Trade Events of the Future: What Will They Look Like?

From trade shows to local gatherings, the COVID-19 pandemic has directly impacted the events industry. Many organizers have been forced to cancel their events or find new creative ways to bring people together in virtual ways.

According to one survey, 87 percent of event organizers said they had to cancel events in 2020, while 66 percent said they had to postpone them to a later date. This is not only difficult for the event organizers themselves but also potential attendees. There are many benefits to attending trade events, including networking, education, and new sales opportunities. For many organizations, it’s a critical part of the year to attend these events, either to grow their own businesses or the capabilities of their staff.

Now, as indications begin to point to the pandemic slowly winding to a close, the question then becomes: What’s the “new normal” for trade events?

While it’s perhaps too early to know how the world will change in the months or years to come, there appear to be three main categories of future trade events emerging:

  • What’s old is new again. Perhaps the simplest future reality to imagine is bringing back the trade shows many of us have known and loved to attend when it is safe to do so. State and local governments are beginning to relax local regulations on in-person events. With relaxed regulations, it’s possible to see a return to the hundreds or even thousands of attendees we have seen in the past at local and national trade shows. You are beginning to see some organizations already hoping to reschedule canceled events as early as this coming summer or fall.
  • Going digital. Over the past year, many event organizers have had to shift overnight to an entirely virtual format. For some events, this can make much sense. They deliver many of the same benefits without requiring the disruption or cost of traveling to an event. However, the downside of an entirely virtual event is that it can be harder to foster natural networking and collaboration at an on-site trade show.
  • Neither here nor there. Finally, some organizations might choose to bring together the best of both worlds by hosting an event live while also inviting virtual attendees to stream in online.

Each of these options has benefits and drawbacks. It is up to each business and event planner to decide what makes sense for the goal of the individual event. Regardless, attendees will be able to gather together in one way or another — either virtually or in-person — in the months to come.

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