How COVID has Changed Trade Shows

Written By Team Declaration

January 18, 2022

Trade shows have always been a fantastic way to generate new business, which is why, when Covid-19 struck, industry events continued – albeit in an online format. With the return of ‘in-person’ shows it’s now worth evaluating if, and how COVID has changed trade shows, and what the future of the trade show looks like.

In this post, we’ll look at some practical steps you can take to adapt to post Covid shows – and discuss whether ‘digital’ should now take centre stage.

Did virtual trade shows work?

It’s fair to say that exhibitors didn’t like virtual events. In fact, in a recent survey, 95% of exhibitors said they preferred ‘in-person’ to online events. Reasons they disliked virtual events included:

  • No opportunities to network
  • An inability to create personal relationships with prospects and customers
  • Lower percentage of closed deals
  • Decrease in leads gathered

From the visitors’ perspective, virtual trade shows didn’t allow them to see, feel, or examine products, reducing the likelihood of them buying products or services, post event.

Are Covid measures still needed at trade shows?

Businesses are keen to get back to ‘real’ trade shows, in fact many are returning to physical trade shows even more enthusiastically than before, with 59% planning to exhibit at more trade shows than pre-Covid 19.

To counterbalance this, however, many individuals are still apprehensive about being in close contact with large numbers of people.

It’s clear that event organisers and exhibitors need to take steps to address this new reality. Adopting the following practices may help to allay concerns:

  • Hand sanitiser – Having cleanser available at your booth is a responsible step, while giving out free pocket-sized hand sanitizers as a freebie could create a positive (branded?) impact.
  • Social distancing – Allow visitors to browse your booth without feeling crowded, uncomfortable or unsafe
  • Let guests guide the greeting – Guests may not be up for a handshake – so initiate another form of greeting – a wave or an elbow bump?
  • Mask wearing – At the time of writing this blog, it is looking like mask wearing in public places will no longer be mandatory – but still strongly advised. If you and your staff elect, or at a later date are forced to, wear masks make sure they are worn correctly. You are advised to have disposable masks to hand (in one of your stand’s staff cabinets) for the foreseeable future.

Go Digital

One the ways in which COVID has changed trade shows is with the acceleration of digital, and number of ‘virtual’ events that launched in 2020 and 2021. And that acceleration has left lasting implications. Exhibitors and organisers are now more aware that digital technology can enhance attendees’ experience at physical events.

You can, for example, give visitors additional ways to access product information, by:

  • Putting key information on plaques beside your products so that attendees can take photos on their phones to take away with them
  • Showing QR codes alongside the products you have on display. These can lead visitors to product pages on your website, to give them more in-depth information
  • Using videos – not just on wall-mounted displays – but on laptops and tablets at your stand. It may be advisable to preload videos, to avoid having to rely on the organiser’s Wi-Fi.


How COVID Has Changed Trade Shows


Is the age of the business card over?

Attendees may want to keep their distance and may not be receptive to being given a physical card. This needn’t represent a problem:

  • Most trade shows will supply, or make available, scanning equipment, so that exhibitors can scan visitor badges. (There are also some good badge-scanning apps available)
  • Use digital business cards (e-cards): These online and app-based ‘cards’ allow you to send, receive and exchange contact information in place of physical cards. You can include information including your social media contacts, follow-up links and QR codes. Visitors can use their own smartphones or tablets to access the app.

You can still keep cards on hand for those that are happy to pick them up.

New trade show etiquette

Social distancing could see the end of some competitions, such as putting a business card into a bowl to win a prize. Announcing the winner at your stand, could, in any case, be a ‘no-no’ because you won’t want to draw too large a crowd. Following the same logic, guest speakers might be off the agenda too.

Is the future of trade shows hybrid?

97% of event marketers said they believed that we’ll see more hybrid events in future i.e. a mixture of online and ‘in-person’ shows. One major benefit of virtual trade shows is the potential to use data analytics to collect useful information. This technology is something many businesses will want to continue investing in, with AI, mobile technology, visualisation dashboards and sales automation tools all looking increasingly likely to be used at shows.


In this post, we’ve offered you some pointers as to how Covid has changed trade shows. There’s no crystal ball, however, to tell us exactly what the future holds. Going forward, it makes sense to keep an eye on trade industry news to spot emerging trends – and, as always, keep up to date with the latest government guidance.

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