If trade shows and events seemingly went to sleep during the pandemic, they’ve now awakened in a brand-new, better-than-ever era. Not only are they back, but they’re booming—with trade show and conference planning estimated to grow 22.3% this year to a whopping $18.2 billion market size in the U.S. alone. That’s great news, but it doesn’t mean that events everywhere are guaranteed to succeed. In fact, now more than ever, event organizers must up their game in order to cash in on this post-pandemic era. Here’s how.
1. Don’t try to make up for lost time
Raising costs and “sticking” your recovery to the exhibitor wallet and the surrounding supporting industries won’t help your show's resurgence. Trade shows are like mini-bar pricing for companies and their marketing budgets. Raising the ante to participate while not raising the performance of your show will just hurt your cause. So, proceed with caution and remember it’s a delicate ecosystem.
2. Create an actual event
People are hyped up about returning to in-person events, which means one thing: they’re craving excitement. Sure, making new industry connections is great. Yeah, they want to look at innovative products that promise to make their jobs better. But, most of all? They want to be around other humans and have a really good time. This means that hosting a standard conference or gathering just won’t cut it. In fact, let’s scrap those terms altogether. Instead, you need to host an Event (with a capital “E”).
3. Learn from the “Big Dogs”
So, what does that mean? Well, consider the shows that draw the biggest crowds and consistently make a memorable splash. Three immediately come to mind for me: South by Southwest® (SXSW®), CES, and Dreamforce. Think about what sets them apart from other shows. For one, they’re known for top tier entertainment. They secure incredibly talented and well-known performers, getting rockstars (literally and figuratively) to their events. These shows also throw parties for their attendees, with cool themes, plenty of drinks, and nearly palpable levels of high energy. People want to be there and are drawn to them almost magnetically because they just sound like such a good time. How can you follow suit, and elevate your event?
4. Be strategic to compete
Of course, your budget might not be anywhere near the budget of players like SXSW®, CES, and Dreamforce, but it honestly doesn’t have to be. It’s more about your mindset than it is about the actual dollars you have to play with. If you recognize that the face of tradeshows has dramatically changed and aim to create a memorable experience, you’re halfway there.
From that point, get creative with your resources. Can you book some incredible entertainment if you increase your exhibitor costs 10% (again, use caution here per the first note above). Could you hold a raging party for attendees—and keep them onsite, rather than losing them to other events and offsite meetings—if you ditch the meaningless tchotchkes this time around? Your budget might be relatively fixed, but the way you allocate it doesn’t have to be.
The bottom line is this: in this new era of events, you must invest in the experience you’re delivering—or you won’t have attendees left to experience it. It’s time to modernize, and who knows? You might even have some fun along the way.