How to Get Leads Since COVID-19 Killed Your Trade Show Strategy? Create a Virtual Trade Show

How to create a virtual trade show

Due to COVID-19 shutting down most Trade Shows canceling them for the foreseeable future. Most businesses are thinking about moving to virtual event production, also known as online events. Virtual events or virtual trade show will never fully replace face to face events. There are some things you can’t do virtually; like what happens outside of the show, the parties, the networking events. However, with the right strategy, you can help keep your sales pipeline full and provide a new opportunity for additional sales that your company was missing out on before. The virtual event space is crowded. You will need to work harder than your competitors to stand out and attract your ideal attendees.

You need to go beyond a Zoom meeting with your webcam or webinar to have a successful virtual event that will have the same impact as our trade shows. We have all been webinared to death since COVID-19 hit. People are becoming picky about which events they will attend. This means a Zoom meeting won’t create the engagement you need for a successful event. Your virtual event needs to be formatted like, and look like, a professional TV show. Here’s how you can make a video for your business in a COVID19 world.

What type of event

Will you do one big event or a series of smaller events?  This is also where you decide if your event will be live or prerecorded. Each has benefits and risks.

A live event will create extra excitement around your event. It will allow you to interact with attendees in real-time. The downside is that live events are risky. If something goes wrong, there is no going back and doing it over. If the live feed goes down, your whole event is gone. There are things that can be done to reduce the likelihood that your feed might go down, but dedicated internet and backup systems also add to the cost.

Prerecorded events don’t have the same excitement of a life event, but it is a good way to minimize risk and it typically costs less because you won’t need all the equipment it takes to pull off a live event. Another option is a hybrid event, where some of the events is prerecorded and some are live. This option is good when you have someone who isn’t good live or isn’t available on the live day. It’s also good if you need to record in a different location and don’t want all the costs associated with an extra live setup.

Who will be the face of the event?

Who will be speaking at your event and what will they be speaking about? Consider all the same things you did at your live events, like keynotes, presentations, breakouts, labs make a real show, make them laugh, keep surprising them. The keyword is engagement. you want people to watch all of your shows. You need more than a slide deck and a talking head. Consider professional talent. The script for each presentation is very important. You can be an OK speaker and keep an audience’s attention in an in-person event, but on a virtual event, it is easier for people to tune out so you will need to format your scripts for maximum engagement. A good virtual event will take a month or more to plan, so give yourself enough time to do it right.

Production value matters.

When it comes to production value, spend as much as you are able to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. DSLR cameras are very popular but they are a poor choice for live events. Things that seem like small details, like proper lighting or a good tripod that will pan and tilt smoothly, will make your production seem more professional. These things all add to the cost, but they are important. I have heard some marketing experts say that the live event shouldn’t be too professional because people will not engage as well. While that may have been true 10 years ago, the internet has grown up since then. If you are a professional brand, you need to look professional in everything you do. You don’t see companies like Apple with poorly produced live events. They have done the research and they know that a well-produced event is important. You may not have Apple’s budget, but the technology has leveled the playing field and it is time for your brand to step up to the plate.

Location, location, location

The location of the virtual trade show matters. It needs to happen in a place that looks like your company. I don’t recommend having everyone do it from home. Using your office, an actual trade show booth, or a set you build will improve the experience of your viewer. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to reinforce the brand in a professional way.


I don’t care how good your sales team or CEO is at presetting everything. It all changes once the camera arrives. You need to rehearse. Doing at least one rehearsal a week in advance will help everyone see what they need to do to make it better. I have been a part of many video projects where top-level executives walk in the room thinking it will be easy only to fail and miss the opportunity. Even the best late-night show performer will do a rehearsal and then they will record the show twice so that if something goes wrong, they can edit the bad take and do it again. I can’t tell you how many times over the last 20 years I have seen people step in front of the camera, thinking they could nail it on the first try, only to waste the company’s money because of poor performance. If you get push back on a rehearsal, tell them the stakes. Let them know how important this is for sales and how important a good show is to keep viewers and the reputation of the company in the marketplace. If that doesn’t work, plan a smaller event for a few customers before the big event so you can work out the bugs in front of a smaller audience. Have a plan for what to do when things go wrong. Plan for all scenarios. The host or MC of your event will be the one who will be the most useful at this.

Show outline

You need to plan it out like you would a tv show. Take a look at any of the late-night shows. They follow a formula. They have a host that starts off the show. They do a few segments and then bring in the guest and musical guest. The nightly news also follows a formula. You need a show plan and the flow of this plan will help you keep the viewer engaged.

How to get people to watch your event

Don’t forget the promotion process before and after the event. You will need to start creating promotion tactics strategies and promote the event at least 2 weeks before the event. You can’t send out a few emails and social media posts at the last minute and expect results. That wasn’t enough to get people to your face to face events and it certainly isn’t going to work for a virtual event.

Email list

Start with your email list. They should be the first group you contact. Your current email list is the most valuable digital asset your company has because it is a direct connection to your customers and prospects. If you don’t have an email list, this will be your chance to build one. Make sure the email subject is something they want to click. Saying something like, “Attend our virtual trade show,” isn’t going to get people to open your email.

Phone call

Have your sales team reach out directly. Make sure you give them talking points. It makes good sense to have a script written out for them. Give them a way to sign up people for the event over the phone. This special one to one touch will go a long way and it gives your sales team an excuse to follow up with clients and prospects.

Social media

Social media is important for your virtual event, even if you are a B2B company. You should consider all social media sites that your ideal customers are active on. Yes, that even means Facebook. 70% of the world is on Facebook. Don’t miss the opportunity that social media marketing provides. No matter which social media sites you choose, you will need to purchase ads. Social media is ‘pay to play.’ You cannot be successful on social media without ads.


Since you are moving some of your sales processes online, you need to look at your company website. You will need a landing page that promotes your virtual event. However, this is also a good time to review your website design to see if it is going to help or hurt your efforts. If people are not familiar with your company, it is important that it has the proper message in case they want to do a little research before they sign up for your event. Most corporate websites are a place online where your logo lives. It doesn’t really help your sales process. It needs to be formatted into a sales presentation that helps guide your clients and prospects through the buying process. Can someone clearly tell what your company does in the first 5 seconds of the page loading? Does your website talk about how great the company is or the problem that you solve for your customers or clients? While you may not have time before your event to redesign your website, there are some small things you can do with your message to get it in line with your event.

After event retargeting and follow up

The event is just the beginning. You need to keep nurturing through email, social media, and sales team calls. You should plan to send out a weekly email and social media post that helps your brand stay top of mind. Both of these should be focused on solving problems for your customer or client.

Squeeze your virtual show

Unlike your trade show, your virtual event can have a 5-year, or longer, shelf life. Part of your virtual event planning should also be for how the content created from this event will be used after the event is over. The videos should be part of your sales funnel. How will your event footage be reused on social media, email, and by your sales team?

What does a virtual event cost?

A virtual event is going to cost a lot more than you think to do right. It might even cost more than your trade show, depending on your industry. But your virtual trade show can be a valuable asset for many years to come with the right strategy. When thinking about cost, think about all the cost that goes into your trade show, like booth space, renting out space for your party, flying half of your staff around the country, hotels, meals, building and designing a booth, event passes, shirts, giveaways, and all the other costs that go into a trade show. When you think of the budget this way, it gives you a lot of room to plan an awesome virtual trade show.

Photo by Product School on Unsplash

Jayson Duncan

Jayson Duncan is an expert in Video Marketing. Jayson is a filmmaker and the Chief Storyteller of the video production agency Miller Farm Media. Miller Farm Media is an Orange County, California-based video marketing, advertising, and story first video production company that works with small businesses and Fortune 50 companies to help them create videos that inspire, educate, and entertain with strategies to get more likes shares and views. In his spare time, Jayson enjoys cars, playing his guitar, songwriting, and spending time with his wife, Gretchin and son, Miller.

Jayson Duncan


Orange County CA marketing agency. We specialize in branding, websites, video, and social media campaigns.

Jayson Duncan
Jayson Duncan
Jayson Duncan
Jayson Duncan

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