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Behind the Design of Virtual Expo! Expo! 2020, Part 1

Get a behind-the-scenes look into the planning process of producing a virtual event from the organizers of #ExpoExpo.

By Mary Tucker

The learning curves traversed by most show organizers last year involved transitioning from in-person events to hybrid/virtual events and Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition scheduled for 8-10 December 2020 in Louisville, KY was no different.

The recent IAEE webinar, Case Study on Virtual Expo! Expo! 2020, featured members of IAEE’s leadership team and platform partner Swapcard breaking down the process by which they designed the virtual experience for Expo! Expo!. Here, IAEE’s experts expand upon the considerations that were taken during the planning process and what they learned along the way.

IAEE Vice President of Exhibitions and Events Scott Craighead, CEM notes that the first step was to clearly determine and define the business objectives for the hybrid/virtual Expo! Expo!, which did not stray very far from the original ones in place.

“Expo! Expo! focuses on three main pillars: Community, Marketplace and Content. The challenge in going hybrid/virtual was how we would address these pillars effectively in the various formats. The lens by which attendees, exhibitors and partners would be viewing the 2020 event would be drastically different than in previous years but the overriding needs remained the same.”

“It became obvious fairly quickly that the hybrid/virtual event was not simply an extension of the in-person event and we needed to clearly communicate that,” adds IAEE Vice President of Marketing and Communications Nicole Bowman, MBA. “Once it was confirmed that Expo! Expo! would be solely virtual, it was important to convey all the features that attendees could fully engage in to get the most out of the virtual experience.”

Engagement became the key catchphrase with virtual Expo! Expo!, not only as it applied to attendees but also with exhibitors and show partners. IAEE Director of Partnership Relations Karen Gonzales, CMP explains that providing exhibitors with incentives to embrace the virtual platform was of high priority.

“We understood that our exhibitors and show partners would need to feel secure in that they would still see a return on investment through the virtual event,” she explains. “We focused on creating opportunities for them that would capitalize on the format and encouraged them to take full advantage of the features of the platform that drove their connections with attendees. Those who took the time to do so, saw more significant ROI results and had an overall more positive show experience.”

With interaction engagement as the key priority, one of the biggest takeaways for the team was the importance of resonating with the audience of each type of event: in-person, hybrid or virtual. Although the value propositions for each intermingle and relate to each other in many ways, the specifics are unique to each planning process.

IAEE’s team focused on the attendee journey and expanded upon the planning process from there, a lesson that it plans to carry through the process in designing the hybrid Expo! Expo! taking place on 7-9 December 2021 in Philadelphia, PA.

“IAEE, along withs its show partners, will continue to learn from the 2020 virtual experience and gathered data intelligence to improve and enhance future attendee and exhibitor engagement and interaction,” says Craighead.

“Virtual events are hard,” notes Bowman. “I would say ten times as hard, as you have to map out every aspect of the participant journey. Show organizers have taken for granted the fact that in-person show attendees are given visual cues and then left to figure out their onsite journey. That is not the case with virtual experiences. Most participants do not engage in the platform until a few minutes before the show begins, so the platform needs to be very easy to navigate.”

“As IAEE moves Expo! Expo! 2021 into a hybrid event, virtual will be a component that compliments the traditional face-to-face exhibition,” adds Gonzales. “Exhibitors will have the opportunity to extend their brand and reach with two different experiences in one event.”

Tune in to Case Study on Virtual Expo! Expo! 2020 for a deeper dive into the lessons learned during the design of last year’s event and how those will be applied to this year’s Expo! Expo!, and stay tuned for the upcoming blog of the case study which will address education content creation.

Sharpen your professional skills every Thursday with IAEE’s webinar series. Presentations can also be revisited through IAEE’s on-demand webinar recordings library.

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