Along with the rest of the events industry, we have been counting down the days until live events were given the green light to reopen and we were back exhibiting on the trade show floor. Last week – after an agonising 18-month wait – our hopes were realised when the doors to ExCel flung open and visitors came from far and wide to attend and network at International Confex.
But what was it really like to be back on the show floor as an exhibitor? We get real, open and honest about our experience and the 5 key learnings we’ll be taking with us.
OK, so this is one of the industry’s most overused and self-serving clichés of the year – and there’s nothing ground-breaking here. But it’s important to understand the ‘why?’. Despite us all getting used to the ‘new normal’ in meeting online, and assuming that would completely change how we do business on the other side of the pandemic, the ‘real deal’ felt even more important after an enforced ban and we appreciated it so much more.
Being face-to-face (even at a social distance) with a customer, looking them in the eye and reading their body language gives us heightened super senses! We could spy someone we met once before and call them over, sniff out a new lead on a competitor’s stand, overhear someone mention they are working with our partner, answer a question directly but with the right amount of detail, and bump elbows with an old colleague who in turn introduces us to a new prospect! Do you get the same from a virtual meeting on Zoom or an email campaign or from someone visiting your website? In a word: no. It’s nowhere near as effective or even efficient virtually as it is in reality. Understanding a customer or prospect – what they need our help with and their level of interest – is just easier and better in person than it is over the phone or on a screen. And it tastes all the more sweeter on the recovery side of the pandemic.
The conversations we didn’t plan seemed to matter most. It’s the serendipity of a live event that’s so difficult to replicate. Bumping into someone you didn’t expect to see. Walking past a conference session you had no intention of attending and hearing some useful tips. Overhearing a conversation in the line for the café. Being introduced to a random person who turns out to be the perfect business partner.
Another element of exhibiting live is the energy. We were pumped up to be back at a show and were more proactive in seeking out people we wanted to meet. If you’re enthusiastic and believe in the products you sell, the audience will also buy into that.
As live event audiences have to make more effort to go to an event, they are more eager to have those easy-to-put-off conversations. It makes for a more engaged, focused and energetic discussion and you could agree on a deal in 30 minutes, when it would have taken weeks or months over email. The benefits of live events have always been clear to us. But they feel even more vital as we rebuild our businesses after the pandemic.
It’s true to say the aisles were a little quieter this year. That came as no surprise considering we are still not in the clear of the pandemic and we understand it will take some time for event audiences to return to the quantities we have experienced in the BC (before Corona) era.
But we didn’t really miss the footfall. To be honest, it was nice to see serious buyers approaching us and not to have so many tyre-kickers, sweet grabbers or time-wasters we used to spend our valuable time talking to. Every visitor was there for a good reason. To network, to find out more information, see what’s new or to understand the market. And we had more time for them, without being interrupted or distracted out of the corner of our eye by an onlooker approaching the stand! It felt more relaxed, pleasant and we could finish a sentence. And each conversation we had was worthwhile. We filled our two days with constant interactions, whether that was meeting those who had pre-arranged appointments or bumping into partners and associates we hadn’t seen for a while. Explaining what we are up to and all the while, learning new intel about the market was a really valuable use of our time. And we think the audience enjoyed it, not having to stand in line or swing by a stand repeatedly in the hope that someone is free to talk to them.
Technology has of course been instrumental in keeping us all connected and virtually engaged throughout the pandemic, and it will be interesting to see how technology will stack up and be used at future events.
It was noticeable that tech is more embedded into the fabric of the show now and the visitor experience was much more automated. It started on arrival with screens to welcome us back, which was a really nice touch. We showed our covid passport from our phones on arrival. We scanned a QR code to print out our badges. Most stands at Confex had screens showing video and exhibitors were using ipads to showcase their products and services. Most of the theatres had impressive set-ups of huge double screens, all speakers had remote mics and there were (sanitized) headphones to cancel out background noise. Compared to those traditional trade shows with heavy showguides, reams of paper on literature racks and having to wait for 30 minutes to get in, Confex 2021 felt like an event from back to the future!
There was an event app and platform (provided by Swapcard) to book your conference sessions and arrange meetings in advance of the show, which were useful features to us as exhibitors. We used the app to scan badges when visitors came onto the stand, so no more business cards or scanning data to upload afterwards. If we logged into our online portal, we could see the number of views of our company profile and the profiles of those who had visited our virtual booth, which gave us some extra leads to follow up, so that was a worthwhile feature.
We hope that visitors also enjoyed their visit to Confex and found it worthwhile to connect with suppliers and attend conference sessions in person. Audience experience is key if live formats are to succeed. It has to be enjoyable and easy for them too, otherwise more will choose to watch the virtual event from their desks and that will mean a smaller live audience for exhibitors to meet.
Here we go again with yet another buzzword! The word hybrid must have been mentioned in most of the conference sessions that took place during Confex and we had many conversations about it.
There has been a lot of upheaval in the events industry and we are still working our way through it. Hybrid can be a bit of a minefield and we are treading carefully to avoid the mines. It can sometimes be seen as a dividing term (i.e. live versus virtual) but hybrid should be a way of thinking and viewed as the next step in the evolution of the events sector.
By taking the best of what we did before the pandemic and combining it with the best of everything that’s happened since, we can create an incredibly exciting new ‘hybrid’ future. We think it’s really important to keep this in mind when planning events for 2022. Not being led by a fear of another lockdown. But by working together instead of in silos - which is another positive and strong trend presenting itself in the industry. By doing all of this, we hope it will be a much easier road ahead for event organisers and suppliers.
We are also playing our part in this new hybrid world. Our location-enabled mobile technology is helping to level the playing field between live events and their digital competition, which is even more important since more marketing budget has been reallocated online during the pandemic. If event teams have the data and insight about their audience behaviour, are able to prove the footfall and engagement on exhibitor stands as well as offer their audiences the ability to easily find their way around and make the best use of their time, it will help to catapult their live event into the future.
Online demos of Crowd Connected’s software are super easy. We don’t have to leave our desks, and neither do our customers. They can invite their team to attend and we can screen share and answer questions as they pop up. But nothing beats us being able to demonstrate exactly how it works in a real live event environment by getting interested parties to download the app and navigate around the show floor with a blue dot on their phone’s screen. Just as you would on Google or Apple maps. It’s somehow more impressive and it’s easier to understand the issues we help to solve with location-enabled data in real time, than it is from behind our screens.
Also, the feedback is just as useful. Hearing how people experience it and what their objections are, is really valuable information to pass back to our development team. Learning what the biggest challenges are for our customers at the moment and explaining how we can help them is so much easier in person and this helps to cement our relationships, human to human.
So these are our top five learnings from being back on the show floor but one thing’s an absolute certainty: it’s REALLY good to be back! We had some great and detailed conversations, especially those that were unplanned. We solidified some of our relationships and being able to demonstrate our platforms in the environment they will be used, as well as hear live feedback on user experience, has been really beneficial. None of this would have happened over two days on a digital or virtual platform. We had a great show and are already looking forward to the next one!
Crowd Connected provides event and exhibition organisers with location software for mobile tracking, personalised engagement and footfall analytics. This gives them a unique digital advantage which helps to future-proof their live events. Contact us for more information and to see a live demo of our platforms and tools in action.
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