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Industry Trade Shows are Going Virtual: Here’s What to Expect

At a Glance

  • Virtual trade shows have become more sophisticated while in-person events are not possible.
  • Virtual trade shows may feel incomparable to in-person events, but for the current climate they offer great ways to collect leads, display products and establish new business relationships
  • Learning to adapt to the virtual platform will ensure your relevancy in the evolving economy and prosper your brand

With in-person events forgone for the foreseeable future, virtual trade shows offer an adaptation to quench our craving for interactions. Though the virtual substitute can’t replace those meaningful handshakes, they have many features that will spark new business relationships and generate sales. Here’s an idea of what we can expect from the platform and understand the impact on the promo industry, with help from Jessica Del Rio, the event manager for the upcoming Sage Show, a promotional products trade show.

Many Ways to Communicate

Virtual events offer a variety of ways to connect. Live showrooms have moments where exhibitors speak with more than one person at their showroom or lounges. Virtual events accomplish the same over group chat rooms, one on one chat and video call. In showrooms and lounges, you can speak to the room’s audience to address significant questions or break off into one to one meetings to discuss deals. In these One to One meetings, attendees can meet with distributors and talk specifics about products. At the Sage Show, everyone can also schedule meetings at a time outside the trade show. In addition to this, Sage will group people into lounge areas by local areas. This way, attendees feel a closer connection while remaining far apart.

More Attendees and More Data

Virtual events can allow for more attendees because the barrier to entry is lower: the cost or time involved with travel can’t impede anyone. Jessica Del Rio shared that Sage expects the same number of attendees at their virtual rendition of Sage Show. In addition, virtual events offer more data on who attended your panel, presentation, or showroom and how long they stayed. Every move within the virtual landscape is traceable. Through this data, exhibitors will walk away with an understanding of the pieces that make their brand successful, even though they may not feel a perceivable reaction from buyers through a screen. At the Sage Show, exhibitors will also receive chat logs so distributors can draw out useful tidbits from a conversation or read exactly what a potential buyer shared.

Sage World Show Lobby, Courtesy of Jessica Del Rio

Custom Booths and Showrooms

As a distributor, expect to work with specific software to create your showroom to display products, videos, and demos. This platform still allows your customers to walk through your unique landscape. Expect a 3D simulated environment that is entirely customizable. These spaces offer you the ability to put your brand name throughout and create demo areas. The Sage Show will have a leader board in the main lobby to tally up distributor interactions like initiating chat features or scanning their badge. Attendees will feel incentivized to get the most out of the experience.

Educational Sessions

Virtual trade shows do not compromise on insightful educational sessions for the industry. Some trade shows even allow for extended access to these sessions after the event. Though the Sage Show doesn’t plan to make speaker content available later, they have made it easy to enjoy the sessions during the show. Speakers pre-record their message so they can chat with attendees anytime throughout the show, and attendees don’t have to accommodate their schedule to attend.

Sage World Show Product Pavilion, Courtesy of Jessica Del Rio

Promotional Products Included

Though promo products can’t be passed out as readily in a virtual setting, there are ways to integrate promo into the experience. After an attendee finishes their visit to your booth, they can be promoted with a “thank you for attending” message with space to fill out their shipping info and choose a gift to receive later. This interplay won’t feel as spontaneous and exciting, but attendees will remember your interaction when they receive their free promo in the mail. Jessica Del Rio says the Sage Show allows potential buyers to request samples, which are easy to access because every item is in Sage World. They also plan to continue having a product pavilion with top products from the industry, that are “cool and fun” so everyone can stay on top of trends in the promotional world.

Secure Lead Capture and Payment

Virtual events allow lead capture to be faster, easier, and more reliable. Most platforms have systems in place to track attendees’ contact information and gather lists of buyers to follow up. At the Sage Show, an attendee can click to have their badge scanned when they enter the booth. This action will generate a lead for the supplier. Some platforms guarantee a minimum amount of leads. For any deals you want to make on the spot, virtual trade shows embed eCommerce platforms into the event to allow your brand to secure transactions at the end of a deal.

Extended access to Content

VIrtual Tradeshows are typically shorter, some as few as two hours. The Sage Show is six hours. Following the live event, some platforms allow participants can access any content they missed or revisit showrooms, panels, and presentations. Different trade show mediums offer varying levels of access to the information after the event and lengths of exposure, from 30, 60, to 90 days afterward. The Sage Show makes leads accessible to exhibitors any time after the show.


Virtual Trade Shows will feel different but can be a great asset to your brand. Expect the emergence of these events to create a safe option anytime a pandemic or natural disaster disrupts plans for in-person trade shows. Adapting to virtual shows can ensure your brand will prosper no matter the circumstance. These online experiences will also make you appreciate shared spaces and handshakes even more in the future.

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