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Virtual Trade Shows: Education, Networking & More At Your Own Computer

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By Diane Berkenfeld

Last week I went to a trade show. And I didn’t even bother to get out of my pajamas. Ok… I did get dressed, but I could have stayed in my P.J.s with bed head and no makeup, and no one would have been the wiser.

How you ask? I attended the Focus on Wedding and Portrait Photography virtual trade show organized by PDN magazine (www.pdnonline.com; www.photoplusexpo.com). The tradeshow was “live” May 24 and 25, but will be archived for the next two months.

On the left is a screengrab of one of the three exhibit halls, on the right is a screengrab of the lobby of the PDN Virtual Trade Show.

Just like normal trade shows in the physical world, this virtual show had a lobby, three exhibit halls and an auditorium where seminars were given. Just like actual trade shows, you could have your badge swiped to receive additional information. You could even put digital information (PDFs) in your exhibit bag, and download them later.

The Focus on Wedding and Portrait Photography virtual trade show focused on weddings and portraits. The range of seminars included those dedicated to posing and lighting, business and marketing, and Photoshop techniques.

I love the idea of a virtual trade show. While I enjoy attending actual trade shows because of the face-to-face networking and true interactivity of presentations, there is definitely a place for virtual events. Especially when you can’t get away from work or afford travel expenses. For a virtual event, just fill out the registration form and attend. What’s great about virtual events is that the seminars begin for each attendee when they enter the auditorium. For example, enter most of the seminars late at a virtual event, and you aren’t conspicuously searching for a seat and missing part of the presentation. When these virtual events are archived (this show is being archived for two months) you can take in all of the presentations at your leisure.

After many of the seminars at the Focus on Wedding and Portrait Photography event, there were live chats with the presenters. Just type your questions and the presenter types his/her response.

How popular are virtual events? They are being attended in increasing numbers and gaining in popularity, according to Champion Exposition Services. Seven out of 10 respondents in their ‘survey on the use and adoption of digital tools by the association market’ are actively producing or considering a future virtual event. And these associations aren’t replacing actual shows with virtual events but adding them into their marketing mix.

I found the more interactive booths where video launched automatically, were the more interesting ones over those that only had PDF files that you’d download and read later.

On the left is a screengrab of Doug Gordon's exhibitor booth, on the right is a screengrab of the video that automatically launches when you visit the booth. This was one of the more interactive booths of the virtual trade show.

You could even connect with fellow attendees, via email or chat.

For the most part, the attendees, exhibitors and presenters I spoke with came away a positive experience from PDN‘s virtual trade show. One benefit for exhibitors: a virtual event replaces hours or even days of booth set up and tear down with mere minutes of work. Exhibitors noted they were able to connect with new customers, presenters enjoyed the experience, and attendees liked the concept and experience.

Pet photographer Margaret Bryant (www.bryantdogphotography.com) attended this event as well as a previous PDN virtual trade show. Although she didn’t use the chat feature, she did like that attendees were given the opportunity to chat with presenters and exhibitors. “I think [a virtual show] is probably more valuable for those who can’t attend a physical trade show. To me, it is in addition to a physical trade show, not a substitution. I’m a tactile person so I like to touch merchandise at the trade show. I also like the face-to-face contact. But I do think there is a place for virtual trade shows,” Bryant says.

This virtual show was the first attended by photographer Stephanie Natale, (www.natalephotography.com). Natale ‘walked the trade show’ and even signed up with one of the exhibitors. “I think it is a great idea,” she says, adding, “I’d attend another one for sure.”

Darla Achey, marketing communications specialist, Mitsubishi Digital Electronics, (www.mitsubishi-imaging.com) said this was her first virtual trade show. Mitsubishi was an exhibitor and seminar sponsor. “I love the concept,” she says. In addition to new leads, Achey explains, “This was a great opportunity, that was cost effective, and helped us build brand recognition for our photo products.” She adds, “It’s a great way to reach people who might not otherwise be able to get away for a trade show.”

The PDN virtual event was also the first such experience for photographer and presenter Judy Host (www.judyhost.com). She feels the concept has worldwide appeal. “I would love to participate again. There is something to be said about having your program pre-recorded and being able to respond to questions via email afterwards. I don’t think it will ever replace a “real experience” but it sure does give access to those who wouldn’t normally have it.” Host sees virtual events as a great educational tool. “There are so many people out there that want the education that we provide and just can’t afford to travel and/or give up their time. This brings the training into their homes and makes it convenient for them to learn. As an educator, it just doesn’t get any better than that,” she adds.

So the next time an invitation to a virtual trade show lands in your e-mail inbox, why not attend. You won’t have to travel further than your own computer—and you just might learn something new!