I spent part of Tuesday poking around the InfoComm Connected site, curious as to how a big AV trade show would look and work when done virtually.
My lightning impression is that few people would conclude there’s no need to do the real thing anymore, because a virtual version does all that’s needed for exhibitors and attendees. This is NOT the future, unless it has to be until a vaccine is developed, tested and mass-distributed.
That is absolutely NOT a criticism of the trade association AVIXA, which had to pivot from a full-on physical show to an entirely digital one, in a matter of weeks – and come up with something that addressed a lot of diverse stakeholder interests and needs.
I would liken what I experienced – as a viewer/listener, booth browser and education session host/guest – to an organized, curated aggregate of webinars, web demos and Zoom roundtable video calls, blended with enhanced versions of exhibitor listings and some packaged-up video presentations that run on demand.
I don’t really know what I expected, but I had no big moment when I thought, “Ok, this is where trade shows are going.”
Again, AVIXA had to scramble just to pull this off smoothly, so expecting a revolutionary approach is unrealistic.
Here’s what I liked about this set-up:
- not traveling all day;
- not melting in Las Vegas or having a humidity-induced health emergency in Orlando;
- the ability to have meals and restroom breaks, instead of realizing at 4 pm I should maybe eat something other than trade show booth candy;
- the time to sit and watch demos that interested me;
- the ability to get out of a conversation just by clicking, instead of trying to extricate myself from demos or pitches I don’t care/need/understand (“I’m sorry to cut you off, but I’m late for a meeting. Gotta go. BYE!”);
- the ability to dive in and out of presentations with a mouse click, allowing me to bounce over to something else if the subject matter isn’t clicking or the speaker is boring the pants off me;
- the attention some exhibitors paid to their on-demand video presentations – putting together sessions tuned to the moment and in some cases focused on big topics like the new norms of workplaces and work from home;
- the attempt at a matchmaking function, so people could virtually network (when I went in to this area the numbers of opt-ins was pretty low);
I can’t say there is anything about the way this is being done that I dislike, other than it’s not replacement for the real deal.
Years ago, when virtual online worlds were more of a thing than they are now, there were stabs at virtual trade shows that made it look, very generally, like you were at a convention center and able to kinda-sorta virtually move around, walk the exhibit hall and enter booths. That sort of 3D/Second Life thing never really caught on, and I don’t think that’s the answer here.
Software can be effectively demo’d online, and in many respects it’s a better way to do it than in-person, huddled around a demo area on a loud, busy exhibit hall floor. Some of the on-demand videos I watched were very effective for that.
But hardware tends to be the sort of thing buyers and partners want to see in close quarters, and handle. They need to see how it looks and feels, the build quality and what it does that’s different.
One thing I think would be effective, and totally do-able, would be having on-demand sales engineers or product managers available on video calls. Demos trigger tons of technical questions – so being able to click a link and launch a Zoom/Teams whatever session with someone who is at the ready, remotely, would be useful.
Trade shows and conferences are also about networking and renewed customer contacts. For some vendors, client breakfasts and dinners may be more important and fruitful than the booth.
So again, I can’t imagine a lot of vendors are looking at InfoComm Connected and thinking, “Why don’t we just do this from now on?”
But … given the trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S., in particular, I think it is wildly unrealistic to expect we’re physically attending trade shows again in 2020. ISE 2021 and InfoComm 2021 are probably, unfortunately, best regarded as “maybe” events.
Presumably, as this all sinks in, and the associations and for-profit companies that do trade shows have time to adjust and pivot, we’ll likely see these virtual events evolve and grow more compelling.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.