be quite happy to reign in the travel budget. So if we have managed life without the real thing, then for sure fewer people will attend and fewer people will exhibit at live events in the future. Live events are not dead but one thing we know for sure our industry will not stand still, technology will enable us to manage without unecessary costs.

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