The Perfect Post-COVID-19 Trade Show

The perfect post-COVID-19 trade show may not happen, or could it?  I wonder… nothing so far has provided the opportunity for positive change more than the COVID-19 shutdown. Nothing has given the Exhibit Industry more opportunity to organize and execute the perfect face-to-face show, until now.

Here are some ideas:

Leveraging the power of the internet – The perfect trade show would leverage the power of the internet in a big way, huge! This would provide a richer show experience for exhibitors and attendees. Most hotels and coffee shops provide free internet to their guests. Today access to the internet is fairly widespread and low cost.

So, why let shows gouge Exhibitors for this basic service? Why not somehow provide this basic service at-cost, since having it helps all parties? If every Exhibitor had low cost, high speed internet they would come with more engaging content and more digitally effective booths. Maybe they would need even less staff, as they could stream meetings and demos from back at HQ, or even while working from home. As we speak, third party companies have started to offer the trade show industry an alternative, lower cost, high speed internet solution.

With the explosion of live meeting services like Zoom, Skype and Teams and others, streaming video will remain a big part of post-COVID-19 trade shows. Many developments currently being refined for interim virtual trade shows will become common in post-COVID-19 events. For show organizers, a well-attended show is a successful show.

Leveraging new technology – The perfect show would leverage the power of modern technology, in particular security and safety technology. When I walked CES in recent years, it was obvious to see how the explosion of sensor technology has fueled many industries, most notably health, safety and security.

Today there are low-cost solutions for easily taking individual temperatures as people file through security check points. Likewise, today there are rapid antibody tests available for around $5 that can tell if you are sick with COVID-19 or other viruses. This COVID-19 scare may well be a blessing in disguise, allowing us the opportunity to get our act together for any future mass gathering of people. We can easily accomplish more than just 6 feet social distancing and mandatory masks.

Security is absolutely worth noting. As a builder for over 30 years I can say that most US shows are far too easy to slip into unnoticed. The reason for this is simply poor security. I’ve tried to employ my finely honed tricks at shows in other countries with no success. Why is it that their facilities are truly secure?

Outsourcing security from third-party companies can be expensive and you don’t always get staff that actually care about keeping the show secure. Security doesn’t have to cost and arm and a leg, and it likely can’t be successful when outsourcing. There must be a sense of ownership, owning the responsibility of keeping the show secure. Failure to do so must have consequences that travel up the chain of command, and hold officers accountable. Security teams should be diligent in locating show access points and patrolling them. Even a simple penalty system, to enforce the consequences of a breach, that results in costs for the security provider would greatly increase the overall security of a trade show.

Leveraging exhibit house labor force – The perfect show would allow exhibit houses to install their own booths. Just like they do in every other country, where it’s assumed that the team who built, tested, packed and delivered the booth is also the best team to provide the install. I don’t mean from a supervisor level only, I’m talking hands-on labor as well.

Exhibit builders represent a large portion of the move-in and move-out activity, yet they often have little support for where to park, move in tools and equipment, and even cart loads of last minute items. These builders have a vested interest in the booth arriving to the space undamaged, the crates carefully unpacked and the booth assembled with care and caution. Show labor is a good thing but should be elective and not required. This would raise the bar, good workers would have plenty of work and bad workers would be ferreted out.

So, again, COVID-19 may be giving us an opportunity to weed out ineffective, old go-to solutions and implement new ones. Solutions that utilize emerging technology and lend an eye to how all other countries organize and execute trade shows. Like it or not, the world will keep getting smaller, with a global economy taking precedence over local economies.

Free up show aisles – All shows currently have some form of booth restrictions. These restrictions are designed mainly to keep one exhibitor from unfairly blocking the visibility of another. Maybe there’s one more small restriction we need to add that benefits attendees.

Requiring a 2 foot, uncluttered booth perimeter would provide more space for booth staff to step out of the aisle while others walk by. Placing counters and product right on the aisle has become common but it encourages booth clutter with booth staff spilling out into the aisles. A 2 foot buffer could result in more approachable booth designs and better, more natural opportunity for social distancing.

One impressive show is particularly worth mentioning in this discussion. The SAP Sapphire show, held at the Orlando Convention Center each year, comes to mind as a show that could implement everything mentioned to easily be a perfect show.

Orlando has a history of being the most relaxed city for Exhibit Houses to work in. There is ample parking with easy access to the show floor for all. Show labor is available but not required. Exhibit Houses can do most of install work, except work below the ground in the electrical floor plates and the work suspended from the ceiling. This makes sense and is why Orlando is most familiar and welcoming to exhibitors from other countries.

Good job Orlando and SAP Sapphire. Hopefully your examples can inspire others as we all look for ways to make trade shows great again!

Quick two minute video.