When planning a virtual industry event, the attendee experience will naturally be top-of-mind throughout your planning. But there is another critical audience to consider: your exhibitors.
A worrying 73% of trade show exhibitors ranked virtual events as somewhat to extremely ineffective for them. Yikes! If you fail to meet exhibitor needs, you run the risk that those exhibitors will no longer partner with you for your events. Or even worse, they may go rogue and create their own events, undermining or competing with yours, as some event professionals warn.
To get ahead of potential exhibitor dissatisfaction, industry trade show organizers need to significantly reinvent how they approach their exhibitor relationships to drive results in the world of virtual and hybrid events.
Here is how you can create a successful partnership with your exhibitors to meet their goals while also satisfying your event attendees and partners.
What Do Exhibitors Gain From Participating in Virtual Events?
To tailor your virtual event experience to benefit exhibitors, your event planning committee needs to understand—and be able to express—what exhibitors can gain from participating in virtual events. Some of the benefits include:
- Reaching new audiences without travel costs, boosting brand awareness
- Opportunities to distribute product information to a new audience
- Lead generation with a seamless handoff to digital marketing nurture streams
- Social media engagement opportunities with event attendees
- Potential ongoing partnership opportunities with event organizers
Virtual trade show exhibitors typically measure their success on new qualified leads, but other KPIs can be important to them, too. Total booth visitors, the number of one-on-one appointments held, access to product trials, and new social media followers can all signal a successful trade show exhibition experience.
To maximize your exhibitor’s potential to reach and engage your event attendees, your team needs to use an event platform that allows you to create public and private spaces that elevate your event partners. Most exhibitors can replicate the value of their in-person exhibitions online, but it may take a little extra effort on your organization’s part.
20 Ways To Delight Virtual Trade Show Exhibitors
Virtual event attendees need to explore and connect with your event exhibitors freely. But you cannot expect attendees to naturally flock to your virtual exhibition hall the same way they would at an in-person event.
Instead, after you’ve covered the essential ways to encourage engagement from virtual trade show attendees, explore each of these ideas to maximize the virtual trade show exhibitor experience:
Before your event:
- Connect with exhibitors through a survey and individual conversations to understand what they hope to gain from the event experience.
- Involve exhibitors and sponsors in planning some of your event activities, such as after-hours events or sponsored sessions.
- Prime attendees for ways they can engage with event exhibitors in all pre-event communications.
- Encourage attendees to pre-submit questions for exhibitor-led sessions.
During your event:
- Arrange virtual and in-person scavenger hunts that encourage attendees to visit sponsor booths and do more than grab some swag and run. Ask attendees to snap photos or take screenshots of various spaces across your exhibition hall or follow clues that lead them from booth to booth. Small prizes like $5-$10 gift cards or vendor giveaways can incentivize attendees to participate.
- Create custom-made graphics that spotlight your exhibitors and vendors. Amplify these posts using your event hashtag and by tagging/@ mentioning the event partner.
- Conduct trade show raffles and giveaways featuring exhibitor products and swag.
- Interview exhibitors in live stream conversations to preview what attendees can gain by visiting their booth.
- Highlight trade show exhibitors and sponsors throughout your event platform, and on social media. For starters, this can include your event registration page, on your event interface, through sponsored sessions, and in the virtual exhibition hall.
- Build a virtual exhibition hall that enables attendees to browse trade show booths and later engage with those companies if interested.
- Provide an online green room where your attendees can have exclusive access to exhibitors and session presenters for Q&A and live demos.
- Allow attendees to make appointments with exhibitors ahead of time, in addition to general drop-in hours.
- Send pop-up announcements in your event platform to encourage attendees to connect with exhibitors.
- Build an interactive virtual Exhibition Hall directory where attendees can quickly browse and filter exhibitors based on their products and services.
- Provide a clear overview of each exhibitor, including what their company does and what value they can provide to attendees.
- Include a calendar integration so sessions and vendor meetings automatically become a calendar invite for attendees.
- Include dedicated exhibit hall time in your event schedule
After your event:
- Send a post-event survey to event exhibitors and partners to understand their experience at the event, including if they met their goals and feedback to help you better tailor future events to meet your exhibitor needs.
- Offer ongoing partnership opportunities with your event exhibitors to expand on topics they explored at your event. This can include webinars, live Q&A on social media channels, guest content opportunities, and more.
- Promote event session replays and exhibitor downloads across your communications channels to maximize the number of attendees that engage with your exhibitors.
Naturally, if you do these 20 things, your exhibitors will feel valued, engaged, and confident that you’ve done your best to create exhibitor engagement at your virtual trade show.
How to Survey Exhibitors to Refine and Measure Your Event ROI
The ideas above will help your virtual trade show exhibitors have a successful virtual event experience, meaning they are more likely to keep partnering with you and your community. But event planners need to be proactive in getting ahead of exhibitor needs throughout every step of the event planning process—and that includes well before and after your event ends.
The most effective way to please virtual trade show exhibitors is to survey them before your event to gauge their needs and afterward to see if you met those needs. These surveys should explore everything about how you can provide value to your event exhibitors and help them meet their goals. Common topics for event exhibitor surveys include why they chose to exhibit at your event, how they plan to measure their success, how they intend to engage your attendees, whether they are interested in partnering on social activities for your event, and more.
There are many options for hosting an event exhibitor survey, and many survey tools are completely free to use. A few survey platforms you can consider are:
To help you get started, we’ve created two free virtual trade show exhibitor satisfaction surveys in Google Forms. Download and copy our pre-event exhibitor survey and our post-event exhibitor survey to fast-track your process.