The Pivot: Exhibitor Lessons

Our team has watched hundreds of exhibitors across many, many virtual trade shows and conferences that we have delivered over Cloud Conventions in 2020 working directly with a large number of companies as we helped our customers stage their event.  So many exhibitors and sponsors were hoping to get a lot of sales leads, have a crowd of attendees enter their booth and approximate their experiences from a live event.  The reality is that most of those exhibitors walked away disappointed.

Here is what we have observed about exhibitors.  Many come to events thinking it takes way less work to exhibit than in a live one.  However, they fail to realize that nothing could be further from the truth.  Although they didn’t have to ship the booth, travel to the venue and stand up all day, they did have to create a plan, prepare ahead of time, elevate their graphics design, and understand how technology can work for you or against you.  

And what we also observed is that our event customers spent quite a bit of time preparing the sponsorship packages, selling the features of the virtual booth and creating a large number of sessions.  However, exhibitors were often left disappointed because the event program didn’t provide enough time for attendees to explore the booth, there were not enough ways to attract attendees to the booth and exhibitors were not provided enough ways to interact directly them.

Here are some lessons that we learned about what it takes to make exhibitors succeed in a virtual tradeshow, conference or event.  

Lesson # 1: Successful exhibitors do their homework and plan ahead.  

They find out the type of individuals who are likely to attend to target this new audience. They look to see who is exhibiting, where they’ve exhibited in the past to get a sense of the competition.  They explore the agenda, look at the topics and incorporate those elements into their content strategy. They start early to upgrade graphics, produce new materials and get the content message in line.  They market ahead of the event leveraging the attendee list provided by the event or create one of their own and reach out ahead to schedule meetings before the event opens.

Lesson #2:  Exhibitors that engage audiences in advance get better results.

The time to engage attendees in a virtual event is not when it opens; it’s well in advance.  Successful exhibitors have a strategy to let the market know that they are exhibiting at the event. They tease potential attendees about what they will experience if they come to the booth and give people reasons to meet while the show is live.  Successful exhibitors use every promotional tool at their disposal including social media, email marketing and press announcements.

Lesson #3: Exhibitors that understand the technology have a better experience. 

Exhibitors participating in multiple events use different technology platforms that host their virtual booths, all of which are different.  Successful exhibitors get to know the technology for each individual event, gain a full understanding of the features and learn how to leverage them to enhance the attendee experience.  Exhibitors must compensate for virtual booths that offer fully featured immersive experiences to those that are more basic.

Lesson #4: Exhibitors must have a content strategy

Exhibitors that excel know how to position themselves as experts in their industry, trend-setters and educators.  They go beyond the need to be constantly focused on selling their product and featured in sessions to showcase their expertise on their marketplace, what is trending, and the changing face of the customer.  A content strategy defines the exhibitor inside the booth as well as on the show’s event stage.

Lesson #5:  Successful exhibitors learn how to build a better booth.

Move around the virtual exhibit hall and visit various booths and it becomes clear to see which exhibitors have ”phoned it in” and those that worked hard to build a better booth.  Booths that attract attendees and hold their attention have compelling graphics, offer video content, upload the right marketing and product materials and have a strategy to give attendees what they need and want.

Lesson #6: Tradeshows and events help exhibitors succeed when they offer opportunities to engage the attendee outside the booth.

Lesson #7:  Booth design needs to create calls to action

If the only thing an attendee can do inside the booth is look around, then the exhibitor has missed opportunities to get the attendee involved with the booth staff, participating in educational opportunities, or having a path to get important items delivered to them.  Calls to action enhance attendee engagement, keep them in the booth longer and accomplish what the exhibitor values most...valuable sales leads. 

Lesson #8: Shows that get creative keep attendees in the platform and in the booth.

Let’s face it, virtual conferences and tradeshows struggle to keep things interesting.  When the event fails to delight the audience, that gives the exhibitor an opening to step in and make the attendee experience memorable inside the booth.  The more creative the booth appears, the more the activities inside the booth are interesting, or the more the content is engaging, the more the exhibitor will be remembered.    

Lesson #9: Tradeshows much provide exhibitors a way to analyze what is happening so they can adjust.

Tradeshows and events need to provide their exhibitors data before, during and after the event and use that intelligence to adjust strategy.  Attendees often register for virtual events at the last minute, and sometimes don’t ever login.  Exhibitors should understand how people many are actually active in the platform to adjust their expectations.  If available, exhibitors should closely monitor booth traffic, content views and engagement to adjust their strategy mid-event if needed.

Lesson #10: Virtual events should provide exhibitors ways to keep engaging their audience.

Virtual events should offer extended timeframes for attendees to watch live sessions on-demand and come back to the exhibit hall to explore the virtual booths.  If a tradeshow understands that attendee engagement inside of a virtual platform can go on year-round, the exhibitor will get the number of leads they expect and stay top of mindshare much longer.


Virtual events will be an integral part of your 2021 and event hosts need to understand that exhibitors need to have ways to attract attendees to the booth, interact with them, get them to take valuable calls to action and generate sales leads.  Exhibitors have more opportunities to achieve a strong ROI in a virtual environment, but they have to put in the work to stand out from the crowd.  Successful exhibitors have to get started early with a plan, start reaching out to the market well before the show stages, learn the platform’s features to take full use of the booth experience and plan to offer strong content.

Successful exhibitors build a better booth by updating graphics and adding strong visuals and think outside the booth to attract attendees through sponsorships.  Event hosts and exhibitors must get creative to make it interesting for attendees to come inside the event, come to the booth and stay with creating calls to action to generate leads.  Event hosts should provide data for exhibitors to analyze and adjust their strategy and a way to keep attendees engaged inside the platform after the live event ends.

Many exhibitors were likely disappointed in their 2020 experiences in virtual shows, but there is time in 2021 to make the right adjustments to get the return on investment that makes a virtual experience worth the time and money invested.

This is the first in a podcast series designed to take the lessons we have learned and offer ideas on how to operationalize them as we plan our virtual events for 2021.  2020 was the year of the “pivot”, but let’s all commit to having 2021 be the year we get it right.

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