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virtual trade show

9 Elements of a Successful Virtual Trade Show Agenda [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

How does your trade association plan to make up for lost revenues from the cancellation or postponement of your in-person events?

Online industry trade show events have been vital in keeping communities connected since the onset of COVID-19, providing innovative ways for attendees and exhibitors to engage through virtual event platforms. Capabilities like live demos, exhibition halls with virtual booths, and robust chat functions can effectively replicate many beloved aspects of in-person events.

Despite the potential of virtual trade shows, however, nearly nine in ten industry trade professionals (86%) are still challenged with transitioning an in-person event to a virtual setting—which is understandable, given that many teams just started exploring virtual events within this last year.  

To accelerate your event planning, we recommend you set goals for your upcoming virtual trade show and then craft an agenda to fulfill those needs. Let’s explore how to build an engaging online trade show schedule that creates meaningful opportunities for your attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and other partners. 

9 Online Industry Trade Show Agenda Activities

After reviewing recent and upcoming conferences from the American Society of Association Executives, Michigan Society of Association Executives, Colorado Society of Association Executives, and countless others, these are the must-include agenda items for your next virtual industry association trade show:

  • Board meeting: Your association board should meet during your conference. Most associations host this meeting on the first morning of their conference or shortly after the main conference wraps. 
  • Vendor demos/Exhibition Hall/Solutions Lounge: Your attendees need dedicated spaces to engage with your event exhibitors and partners. Enable exhibitors to showcase their solutions to your attendees in a virtual exhibition hall or vendor demo space. Offer an opportunity for Q&A, live demos, and hands-on learning to ensure exhibitors and sponsors see plenty of virtual foot traffic. 
  • Awards recognition: Host an awards ceremony that celebrates your trade show or industry association community (if relevant). These award ceremonies are an opportunity to spotlight members of your community and recognize them for their strides in your field or their dedication to your group. 
  • Express talks/Speed networking sessions/Short breakouts: Not all conference sessions should keep all conference-goers captive for an hour. Instead, offer breakout sessions of varying lengths for your attendees to dive into niche topics of interest that complement your overarching event theme. These smaller-group breakouts are perfect opportunities for attendees to mix and mingle in a more intimate setting than the conference keynotes. Offer two or three concurrent breakout sessions at a time to increase the diversity of your speaker roster and thoroughly explore the topics your audience cares about.   
  • Roundtable sessions: Gather a diverse roster of speakers to lead smaller group discussions on topics of interest to your attendees. Each speaker should have a unique element they can lend to the conversation—including the title or level of the speaker, their industry, or their specific experience with the topic—to support a well-rounded conversation. 
  • Lunchtime sessions or opportunities: Every minute of your conference should include some way to delight your attendees—and that includes lunch. Coordinate group conversations, 1:1 meetups, or informal lunch-and-learn sessions that attendees can join during lunch. Consider hosting a purely entertainment-focused activity, like a cooking demo, comedian set, or short film screening if your budget allows.  
  • 1:1s by appointment: Carve time from your agenda to coordinate one-on-one meetings with attendees, exhibitors, and other event partners. Attendees should be able to make appointments throughout your conference, not just in small exhibit hall break windows. Some attendees won’t mind missing a session to meet with a vendor (especially if your sessions are available for on-demand consumption). Build the meeting scheduling into your event platform, but be sure to integrate it with attendee calendars.
  • Training and certification opportunities. What official training or support programs will you offer to attendees? Many trade show events or industry membership association meetings are championed for their on-site certification and professional development opportunities. These sessions work just as well virtually, too! Consider saving one day of your conference exclusively for these opportunities (either the first or last day). 
  • After-hours entertainment. After a long day of joining sessions, networking, and striking up social media conversations, your trade show attendees need a way to unwind. So offer activities after the main conference sessions are over. These social activities can be as simple as an attendee happy hour or something elaborate like a wine and paint night or an exclusive musical performance.

Guide Trade Show Attendees from Experience to Experience

When developing your agenda, ensure that all activities have a clear purpose and that you don’t overwhelm your attendees with choices. For example, the Higher Logic team learned from its virtual Super Forum that their attendees felt they had too many options to choose from. Although that’s a “good problem” to have, it’s still a problem.

Event organizers must prepare their attendees for all the virtual event opportunities, including navigating attendees from experience to experience. Simply posting your event schedule and leaving it to your attendees to remember where they need to be and when for which sessions will likely lead to steep attendee drop off as your event continues.

Create a cohesive event experience for attendees by making the event agenda readily available on your conference site and through your conference mobile application. Enable attendees to add sessions to their calendars automatically so they don’t miss out.

During sessions, ask speakers to direct attendees to the next session or alert them of their options for what to do next. These verbal cues can be complemented with on-screen visuals, like a banner that urges attendees to return to the event platform lobby or a pop-up that links to the next session.

Prepare “Coming Next” or “We’ll Be Right Back With [next activity]” graphics to alert in-person and virtual attendees of what’s next, and think through your attendee transitions to ensure that there is no potential for confusion. 

Pick A Trade Show Event Technology Platform That Elevates the Attendee Experience

You have thoroughly documented your trade show goals and crafted a diverse series of events that supports those needs. Great! Your team is almost ready to host a successful virtual event. That is, of course, if your chosen event platform supports the quality of experience that your attendees expect.

The success of your trade show will depend on if attendees can freely network with exhibitors and sponsors, gain answers to their questions, and assess what solutions are best for their needs. But many event platforms are built with sub-par capabilities that lock attendees in a single room with no ability to connect with other conference attendees. 

Deliver the experience that your attendees deserve by using Social hour to support your next industry trade association event. The team at Frameable built the platform to support a wide range of event sessions and engagement opportunities, including pre-recorded or live-streamed keynotes, concurrent breakout sessions, and networking rooms that foster genuine engagement. Learn more about the Social hour platform and get started to create a more engaging virtual event experience today.  

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virtual trade show

16 KPIs To Measure Your Online Trade Show or Association Conference Success [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

As industry membership associations and trade show organizers find ways to address lost revenues from the postponement of in-person events, many are turning to virtual experiences. Some are doing so with success, but others aren’t quite sure of their results.

87% of industry trade organizations that have hosted virtual events said they were successful. However, the definition of success is unclear, as 39% did not set an official goal. Without setting clear goals for virtual or hybrid conferences and gatherings, associations cannot understand whether their approach is providing value for their members and partners. 

To help understand whether your next virtual conference is a success, let’s review the top key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the attendee and exhibitor experience during an industry trade show or membership association conference.

Example Goals for An Industry Association Online Trade Show

An industry association trade show involves two very unique audiences, each with different goals: your attendees and your exhibitors. Here are suggested KPIs for each audience, plus a few general event KPIs that can measure your event’s overall impact.

Attendee Satisfaction Goals for Trade Shows

Your association members or trade show attendees should be the primary focus of your event experience. How can you provide value to your attendees, connect them with the best resources to help them succeed, and foster long-term growth for them within your community?

Naturally, your team should focus on building an exceptional event agenda that directly addresses the needs of your membership. But to measure if your event was a success, we recommend focusing on these markers of the attendee experience:

  • Attendee satisfaction. Conduct a post-event survey to understand your attendee satisfaction and, most importantly, whether they feel the event met their needs as an association member. Use these survey findings to develop an engagement plan to delight your association members after your event is over.
  • Connections made. If your virtual event platform allows it, assess how many messages attendees exchanged with each other during the event.
  • Conference material downloads. How many attendees downloaded assets from your conference platform? Examine download data before, during, and after your event to understand how long attendees engage with the event content. 
  • Educational credits awarded. Assess the success of your event training and certification programs by measuring the total number of educational credits awarded. You can further explore this metric by reviewing the number of attendees who received educational credits and the average educational credits awarded.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS). How many attendees would recommend the event to a colleague? Add a question to your post-event attendee survey to understand your event NPS. 
  • Next-year registrants. Host a flash sale for next year’s event tickets at this year’s price during your event. Monitor how successful this sale is to gauge whether your event experience generates immediate excitement for next year.  
  • Total attendees. How many people attended your event, in-person and online, and how does this compare to your year-over-year figures?

Exhibitor Satisfaction KPIs for Industry Events

Event exhibitors and sponsors are a vital part of industry trade show experiences. If you fail to meet their needs, they may quit supporting your event—which could be a major miss for your attendees.

Stay ahead of any potential exhibitor or sponsor dissatisfaction by tracking these KPIs:

  • Number of sponsors/exhibitors. Is your team growing its network of exhibitors and sponsors? Or has this number declined year-over-year?
  • Number of visitors to each booth. Regardless of whether the number of event sponsors grows, you need to ensure your attendees engage with these sponsors and exhibitors. What is the average number of booth visits? What does this data show about the type of exhibitors you should approach for your next event? 
  • Number of downloads of vendor collateral. Exhibitors and sponsors need to understand the quality of interactions they had with visitors. So check how many times attendees downloaded collateral from vendors, such as information sheets, product guides, or ebooks. 
  • Number of attendee meetings scheduled. How many attendees scheduled meetings with exhibitors?
  • Number of qualified leads. What is the average number of qualified leads that your vendors gained by attending your event? 

General KPIs To Determine Virtual Event Success

Beyond your attendees and exhibitors, your team should measure additional KPIs that showcase your more significant event impact. For example, was the event well-received by the media? Did you spark conversations on social media? Are you continuing to find new, diverse speakers?

At a minimum, we recommend tracking these trade show KPIs to assess your event success:

  • Diversity of speakers or exhibitors. Ideally, your industry trade show community should reach new people and companies each year. As you build your event schedule and series of activities for your conference, assess how many speaker or exhibitor submissions you receive from individuals or companies that have previously expressed an interest in partnering with you on your event.
  • Social shares/chatter. Monitor social media for posts about your event, and track the number of times that attendees used your event hashtag on social media. Ensure you have team members ready to support your event on social media, including answering attendee questions, encouraging user-generated content, and engaging with attendees.
  • Press attendees. Did any members of the media attend your event?
  • Post-event blog posts and press coverage. What content did people create about your event? 

Choose a Virtual Event Platform with Built-In Reporting Capabilities

Each of the above sets of KPIs is simply a starting point to help your team refine its virtual or hybrid event strategy. We recommend you connect with individual event attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors to discuss their feelings about your event and ways to improve their next experience. 

In addition to these one-on-one conversations, you will find that your event platform will either greatly help—or significantly hinder—your ability to uncover the KPIs you need.

We built Social hour to make it easier to track event metrics like total attendees, maximum concurrent attendees per session, how many attendees interacted with each other, and more. Learn why our customers say we’re an ideal platform for virtual industry membership association or trade show events.

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virtual events

4 Ways to Engage Membership Association Conference Communities Online All Year Long

Given the current state of industry trade shows and membership association events, teams must find new ways to generate revenue that would otherwise come from their traditional in-person conferences. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The best solution to overcome this challenge could also fast-track your community’s success. Savvy event planners are doubling down on their community by providing year-round engagement opportunities online, including member networking events, educational webinars, auctions and fundraisers, and more. 

Let’s explore how your organization can offer similar online opportunities to keep your community engaged without your usual slate of in-person events. 

How To Nurture Your Industry Trade Show or Membership Association Community All Year

Your community will weaken if everyone only meets once a year. Consistent events or webinars, content offerings, and other member-exclusive benefits are essential to spark engagement (which will help nurture and grow your community all year).

Plan a membership engagement strategy with at least one significant offering each quarter, like a webinar or virtual member meetup. Consider hosting an ongoing series like a weekly Facebook Live conversation or social activities such as a monthly trivia night. 

Start small with the number and diversity of offerings. Your team should experiment with just a few options at a time and strive to offer a great experience. Then, as your community begins to engage with these offerings, your team can refine your strategy.   

Consider any of these ways to engage your trade show or association community throughout the year (and we’ll explain a few of these in greater detail next):

  • Educational webinars
  • In-depth interviews with industry experts
  • Members-only discussions on social media
  • Participation in or access to exclusive industry research
  • Professional development opportunities, like training or certifications
  • Casual get-togethers and happy hours
  • Events and activities co-hosted with association partners and event exhibitors

Provide targeted content to help members overcome challenges

Not all of your community members will attend your webinars and members-only discussions. That’s OK, as you can reach these members through other targeted means.

Repurpose all your webinars and members-only discussions into blog posts that provide an overview of the discussion, plus a transcript and full video or audio recording of the conversation. Continue to spotlight this content across your channels, including your email newsletter, social media sites, and your membership website, to maximize the likelihood that it reaches your ideal community members.

Survey members to understand their needs

Survey your association members at least quarterly to understand their current priorities and how your association can help them accomplish their goals. Keep your surveys short and focused, and include open-response answers to ensure you don’t limit your community feedback to validating your team’s assumptions. 

Supplement surveys with one-on-one member conversations that reflect the diversity of your community. 

Elevate membership partners and vendors

Your association partners and vendors want to find new ways to engage with your association, especially given many exhibitors’ mixed results with hybrid event experiences.

As you plan your membership engagement activities, consider involving your partners and vendors in the following ways:

  • Offer a technology showcase day similar to a virtual exhibition hall, spotlighting select vendors and ecosystem partners. This can involve interactive booths, live demos, or casual Q&A depending on what will be most helpful to your members.
  • Use vendor and partner swag or product demos as giveaway items or raffle prizes for members that engage in your online activities.
  • Moderate multiple partners for a relevant panel discussion on a challenging tech topic.
  • Co-create content or co-sponsor research that provides an extensive look at a topic of interest for your community (ideally lending real-world challenges and solutions as relevant).

Host webinars and members-only discussions

As you build your yearly member engagement plan, webinars and members-only discussions will likely be the easiest (and most effective) to start with.

Brainstorm a list of topics to explore in these discussions and experts that can lend a credible perspective on these topics. Bonus points if these are experts that your community actively follows (or if those experts are part of your community).  

There are a few ways to build this list of content ideas:

  • Review the most-attended sessions from your last member event. What topics did your community rave about?
  • Collect any unaddressed questions or comments from your past event sessions. Can you address these in a webinar or discussion?
  • Conduct social listening within your online communities to see what challenges they’re facing and the topics they’re most excited about.
  • Review your association’s professional development and opportunities for continuing education. How can you extend this member value online?

You can easily host conversations on many social media channels, like a Facebook Live stream or a Twitter Spaces audio chat. Be sure to prioritize the channel(s) that your community is already most active on instead of trying to bring that community to a new channel or platform to host your content offerings. 

In addition to social media networks, you can explore a range of virtual collaboration and conversation options, like Social hour, to support your community webinars and discussions. 

Virtual Event Tools Bring Membership Association Communities Together

Your community may take some encouragement to join your initial member events, but these opportunities will gain traction if each one has a clear purpose and value add for your members. Actively listen to your community to learn how you can best delight them with online offerings. 

As you plan your events, your team needs to provide an effortless experience for your attendees. However, most virtual event platforms provide a mediocre user experience, leaving many attendees disengaged (and unlikely to attend your next event).

We’ve built Social hour to support any range of activities for your tradeshow community and keep member engagement at the heart of your event. Learn more about why we’re an ideal solution for monthly happy hours, webinars, and more!

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virtual trade show

3 Tips For Hosting a Successful Industry Trade Association Virtual Event [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

Since the onset of COVID-19, the cancellation of many longstanding trade shows and industry events like Mobile World Congress, E3, and SXSW have dominated headlines—leaving many to question what the future of these traditionally in-person events will look like.

Industry trade associations, in particular, have faced unique financial pressure when adapting their events strategy, given that 27% of these organizations’ revenues come from meetings/trade shows, surpassed only by membership dues at 45%. 

To help trade associations and similar event organizers adapt their events strategy, let’s explore the latest data on how trade association members feel about attending in-person events. We’ll also discuss three common challenges that industry organizations face when creating new virtual or hybrid event experiences. 

How Trade Associations Have Adapted Their Event Strategies

Although it’s uncertain when in-person events will regain their momentum, 70% of respondents in a study from Innovatis Group, a leading association management, and engagement company, listed two top factors for when they will be comfortable with in-person events:

  1. A significant drop in COVID cases 
  2. Widespread vaccinations 

Restrictions like social distancing and smaller group sizes will play a smaller role, according to that survey.

Understandably, in light of these sentiments, the same report found 85% of organizations will increase their investment in virtual events over the next year to address the hesitation to join in-person events. Additionally, 72% of associations plan to create new forms of non-dues revenue, including educational opportunities available in a virtual or hybrid setting. 

Three Hybrid or Online Industry Event Challenges and How to Address Them

As more industry trade organizations explore virtual event opportunities to regain lost revenues from their canceled or delayed in-person events—and provide new value for their members—many teams will face a common set of initial planning hurdles.

When planning your next virtual or hybrid industry event, ensure your team fully explores these areas:

Challenge 1: Creating value for members in a virtual setting

First and foremost, your team needs to understand how it will create value for your event attendees. What do they hope to gain from the experience, and how can you deliver sessions, content, and networking opportunities to meet these needs? 

We recommend you survey your members ahead of your virtual or hybrid event to learn what they hope to gain from the experience. Seek to understand how comfortable your members are at the prospect of in-person gatherings, what challenges they face, and what resources they need to succeed. 

As you learn what your attendees expect from your event, your team can better tailor its goals to assess whether your event was successful.

Challenge 2: Transitioning an in-person event to a virtual event

Even if you have a clear understanding of what your association members hope to gain from your event, all teams are challenged with transitioning an in-person event to a virtual setting. 

Overcome this hurdle by designing your event to be entirely virtual, and then add a complementary in-person experience (if your pre-event survey suggests your community would like an in-person component) around it. 

Planning online-first will help your team map the various connections (or disconnections) within your event experience. Ensure there is a seamless journey for your attendees, from when they first hear about your event, register, join your event, and later access its replays—all while keeping networking and cross-platform engagement opportunities front and center for everyone. 

Challenge 3: Creating value for event exhibitors and sponsors in a virtual or hybrid setting

Keeping your event exhibitors and sponsors happy is vital to ensure long-term event success. If exhibitors or sponsors fail to see the value in partnering for your event, they will likely stop supporting your activities, limiting the potential value for your attendees. 

Spotlight your exhibitors and sponsors throughout your event experience to maximize their ability to engage with your attendees. Use social media to highlight sponsored sessions, coordinate raffles and giveaways to generate excitement, and incentivize your attendees to visit the virtual exhibition hall or exhibitor showcase during your event.

As with your attendees, it’s critical to survey your event sponsors and exhibitors to understand what they hope to gain from the experience and ways you can best partner with them for the event. 

Why Your Virtual Event Platform Matters

By addressing each of those three common challenges, your team can more effectively design an event that can replicate the value of your in-person experiences—potentially surpassing your pre-pandemic success.

But there is one final challenge that can make or break your virtual industry trade show experience: poorly designed event technology.

Many event platforms were built immediately following the pandemic, attempting to cash in on the rush to virtual platforms. Or, they are legacy tools designed purely for conference calls that event planners hastily adapted for large-scale events. The result? Overpriced tools that fail to meet your attendee needs—confusing user interfaces, garbled audio, and an inability for people to actually engage. 

We’ve built Social hour with the features that your event attendees need, all in an incredibly easy-to-customize interface. Learn more about why Social hour is the ideal platform for hybrid or virtual industry trade association events

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virtual events

6 Proven Ways To Spark Virtual Event Engagement

As marketers have matured with their virtual events strategies, many of the initial challenges they faced have become significantly easier to solve. 

Most event planners know that it’s essential to set clear goals to guide their planning and support those goals with effective virtual trade show agenda elements. The best event planners collaborate with their exhibitors and sponsors to additionally ensure the planned schedule of virtual activities meets their needs. 

But there is still one major challenge that even the most experienced virtual event planners struggle with: attendee engagement

Cracking the code to engage your virtual audience is a significant opportunity for marketers and event planners. This post discusses current best practices for virtual event attendee engagement, drawing from recent successful virtual or hybrid trade shows and industry membership association experiments.

How to Engage Your Virtual Conference and Trade Show Attendees

Every successful virtual event includes a conference hub that facilitates interaction between all attendees and enables them to access key event details. Create a page for your event site and event app that outlines how attendees can engage with each other and speakers throughout your event. 

These opportunities should include live chat and messaging capabilities in your event platform, social media communities tailored to your event community, dedicated rooms for attendees to network 1:1 or in small groups, and interactive exhibition halls where attendees can meet with vendors. 

Expand on these essentials to deliver a truly engaging virtual event experience for your attendees by following these best practices to garner engagement:

1. Promote attendee engagement opportunities throughout—and leading up to—your event. 

As simple as it may sound, an essential step to garner engagement at your event is to prime attendees for these opportunities in all pre-event communications and during the event. 

Spotlight your event engagement details in a series of pre-event attendee emails. In these emails, further explain how attendees can actively participate during the event. In addition, we recommend you share at least one email exclusively dedicated to answering questions about the engagement opportunities available at your event. 

During your event, ask session speakers to encourage attendees to submit questions in the virtual event platform messaging interface (as appropriate). Conference speakers should also guide attendees to their next experience after that session, including the open networking spaces that attendees can join to keep the conversation going. 

2. Offer gift cards. 

Incentivize attendees to register for your event, join sessions, meet with exhibitors, or engage in sessions by offering a gift card. For example, we’ve seen several conferences incentivize registration by offering as little as a $5-$10 gift card to major retailers (frequently Starbucks) or randomly selecting a few attendees to receive $100-$500 gift cards.

However, you do not want to set an expectation that every attendee interaction will reap a reward. Instead, you want to provide an incentive to encourage attendees to engage, with the potential for a surprise. 

If your event technology allows, track how many times individual attendees join sessions or exchange messages within the platform to enter attendees into your raffle. Your team could also randomly give gift cards to attendees who actively talk about your event on social media, which could, in turn, encourage more attendees to post for a chance to win. 

3. Host partner and exhibitor raffles. 

Alongside (or in place of) gift card giveaways, partner with event sponsors and exhibitors to give away swag, product demos, or other items from those event partners. This builds a more authentic and immersive experience for your attendees compared to providing random giveaways.

An example of this was CXEnergy2021 Virtual Conference’s Tech Showcase, where attendees received prizes for joining and engaging during presentations. In addition, after every demonstration and Q&A, vendors held brand raffles, such as a one-year subscription for their software. These giveaways will likely boost lead generation and brand awareness efforts for your event partners, too, which will elevate their event experience.  

4. Coordinate a scavenger hunt or BINGO board.

Encourage attendees to explore every part of your event platform and use each feature to its fullest by hosting a scavenger hunt or BINGO board of actions to complete. Ask attendees to snap photos or take screenshots during sessions, visit specific event pages, or complete activities that you can track.

Reward attendees with gift cards or partner raffle items, or create exclusive prize packages—such as registration for next year’s event—that build additional excitement for the game.

5. Enable attendees to pre-submit questions.

Set the expectation with attendees that they can ask questions both before and during event sessions. Enable attendees to pre-submit questions to help speakers finalize their session content and help Q&A moderators prioritize questions.

At the end of each session, address a selection of the pre-fielded questions, and encourage attendees to submit more questions via the chat app. This way, your moderators can organize new questions while the speakers address the pre-submitted ones. Not enough time to get to all the questions? No problem! Give the speaker the list of all the submitted questions, and encourage them to create their own content to address those elements.

6. Strike up conversations on social media. 

Use an easy-to-remember hashtag to help your social media moderators actively find and engage with attendee Tweets and other social media posts. Ask attendees to share their favorite breakout session takeaways, and be ready to answer their event questions. Amplify their Tweets to encourage them to keep posting throughout the event. 

Post polls and quizzes to directly encourage engagement, and use event videos, GIFs, or visuals to stir up excitement for the experience. 

Choose a Virtual Event Platform That Enables Attendee Engagement

By thoughtfully creating opportunities for attendees to engage with your virtual event content and activities, you transform them from a passive audience to active participants in your event. 

But even the best-planned engagement opportunities can fall flat if your event platform is not up to par. You need a virtual or hybrid event platform that enables built-in messaging capabilities within sessions, as well as a way for attendees to find and connect with each other. 

With Social hour, you can deliver the engaging virtual trade show experience that your attendees deserve. The platform includes audience polling capabilities, robust chat features, and essential metrics that help you keep attendees engaged and uncover ways to improve their experience. Learn more and get started today

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virtual trade show

9 Elements of a Successful Virtual Trade Show Agenda

How does your trade association plan to make up for lost revenues from the cancellation or postponement of your in-person events?

Online industry trade show events have been vital in keeping communities connected since the onset of COVID-19, providing innovative ways for attendees and exhibitors to engage through virtual event platforms. Capabilities like live demos, exhibition halls with virtual booths, and robust chat functions can effectively replicate many beloved aspects of in-person events.

Despite the potential of virtual trade shows, however, nearly nine in ten industry trade professionals (86%) are still challenged with transitioning an in-person event to a virtual setting—which is understandable, given that many teams just started exploring virtual events within this last year.  

To accelerate your event planning, we recommend you set goals for your upcoming virtual trade show and then craft an agenda to fulfill those needs. Let’s explore how to build an engaging online trade show schedule that creates meaningful opportunities for your attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and other partners. 

9 Online Industry Trade Show Agenda Activities

After reviewing recent and upcoming conferences from the American Society of Association Executives, Michigan Society of Association Executives, Colorado Society of Association Executives, and countless others, these are the must-include agenda items for your next virtual industry association trade show:

  • Board meeting: Your association board should meet during your conference. Most associations host this meeting on the first morning of their conference or shortly after the main conference wraps. 
  • Vendor demos/Exhibition Hall/Solutions Lounge: Your attendees need dedicated spaces to engage with your event exhibitors and partners. Enable exhibitors to showcase their solutions to your attendees in a virtual exhibition hall or vendor demo space. Offer an opportunity for Q&A, live demos, and hands-on learning to ensure exhibitors and sponsors see plenty of virtual foot traffic. 
  • Awards recognition: Host an awards ceremony that celebrates your trade show or industry association community (if relevant). These award ceremonies are an opportunity to spotlight members of your community and recognize them for their strides in your field or their dedication to your group. 
  • Express talks/Speed networking sessions/Short breakouts: Not all conference sessions should keep all conference-goers captive for an hour. Instead, offer breakout sessions of varying lengths for your attendees to dive into niche topics of interest that complement your overarching event theme. These smaller-group breakouts are perfect opportunities for attendees to mix and mingle in a more intimate setting than the conference keynotes. Offer two or three concurrent breakout sessions at a time to increase the diversity of your speaker roster and thoroughly explore the topics your audience cares about.   
  • Roundtable sessions: Gather a diverse roster of speakers to lead smaller group discussions on topics of interest to your attendees. Each speaker should have a unique element they can lend to the conversation—including the title or level of the speaker, their industry, or their specific experience with the topic—to support a well-rounded conversation. 
  • Lunchtime sessions or opportunities: Every minute of your conference should include some way to delight your attendees—and that includes lunch. Coordinate group conversations, 1:1 meetups, or informal lunch-and-learn sessions that attendees can join during lunch. Consider hosting a purely entertainment-focused activity, like a cooking demo, comedian set, or short film screening if your budget allows.  
  • 1:1s by appointment: Carve time from your agenda to coordinate one-on-one meetings with attendees, exhibitors, and other event partners. Attendees should be able to make appointments throughout your conference, not just in small exhibit hall break windows. Some attendees won’t mind missing a session to meet with a vendor (especially if your sessions are available for on-demand consumption). Build the meeting scheduling into your event platform, but be sure to integrate it with attendee calendars.
  • Training and certification opportunities. What official training or support programs will you offer to attendees? Many trade show events or industry membership association meetings are championed for their on-site certification and professional development opportunities. These sessions work just as well virtually, too! Consider saving one day of your conference exclusively for these opportunities (either the first or last day). 
  • After-hours entertainment. After a long day of joining sessions, networking, and striking up social media conversations, your trade show attendees need a way to unwind. So offer activities after the main conference sessions are over. These social activities can be as simple as an attendee happy hour or something elaborate like a wine and paint night or an exclusive musical performance.

Guide Trade Show Attendees from Experience to Experience

When developing your agenda, ensure that all activities have a clear purpose and that you don’t overwhelm your attendees with choices. For example, the Higher Logic team learned from its virtual Super Forum that their attendees felt they had too many options to choose from. Although that’s a “good problem” to have, it’s still a problem.

Event organizers must prepare their attendees for all the virtual event opportunities, including navigating attendees from experience to experience. Simply posting your event schedule and leaving it to your attendees to remember where they need to be and when for which sessions will likely lead to steep attendee drop off as your event continues.

Create a cohesive event experience for attendees by making the event agenda readily available on your conference site and through your conference mobile application. Enable attendees to add sessions to their calendars automatically so they don’t miss out.

During sessions, ask speakers to direct attendees to the next session or alert them of their options for what to do next. These verbal cues can be complemented with on-screen visuals, like a banner that urges attendees to return to the event platform lobby or a pop-up that links to the next session.

Prepare “Coming Next” or “We’ll Be Right Back With [next activity]” graphics to alert in-person and virtual attendees of what’s next, and think through your attendee transitions to ensure that there is no potential for confusion. 

Pick A Trade Show Event Technology Platform That Elevates the Attendee Experience

You have thoroughly documented your trade show goals and crafted a diverse series of events that supports those needs. Great! Your team is almost ready to host a successful virtual event. That is, of course, if your chosen event platform supports the quality of experience that your attendees expect.

The success of your trade show will depend on if attendees can freely network with exhibitors and sponsors, gain answers to their questions, and assess what solutions are best for their needs. But many event platforms are built with sub-par capabilities that lock attendees in a single room with no ability to connect with other conference attendees. 

Deliver the experience that your attendees deserve by using Social hour to support your next industry trade association event. The team at Frameable built the platform to support a wide range of event sessions and engagement opportunities, including pre-recorded or live-streamed keynotes, concurrent breakout sessions, and networking rooms that foster genuine engagement. Learn more about the Social hour platform and get started to create a more engaging virtual event experience today.  

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virtual trade show

16 KPIs To Measure Your Online Trade Show or Association Conference Success

As industry membership associations and trade show organizers find ways to address lost revenues from the postponement of in-person events, many are turning to virtual experiences. Some are doing so with success, but others aren’t quite sure of their results.

87% of industry trade organizations that have hosted virtual events said they were successful. However, the definition of success is unclear, as 39% did not set an official goal. Without setting clear goals for virtual or hybrid conferences and gatherings, associations cannot understand whether their approach is providing value for their members and partners. 

To help understand whether your next virtual conference is a success, let’s review the top key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the attendee and exhibitor experience during an industry trade show or membership association conference.

Example Goals for An Industry Association Online Trade Show

An industry association trade show involves two very unique audiences, each with different goals: your attendees and your exhibitors. Here are suggested KPIs for each audience, plus a few general event KPIs that can measure your event’s overall impact.

Attendee Satisfaction Goals for Trade Shows

Your association members or trade show attendees should be the primary focus of your event experience. How can you provide value to your attendees, connect them with the best resources to help them succeed, and foster long-term growth for them within your community?

Naturally, your team should focus on building an exceptional event agenda that directly addresses the needs of your membership. But to measure if your event was a success, we recommend focusing on these markers of the attendee experience:

  • Attendee satisfaction. Conduct a post-event survey to understand your attendee satisfaction and, most importantly, whether they feel the event met their needs as an association member. Use these survey findings to develop an engagement plan to delight your association members after your event is over.
  • Connections made. If your virtual event platform allows it, assess how many messages attendees exchanged with each other during the event.
  • Conference material downloads. How many attendees downloaded assets from your conference platform? Examine download data before, during, and after your event to understand how long attendees engage with the event content. 
  • Educational credits awarded. Assess the success of your event training and certification programs by measuring the total number of educational credits awarded. You can further explore this metric by reviewing the number of attendees who received educational credits and the average educational credits awarded.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS). How many attendees would recommend the event to a colleague? Add a question to your post-event attendee survey to understand your event NPS. 
  • Next-year registrants. Host a flash sale for next year’s event tickets at this year’s price during your event. Monitor how successful this sale is to gauge whether your event experience generates immediate excitement for next year.  
  • Total attendees. How many people attended your event, in-person and online, and how does this compare to your year-over-year figures?

Exhibitor Satisfaction KPIs for Industry Events

Event exhibitors and sponsors are a vital part of industry trade show experiences. If you fail to meet their needs, they may quit supporting your event—which could be a major miss for your attendees.

Stay ahead of any potential exhibitor or sponsor dissatisfaction by tracking these KPIs:

  • Number of sponsors/exhibitors. Is your team growing its network of exhibitors and sponsors? Or has this number declined year-over-year?
  • Number of visitors to each booth. Regardless of whether the number of event sponsors grows, you need to ensure your attendees engage with these sponsors and exhibitors. What is the average number of booth visits? What does this data show about the type of exhibitors you should approach for your next event? 
  • Number of downloads of vendor collateral. Exhibitors and sponsors need to understand the quality of interactions they had with visitors. So check how many times attendees downloaded collateral from vendors, such as information sheets, product guides, or ebooks. 
  • Number of attendee meetings scheduled. How many attendees scheduled meetings with exhibitors?
  • Number of qualified leads. What is the average number of qualified leads that your vendors gained by attending your event? 

General KPIs To Determine Virtual Event Success

Beyond your attendees and exhibitors, your team should measure additional KPIs that showcase your more significant event impact. For example, was the event well-received by the media? Did you spark conversations on social media? Are you continuing to find new, diverse speakers?

At a minimum, we recommend tracking these trade show KPIs to assess your event success:

  • Diversity of speakers or exhibitors. Ideally, your industry trade show community should reach new people and companies each year. As you build your event schedule and series of activities for your conference, assess how many speaker or exhibitor submissions you receive from individuals or companies that have previously expressed an interest in partnering with you on your event.
  • Social shares/chatter. Monitor social media for posts about your event, and track the number of times that attendees used your event hashtag on social media. Ensure you have team members ready to support your event on social media, including answering attendee questions, encouraging user-generated content, and engaging with attendees.
  • Press attendees. Did any members of the media attend your event?
  • Post-event blog posts and press coverage. What content did people create about your event? 

Choose a Virtual Event Platform with Built-In Reporting Capabilities

Each of the above sets of KPIs is simply a starting point to help your team refine its virtual or hybrid event strategy. We recommend you connect with individual event attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors to discuss their feelings about your event and ways to improve their next experience. 

In addition to these one-on-one conversations, you will find that your event platform will either greatly help—or significantly hinder—your ability to uncover the KPIs you need.

We built Social hour to make it easier to track event metrics like total attendees, maximum concurrent attendees per session, how many attendees interacted with each other, and more. Learn why our customers say we’re an ideal platform for virtual industry membership association or trade show events.

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virtual trade show

3 Tips For Hosting a Successful Industry Trade Association Virtual Event

Since the onset of COVID-19, the cancellation of many longstanding trade shows and industry events like Mobile World Congress, E3, and SXSW have dominated headlines—leaving many to question what the future of these traditionally in-person events will look like.

Industry trade associations, in particular, have faced unique financial pressure when adapting their events strategy, given that 27% of these organizations’ revenues come from meetings/trade shows, surpassed only by membership dues at 45%. 

To help trade associations and similar event organizers adapt their events strategy, let’s explore the latest data on how trade association members feel about attending in-person events. We’ll also discuss three common challenges that industry organizations face when creating new virtual or hybrid event experiences. 

How Trade Associations Have Adapted Their Event Strategies

Although it’s uncertain when in-person events will regain their momentum, 70% of respondents in a study from Innovatis Group, a leading association management, and engagement company, listed two top factors for when they will be comfortable with in-person events:

  1. A significant drop in COVID cases 
  2. Widespread vaccinations 

Restrictions like social distancing and smaller group sizes will play a smaller role, according to that survey.

Understandably, in light of these sentiments, the same report found 85% of organizations will increase their investment in virtual events over the next year to address the hesitation to join in-person events. Additionally, 72% of associations plan to create new forms of non-dues revenue, including educational opportunities available in a virtual or hybrid setting. 

Three Hybrid or Online Industry Event Challenges and How to Address Them

As more industry trade organizations explore virtual event opportunities to regain lost revenues from their canceled or delayed in-person events—and provide new value for their members—many teams will face a common set of initial planning hurdles.

When planning your next virtual or hybrid industry event, ensure your team fully explores these areas:

Challenge 1: Creating value for members in a virtual setting

First and foremost, your team needs to understand how it will create value for your event attendees. What do they hope to gain from the experience, and how can you deliver sessions, content, and networking opportunities to meet these needs? 

We recommend you survey your members ahead of your virtual or hybrid event to learn what they hope to gain from the experience. Seek to understand how comfortable your members are at the prospect of in-person gatherings, what challenges they face, and what resources they need to succeed. 

As you learn what your attendees expect from your event, your team can better tailor its goals to assess whether your event was successful.

Challenge 2: Transitioning an in-person event to a virtual event

Even if you have a clear understanding of what your association members hope to gain from your event, all teams are challenged with transitioning an in-person event to a virtual setting. 

Overcome this hurdle by designing your event to be entirely virtual, and then add a complementary in-person experience (if your pre-event survey suggests your community would like an in-person component) around it. 

Planning online-first will help your team map the various connections (or disconnections) within your event experience. Ensure there is a seamless journey for your attendees, from when they first hear about your event, register, join your event, and later access its replays—all while keeping networking and cross-platform engagement opportunities front and center for everyone. 

Challenge 3: Creating value for event exhibitors and sponsors in a virtual or hybrid setting

Keeping your event exhibitors and sponsors happy is vital to ensure long-term event success. If exhibitors or sponsors fail to see the value in partnering for your event, they will likely stop supporting your activities, limiting the potential value for your attendees. 

Spotlight your exhibitors and sponsors throughout your event experience to maximize their ability to engage with your attendees. Use social media to highlight sponsored sessions, coordinate raffles and giveaways to generate excitement, and incentivize your attendees to visit the virtual exhibition hall or exhibitor showcase during your event.

As with your attendees, it’s critical to survey your event sponsors and exhibitors to understand what they hope to gain from the experience and ways you can best partner with them for the event. 

Why Your Virtual Event Platform Matters

By addressing each of those three common challenges, your team can more effectively design an event that can replicate the value of your in-person experiences—potentially surpassing your pre-pandemic success.

But there is one final challenge that can make or break your virtual industry trade show experience: poorly designed event technology.

Many event platforms were built immediately following the pandemic, attempting to cash in on the rush to virtual platforms. Or, they are legacy tools designed purely for conference calls that event planners hastily adapted for large-scale events. The result? Overpriced tools that fail to meet your attendee needs—confusing user interfaces, garbled audio, and an inability for people to actually engage. 

We’ve built Social hour with the features that your event attendees need, all in an incredibly easy-to-customize interface. Learn more about why Social hour is the ideal platform for hybrid or virtual industry trade association events