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How Two Companies Brought Their Trade Shows to (Digital) Life

August 4th, 2020 Andrea Bartman

Like everything else in 2020, face-to-face conferences and trade shows are either postponed or outright canceled. But what should you do since the prep work is already done?

A few savvy companies made the pivot from physical trade shows to digital trade shows. It may sound like a huge undertaking, but it’s not as hard as you think. Let’s take a look at how two companies organized virtual trade shows and some tips on what you can do to run a stellar trade show of your own.

RevGrowth 2020 by Drift

In early 2020, Drift, a conversational marketing company that creates messaging software for businesses, postponed its annual HYPERGROWTH conference and watched as more events were canceled or postponed week after week.

The team at Drift quickly realized the endless string of canceled events was creating a pipeline gap like no other, but not just for them. It was happening to many of their business partners and customers too. Because of this, Drift decided to collaborate with a few business partners to reinvent events for 2020.

Enter RevGrowth 2020: two days of marketing and sales content with 8,500+ participants presented by 19 different companies.

It took Drift and its partners a month to set up the virtual event, and they share a breadth of information about how they did it in a great article here. We want to take a closer look at the details of the event and what they did to closely replicate a physical event.

Get our in-depth guide on planning and producing a virtual event when you click this link.

Speakers and Breakout Sessions

The two-day virtual conference offered participants two tracks of content to follow: marketing and sales. Like any good conference, RevGrowth 2020 had plenty of speakers and breakout sessions on both topics for attendees to tune in to. Let’s take a look at what was covered:

Marketing

The marketing track owned the first day of the RevGrowth conference. Things kicked off with a keynote address by Huib van Bockel, founder of TENZING Natural Energy and former CMO of Redbull Europe. He spoke about why being a social brand is more important than ever.

The marketing track ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and featured presentations on 12 topics from companies like RollWorks, Demandbase, Tray.io, Sendoso, and more. The schedule included two built-in breaks and a lunch exercise session. Participants could join two virtual workout classes: HIIT and yoga.

Sales

The second day of the conference was reserved for the sales track and began with a keynote address from Steven Bartlett, CEO of Social Chain. Steven spoke about The State of Social.

The sales track ran from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and featured eight presentations by professionals from G2, Showpad, Gong.io, ON24, Drift, and more. The sales day also included built-in breaks and a lunchtime virtual workout.

Closing Events

The remainder of the second day featured RevGrowth closing ceremonies from 3:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. with a keynote address from Kubi Springer, an award-winning brand specialist and media personality.

This presentation was immediately followed by a happy hour and networking event for all attendees. They even included a live-streaming DJ with links to Zoom Dance Rooms so it feels like a party!

Knowing how important an always-on mentality is for virtual meetings, Drift made sure all of the presentations were available for on-demand viewing after the live presentation. You can check out all of the topics through the RevGrowth 2020 website.

THREADcast by D&H Distributing

Like Drift, D&H Distributing, a technology and consumer electronics distribution company, turned its annual D&H THREAD tech conference into a digital THREADcast event. In less than two weeks, the team at D&H Distributing created a virtual conference with three keynote speakers and more than 20 channels with 30 sessions of content related to technology.

Presentations

When planning the speakers and presentations for THREADcast, D&H wanted to be mindful of how busy their partners were in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, so they intentionally decided to keep most presentations short. They focused on keeping broadcasts between 5 to 10 minutes long so participants could easily view the content.

To help attendees too busy to watch the presentations live, D&H Distributing re-published THREADcast as an always-on event.  With an on-demand format in place, both live and on-demand viewers could return to the event site to access every session they were interested in.

Custom Virtual Experience

Physical events have many branding opportunities for the host and vendors, which is something D&H wanted to replicate in its virtual experience. So, similar to how a trade show would have booths for vendors and participants, D&H created “channels” for their vendors to engage with participants. Each channel was set up with a prominent “Contact Us” box where participants and interested prospective customers could connect with the vendor immediately.

In an effort to drive continued traffic to its on-demand recordings, D&H came up with the idea to raffle creative service credits and incentives for participants who attended a vendor channel within 30 days of the original THREADcast airing. This tactic drove continued engagement with the event and as a consequence, D&H doubled its predicted engagement.

Tips for Your Virtual Events

Are you thinking about planning your own virtual trade show? We have a few tips and suggestions to help make your event a success:

Plan Breaks

Just like a physical trade show, plan breaks in your daily schedules. Your participants are probably sitting at a desk in front of a computer in a quiet office, which is not nearly as stimulating as sitting in a meeting room filled with a hundred other people.

Give attendees restroom breaks, time to refill their coffee, let the dog out, or simply stretch out kinks from sitting too long. We recommend at least one 15-minute break every one-and-a-half to two hours in both the morning and the afternoon. If your schedule can afford it, five minutes between sessions could also work. Also, give your participants at least one full hour for lunch.

Go above and beyond for your attendees. Provide them the opportunity to engage in physical activity midday by offering a virtual workout session like Drift did with RevGrowth. If you choose to do this, encourage participants to attend by giving them enough time for a quick shower and trip to the kitchen so they can eat lunch at their desks during the next session.

Encourage Networking

Anyone who has been to a trade show knows the evenings are filled with networking events: cocktail parties, dinners, concerts, shows — you name it.

Trade shows and conferences are huge networking opportunities for just about everyone, and many people think they lose that aspect in a virtual event. Well, they’re wrong! While virtual events may not have as many free drinks (more on that below), they have plenty of networking opportunities.

Fitbit setup a Virtual Booth Experience that gave HR professionals a two-hour window to enter and speak with Fitbit experts. Participants had the opportunity to enter the booth at a time that was convenient for them to learn about Fitbit’s Health Solutions, ask questions and set up meetings with the Fitbit sales team. This method was a huge success for Fitbit as it exceeded the marketing team’s goals and objectives of the event and still allowed them to fill their pipeline with qualified leads.

D&H set up different “channels” for vendors with “contact us” fields where potential customers could reach out and start a conversation. Drift ended RevGrowth with a virtual cocktail party featuring a streaming DJ and dance party.

Though these virtual cocktail parties and happy hours tend to be B.Y.O.B., we had the idea of partnering with an adult beverage company to provide coupons or discounts to participants. In their registration confirmation email, participants could receive a coupon or two ahead of time to provide supplies for the upcoming networking events: a few dollars off a beverage of their choice.

Don’t Forget the Swag

You didn’t think we’d forget about swag, did you? Love it or hate it, swag is a part of trade show tradition and it can go a long way in facilitating branding opportunities. But it can also be one of the more challenging aspects of a virtual event because how do you get swag to the participants?

One tactic is to use a vendor, like Sendoso, to mail swag to participants as soon as they complete the registration for an event. The risk here is that you wind up sending things to people who aren’t going to show up for your event. To mitigate this, we recommend waiting until the event is over and sending goodies to people who attended.

You could also have people opt into receiving swag when they attend a specified event of your choosing, like the closing speaker or something toward the end of the event. One other option is to have people fill out a form with their info when they chat with different vendors in their virtual booths. The advantage of this is you’re making sure you send things to people who attend and want freebies.

We realize many other things go into planning a virtual trade show and these are only a few things to consider. As more and more people participate in virtual events and see how well they can do for business, we think this is a trend that’s going to continue catching on.