I arrived at the trade show a few minutes after the doors opened; there was a fellow out in the lobby area talking generalities to early arrivals like me. I decided to skip the pep talk and went straight into the exhibit hall.
First I meandered down a couple rows, browsing the booths without stopping in anywhere. Most of the displays were modern, colorful, medium sized, and many featured video screens.
Before heading into any specific booth I scouted the peripheral areas, noting the locations of the conference center, the networking lounge and resource center. I checked the times of the industry presentations, made notes to attend at least one, and picked up a few publications at the resource center, putting them into my briefcase to peruse later.
As the morning passed, I chatted with several people in several of the booths. I learned about their products and how they present their services, exchanged business cards with a few sales reps by noon, threw my name in for several prize drawings (Ipads and Ipod Touches are still popular prizes), and then in the afternoon I spent time in the conference center listening to presentations, and in the networking lounge discussing the presentations, and some web marketing technologies, with other attendees and some of the presenting companies.
Throughout all of this, I was sitting in my office, playing my banjo, and eating Tastycake Butterscotch Krimpets.[1. Just kidding about the banjo and krimpets] This was a virtual trade show. Actually, the above describes a bit of a hybrid experience, consisting of two virtual events, both on the ON24 presentation platform.
First was the Material Handling trade show presented July 14 by Globalspec. Lift trucks, conveying equipment, data processing, supply chain, warehouse management topics and software, were all presented and discussed in the booths, in the chat areas, in provided powerpoints and delivered lectures in the virtual auditorium.
The second event I attended was presented by Vocus, the online public relations and marketing software developer. “Retweet: Engagement Means Business” took place July 28, and was more of a virtual conference atmosphere. Social media, web communications, blogging, relationships, Youtube guidelines, explaining Twitter, role of Facebook in B2B… Lots of 2010 marketing-buzz topics were explored, lots of resources discussed.
For both virtual events, the ON24 platform worked. People really did move throughout the environment and partake in all the different offerings much like they would at a live event. I did experience a small technical glitch at one of the events, suddenly finding myself in a virtual “Cone of Silence”[2. The Cone of Silence was first seen on Get Smart starring Don Adams. Revived in Rowan Atkinson’s 2003 spoof Johnny English when the cone failed to funny effect. Scientific American podcasted about the scientific feasibility of the C.O.S when all the interactive features simply ceased functioning. Chat attempts and message sends returned only a stony and disquieting noninteractive emptiness. Logging out and back in solved the problem. The presenters were very concerned and responsive about the issue when I later communicated to them about it.
The Virtual Briefcase is where you put stuff you want to look at later. Powerpoints, PDFs, whitepapers, videos, links to web pages and web tools, product specs, etcetera, can be viewed on the spot, or you can click a little briefcase icon to take it all with you to read or view later. If you’ve met somebody you want to exchange contact information with, either in a networking area or a floor booth, you can chat, email, or exchange virtual business cards, with a click of the mouse.
Navigation may take a while to get used to. It does help to thoroughly explore the virtual space in advance, clicking all the links in the interface, to figure out how everything works before you go out and about.
Before you leave (log out), you can visit “My Information” and download all the information in your briefcase, and the contacts you’ve made. They email you a link to a zip file.
Have you ever been on the plane home from an event and thought “I wish I’d had time to hear that session on Chiral Symmetry vs. Specific Rotation with Biomembrane Technology?”[3. Well, I confess I’ve never actually had that specific feeling but I do remember wishing I had been able to squeeze in the Chris Smither performance at a music festival…you get the idea…] One great advantage of a virtual trade show is that, in many cases, the presenter archives key parts of the event for attendees, or even new on-demand registrants, to consume later.[4. In addition to the on-demand archived content, there are no plane rides, no sandwich lines, no stinkin’ (show) badges, no hotel reservations—making the virtual experience valuable, yet perhaps not quite as personal and vibrant as the living, walking, breathing organism.]
Please comment here if you’ve had some interesting experiences or have thoughts about virtual events. Also, if you’d like to discuss any of these topics (web interactivity, B2B social media, process industries, etc.) specifically you can email me here firstname.lastname@example.org