As virtual meetings and conferences become more common, we can only assume that online trade shows are next. Although they're more complicated to transition online, there is existing tech to assist. Here are 10 tools for organizing virtual trade shows.
More and more major events are announcing online alternatives after canceling their in-person gatherings, but virtual trade shows and exhibitions still haven’t jumped on the bandwagon. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the fact that the value of trade shows revolves largely around showcasing products and services, customized demos, and impromptu discoveries.
Although it may be difficult for virtual trade shows to compare to their in-person originals, and the list of available tech specifically tailored to trade shows is not as extensive as that for conferences, it is still possible to organize an engaging and productive exhibition online. If done right, a virtual trade show can become a compelling alternative with value in its own right.
After looking at all these tools, it is important to note that some players have been around for a while. They get virtual trade shows. They know what tools are needed to make networking happen. It is also impossible not to point out the incredibly dated look that most of these platforms have. The experience is, in most cases, very 2009, screaming for product redesign or for external disruption to come into play.
Looking at some of the providers, you can tell mostly marketing is what drives their positioning, and there is very little substance in terms of tools. In some cases, “virtual booths” consist of little more than a page on a website. It’s also interesting to note how many call themselves “the leading tool.”
As usual, it is not our task at EventMB to judge (though, in some cases, we have done so a little). You will decide what tool works best for your event, at what price point, and with what level of support. We hope this post is a starting point to sum up all the tools in one place, and to give you a quick way to trim the fat. You can then book demos with the ones you find more interesting.
INXPO is one of the platforms that has been around for a while. As a live-streaming service, INXPO excels at presentation elements like keynote and breakout sessions, which can be made available within the event platform to either live-stream or watch on-demand.
When it comes to trade shows, it includes a virtual booths feature where exhibitors are listed and attendees are able to click through to “visit” the different booths (that appear as different webpages), which include a brief description of the company as well as relevant materials such as case studies.
To make the exhibitor more engaging, the platform also includes event spaces such as lobby and theater to add a dynamic feel and familiar elements to the event.
There is a chat function where attendees can interact with booth staff if they are online, and they also have the ability to schedule a demo, but it’s done through an external link that takes them to the exhibitor’s website.
VFairs is a tool that is geared towards online conferences, trade shows, and job fairs. Its trade show offering provides customizable booths that are designed to look like actual booths on a trade show floor that attendees can visit.
Each exhibitor booth contains on-demand content such as videos and presentations that attendees can view and download. The platform also includes various chat functions for attendees to interact with exhibitors in real-time through text, audio, or video. There is also the option for group chats to engage with multiple buyers simultaneously. Networking is one of the main reasons why we attend trade shows, therefore such additions are very valuable.
In addition, vFairs includes an e-commerce integration that allows attendees to add products to their cart as if they were shopping around at a trade show and either purchase them during the event or save them for later.
The 6Connex virtual event platform is specifically designed for virtual trade shows, job fairs, and summits. In terms of design, it offers a ‘Sims’ like feeling of walking in the different environments of a convention center. Good? Bad? You’ll be the judge. Each exhibit booth appears as an image of a booth on the screen, which can be customized and includes brand materials for each exhibitor.
Exhibitors can include information and resources in their booths for attendees to view or download, such as pre-recorded video product demos, but on-demand interactions are limited. There is a chat function that allows exhibitors and booth visitors to message in real-time, but there is no video chat function or ability to host a meeting between exhibitors and attendees.
Platform 6Connex also includes a Leaderboard feature that enables attendees to compete for prizes to increase engagement. Point values can be assigned for actions performed throughout the event, such as visiting booths, and everyone can follow along by viewing scores on the Leaderboard.
One of the few tools that’s marketed specifically as a virtual trade fair and expo platform (although it also covers conferences and other types of events), Hexafair offers many similar features. The platform includes ‘feature-packed’ booths that attendees can interact with and even review. The feeling of Second Life is still there with the avatar-based interaction, though the design is a bit more 3 dimensional and scoped out.
In each exhibitor booth, attendees can view basic information on the company and its products or services, as well as any images or brochures that the exhibitor decides to include. If attendees are looking for product presentations, they can view pre-recorded videos that exhibitors have uploaded to their booths or chat with exhibitors for more information. The platform doesn’t facilitate live demos.
In addition, Hexafair includes an attendee directory that attendees can use as a networking tool to look up other people and view their profiles. This feature can also be used to view who is currently online, request one-on-one chats, set up video calls, and exchange business cards. There is also an e-commerce integration, allowing for the purchasing of products during the event like at a live trade show.
Map Your Show
Map Your Show is an event and conference management software that includes several different products for live events as well as a relatively new virtual event platform. It was used for the recent online edition of the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition, which included an extensive exhibitors’ section, although it lacked a bit in interactivity.
In terms of exhibitors, the platform provides an exhibitor list through which attendees can search for a particular listing or a category of exhibitors. On each exhibitor page — which acts mostly as an opportunity to link to the company’s website for more information — attendees can find a brief description of the exhibitor as well as an intro or promo video, brochures, and any related conference sessions the exhibitor was involved in. Exhibitors can keep track of leads in their exhibitor’s portal, and the platform also allows for Exhibitor Icons to be placed around the website to lead attendees to exhibitor resources.
Map Your Show doesn’t include any opportunities for real-time interaction, whether by chat or by video call, but attendees can view virtual business cards including the exhibitor’s contact information and contact them for more details. Similarly, there is no networking setup to facilitate attendee engagement or connections with each other.
GTR is an event technology tool pivoted to virtual events. According to their website, the virtual event platform aims to combine webinars and networking, and can be used for virtual trade shows.
Many of the features are conducive to a successful exhibition, such as one-on-one real-time meetups among attendees or between attendees and exhibitors. This allows for networking between attendees as well as the ability for exhibitors to do live product demos. Attendees can also request more information from exhibitors, allowing exhibitors to capture and monitor potential leads.
Like other tools on this list, GTR’s platform feels and functions like a website. It has clear tabs for different aspects of the event, such as ‘schedule,’ ‘exhibitors,’ and ‘sponsors.’ Custom landing pages can be created for sponsors and exhibitors that include a company description and other relevant information.
In addition, the platform includes a searchable directory, so all involved parties (attendees, vendors, etc.) can search for each other and find people to connect and network with.
eZ-Xpo calls their product a ‘virtual collaborative expo network.’ Their focus seems to be on creating an ongoing marketplace where users can spread the world on products. Will it help for your virtual trade show? Who knows.
One thing for sure is you can set up what looks like an exhibition booth, and your sponsors can easily upload their own booths. I like that the platform is strongly based on lead generation.
The look and feel from their demo is on the Second Life side in the way the attendee has to interact with sponsors. Once in a booth, you essentially rely on content such as video.
We are once again in the avatar world of trade shows; this is Communiqué (the SEO-motivated domain name is a bit annoying). Enter the lobby, upload your banner type of experience. The virtual host takes you through what you can do in a way that reminds me of Siri. You can move around and access different locations that can be customized and designed for each event.
What happens when you enter a room? You can consume content in the form of a video with screen sharing, etc. The navigation at the bottom of the screen makes it easier to move into different environments.
Booths offer what you’d expect, plus a nice networking twist. 1:1 and group chats are available. Of course, attendees need to be extremely motivated to go around and essentially ask to be pitched at, but this is a wider problem with trade shows, not the platform. In most cases, attendees will want to enter a booth and listen to some high value, non-promotional content, and you can deliver that with Communiqué.
Thank you GoExhbit for making my job easier, and for adding a live demo to your site. We are once again talking about virtual 3D environments. Interesting experience! My Mac went into overclocking while I was trying the demo — probably some error on my end, but maybe not.
I also got stuck while moving in and out with the arrows. Probably my fault once again. Once in a booth, you pull down some information about the exhibitor and you click on their website. There are big posters on the wall that act as video.
That’s as much as I was able to gain from checking the website and looking at the demo, I’m still not sure if it will work as a standalone tool, but it can be an addition to your existing virtual event.
Pivot to Virtual
Many, many companies that offer end-to-end platforms to manage virtual events have built quite solid exhibitor tools. They are part of content-first platforms that do offer an exhibitor hall. What we call the Confibition (you know you read it here first).
We have summed up all these tools offering exhibitor features in our Pivot to Virtual report, and you can get your free copy here.
Virtual trade shows have been slow to take off when compared to other events, which makes sense considering their complexity and that many planners are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with virtual events to begin with.
It’s gotta be said that the user interface of some of the virtual trade show solutions out there is not intuitive and belongs more to the previous decade than the current one. We sincerely hope more innovation and redesign will permeate a very much needed vertical of the virtual event landscape.
For those looking to start a new company or willing to gain market share in event tech, here is your opportunity.