How To: Generate More Effective Virtual Trade Show Booths

October 19, 2010

My local farmers market had a “Vote 4 Your Favorite Booth” contest.  While the contest was active, I noticed that the fruit vendors were much more engaging and the amount of free samples increased dramatically.  The fruit stands had become more customer-friendly as a result of the competition.  This was a great thing.

I immediately thought – virtual trade shows are a lot like farmers markets – how about creating a similar contest?  Let’s consider a “Vote For Your Favorite Booth Contest” at your next virtual trade show.  The benefits:

Attendees Take Notice

The contest causes attendees to take notice, especially if you offer up prize(s) for voting.  The contest provides attendees a framework (and context) for their booth visits.  Now, when they enter any exhibitor booth, they are paying more attention to what’s there, to judge the current booth to other booths they visit.  Ultimately, they will need to determine their top vote, which requires a certain level of engagement and awareness as they move from one booth to the next.  And that’s a good thing for exhibitors.

Exhibitors Boost and Optimize their Presence

Ever sell a home or condo and host an open house?  I bet your home was de-cluttered and nearly spotless.  And I bet some of you baked cookies for the occasion.  A booth contest is a lot like the open house: the host knows that its visitors will be evaluating the space.  This results in:

  1. More captivating and refined booth imagery
  2. Booth content that aims to please (the visitor)
  3. A higher level of booth staffers
  4. More engagement from booth staffers (just like at the farmers market)

With everyone “raising their game”, this means that exhibitors win and attendees win as well.

SaaS: Sampling as a Service

In the picture above, a fruit stand placed a large assortment of samples in labeled bins, allowing visitors to sample for themselves. I call this Sampling as a (Self) Service!  The idea here is to allow “prospects” to sample your “products” (on their own) and then have a “staffer” come by to see if they have any questions.

The same could be done in a virtual trade show. Place your products in your virtual booth and allow visitors to take them on a test drive.  Let them do their thing, but check in with them from time to time to see if they need assistance.


Here’s how the booth contest could be run:

  1. Heavily promote the contest prior to the event
  2. Educate and inform exhibitors on the ground rules
  3. Create meaningful incentives for attendees to vote
  4. Announce the winner two-thirds of the way through the event. This leaves the remaining one-third of the event for the winner to receive the benefits (traffic to their booth)
  5. Create a badge or logo that the winner can place on their web site and share via social networks


The virtual booths at some events can be underwhelming.  A contest can encourage and motivate the exhibitors and create a win/win/win for attendees, exhibitors and you.

What Virtual Events Can Learn From The Airline Industry

November 14, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Globalist360)

It’s an industry much-maligned, the airlines – flyer satisfaction has suffered over the years, due to flight delays, lost luggage, unsatisfactory in-flight service – and most recently, extra charges for in-flight meals and checking in baggage.  The virtual event industry, in fact, has been a beneficiary of decreased air travel, as more and more attendees (and meeting planners) opt for virtual events.

That being said, the virtual events industry could stand to benefit in adopting programs pioneered by the airline industry.  Let’s consider a few.


Source: American Airlines

Frequent Flyer Programs

According to Wikipedia, “As of January 2005, a total of 14 trillion frequent-flyer miles had been accumulated by people worldwide, which corresponds to a total value of 700 billion US dollars”.  What are frequent flyer programs all about?  Creating active and loyal customers.  You’re naturally incented to build up your miles on a single airline, in order to qualify for a free flight, free upgrade to first class – or, credits that can be used to purchase goods and services.

Virtual events, on the other hand, are all too often “one and done”.  Yes, you may attend a great virtual event, but a week or a month later, you’ve moved on to the “next thing”.  You may return for the same virtual event later in the year (or, next year).  But you probably don’t re-engage with that event until it comes around again.

And, guess what?  When you do come back to next year’s event, you’re asked to enter a blank registration page (from scratch) all over again!  Virtual event platforms – and, virtual event show hosts, need to consider affinity programs for virtual events.  Such programs make a lot of sense for:

  1. Ongoing virtual events that repeat once (or more) per year
  2. Ongoing virtual communities that are open 365 days/year

If a virtual event is truly “one and done”, an affinity program makes no sense.  However, for the ongoing events and communities, affinity programs generate:

  1. Activity and engagement
  2. Loyalty – an attendee enrolled in a virtual event affinity program is more likely to attend the next event [compared to another attendee who did not enroll]

So how might you award “miles” in a virtual event?  Map event activities to “points” and allow attendees to view their real-time point score – activities that might generate points:

  1. Visit a booth
  2. Attend a session
  3. Chat with a booth rep
  4. Submit an in-show blog posting
  5. Submit an online event survey
  6. Rate a booth

Importantly, when you register members to your affinity program, re-use the same profile data for the subsequent events.  This not only provides a convenience to your members (e.g. seamless access into all subsequent virtual events without having to re-register), it generates loyalty and continued attendance (since it’s so convenient to attend each event).

UPDATE: additionally, encourage members of the affinity program to invite their colleagues and friends to join.  Reward them with additional points (or privileges) for each referral that turns into a new member.

For the ongoing community, the points structure serves to reward the more active community members – incenting them to keep logging in and participating.  The key here will be an incentive program that provides real value to those members who have achieved high point scores.  More on that in the next section.

Source: flickr (User: golden_toque)

Tiering of Services

First class, business class, coach.  Which one you travel in depends on how much you’re willing to pay and how loyal a customer you are (i.e. how many frequent flyer miles you’ve banked).  Either way, you know that the airlines create clear differentiation between these tiers of service.  First class travelers can board the plane first, sit in much wider and more comfortable seats and be treated to premium food and beverage (that’s included in their ticket).

In virtual events today, premium services tend to be exclusive content that’s available on a “pay per view” (individual content item) basis – or, by way of a premium attendee package, which costs more than the standard package (which may be free).  Virtual event platforms – and, virtual event show hosts, ought to consider additional tiers of service within an event.  The key will be to create features for which attendees will pay extra – or, for which they’ll perform additional actions to achieve premium status.

As such, virtual event show hosts will need to create the airlines’ first class service tier – e.g. something attendees will actually yearn for.  These premium services would allow the show host to generate additional revenue.  In addition, the premium tier could be bundled into affinity programs, incenting more activity and engagement (from attendees) in order to reach premium status.

So let’s say I’m a frequent contributor to a technical forum – or, I frequently visit the Lounge and help other attendees troubleshoot technical issues.  I’m basically generating a lot of “value” for other community members, on behalf of the show host.  As such, if I’m in the virtual event affinity program, I should be awarded points (for my actions) that build me up to premium status.

At the premium level, I might receive:

  1. Free access to exclusive content (which otherwise would have an associated charge)
  2. Access to an exclusive lounge area with audio/video chat access to experts, executives, thought leaders
  3. The ability to host my own chat room with a video stream of myself (increases my visibility within the community)
  4. A special avatar for premium members only

Reward your loyal and most engaged attendees and you end up encouraging others to join the fray.


Source: SkyMall

Convert a captive audience

The industry (and, retailers like SkyMall) realized that they had a captive audience for the duration of a 2-hour (or 20-hour) flight.  Sure, there’s reading material, TV, movies (and increasingly, WiFi access), but there’s also a product catalog that’s neatly tucked into your seatback.  And when it’s near time to land and you need to “turn off all electronic devices”, it’s all too easy to grab the SkyMall and peruse through a product catalog.  Before you know it (for some of you), you’ve just charged $50 onto your credit card.

In virtual events, the active audience is a captive audience – attendees are busily viewing sessions, visiting booths, chatting with other attendees and chatting with exhibitors.  Show hosts and exhibitors need to provide this captive audience a valuable and convenient way to “convert” attendees.

Organize your content well – and provide tailored content to individual “personas” (e.g. “Storage Administrator’s Guide to Data Deduplication in the Financial Industry”).  Provide tools (e.g. an RFP requester) that allow attendees to conveniently reach out to multiple exhibitors at once.  Engaged attendees who are not converted from a “visitor” to an “opportunity” are merely lost opportunities.

In conclusion, I think the virtual events industry stands to benefit from adopting tactics used in the airline industry.  Now if only I could convert my virtual event attendances into frequent flyer miles!

Incorporate Gaming In Virtual Events

November 5, 2009


We’ve reached a point in the virtual events industry where users who have attended 1-5 events (or more) are starting to ask, “What’s next”?  If the industry doesn’t effectively answer that question, then users will eventually stop coming back and attendance will suffer.  One concept that makes a lot of sense is to introduce gaming into virtual events.  By doing so, you’ll achieve real results.  Why gaming?  It’s all about REEL:



Retention is a key objective of any virtual event – whether it’s a lead generation event (virtual tradeshow), partner education event or a virtual sales meeting, you want attendees to leave the event with a level of retention over the content you’ve provided (e.g. exhibitor product information, your own product and technology specifications or the the coming year’s sales priorities and initiatives).  Even in a virtual career fair, “retention” is about job candidates retaining information about your company and why they might want to work there.

With gaming, retention isn’t going to be achieved magically.  Rather, you’ll need to be very strategic in weaving your content message (and objectives) into the games themselves.  So you’re not providing games for 100% fun – but rather, crafting real business value out of participation in the games.  So first determine the messaging you want to convey to your attendees – and itemize the set of desired actions/outcomes you’d like to see them take in the virtual event.  Your tactics will then fall out from there, in terms of how to achieve your objectives within the games.  Sample tactics include:

  1. Place clues in the games that require participants to find and consume content in the show (e.g. view Webcasts, visit booths, etc.)
  2. Award game points based on participant actions
  3. Reward participants who successfully complete quizzes – whereby the questions are associated with content that can be found within the event

In summary, the structure of the game is all about driving business value – with attendees leaving your event with the desired level of retention.  The retention level translates into ROI on behalf of the event exhibitors, executive sponsors and show hosts.


All virtual event hosts want to maximize engagement at their event – long session times, high attendee participation, etc.  The way this is achieved via gaming is not just in the sheer interaction with the game elements.  There’s also the factor of competition.  It’s natural for users to exhibit a competitive spirit – competition brings us validation (to know that we’re “better” than the “opponents”), recognition (to achieve a certain status or to see our name atop the leaderboard) and acclaim (to know that we’ve been crowned the champion).

So be sure to make competition a key element of your gaming, as it provides the constant “pulse” (heartbeat) behind the event.  With a leaderboard that’s updated in near-realtime, there will be constant buzz and activity as players jockey with one another for the top billing.

At the platform level, use the familiar video game tactic of “unlocking” certain features or capabilities based on levels you achieve in the game.  Perhaps it’s a special avatar or profile image (to designate your status) or a capability that puts me at an advantage against other gamers.  Lastly, provide compelling prize(s) to participants – otherwise, their incentive to compete may wane.


When’s the last time you heard someone say they “had fun” at a virtual event?  Not too often, I’d imagine.  Well that’s a goal of gaming – while driving business value, you can simultaneously allow attendees to have some pure, old-fashioned fun.

Perhaps you create a game or two that has no (or very subtle) tie-in to your business objectives.  Or, you create a fun game that has business association, but is very fun to participate in (e.g. Jeopardy, Deal Or No Deal, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, etc.).  If you’ve generated retention on the part of attendees – and they enjoyed the experience, then you’ve just created a win-win scenario.


An obvious point, but enjoyment lends itself to loyalty.  The more I enjoy an experience, the more I want to do it again.  With gaming, you have a real (or “REEL”) opportunity to create attendee loyalty, so that they come back for your next event.

Furthermore, in hosting an extended event (consider the case of an ongoing event that runs around the clock for a few weeks), the competitive aspect of the event keeps users coming back in to interact with the games, accumulate points and keep (or improve) their standing on the leaderboard.  As a virtual event host, loyalty is your pot of gold – loyal attendees means loyal exhibitors, sponsors, etc.

In summary, incorporating gaming into virtual events is a REEL opportunity that you should consider – if done right, all of your constituents will thank you for it.

Related links

  1. Gaming and Virtual Reality at Cisco’s Annual Sales Meeting (
  2. Cisco GSX — A Countdown to a Landmark Virtual Event (
  3. Marketing Lessons from Foursquare ( – observations on the mobile gaming service created by Foursquare)

Videos On Virtual Event Best Practices

February 26, 2009

I created an open Facebook group for Virtual Event Strategists – my goal with this group is to foster discussion and collaboration around virtual event strategies and best practices.  I’ve seeded the content on the group page by developing a series of Virtual Event Best Practices videos – short, 2-3 minute clips where I cover one particular best practice each day.

Since Facebook provides a very convenient video recording and upload utility (right there from the Group page – for anyone who has a webcam), my hope is that other group members will start contributing their own thoughts via video.  Or, start posing questions to the group via video (if not text).  A YouTube-like channel for Virtual Events sounds good to me!

I thought I’d post links to some of the videos I’ve produced to date.  Of course, to view subsequent videos, be sure to become a member of the Group – it’s open for anyone to join.


In this first video (click on the image above), I talk about how to effectively use prize giveaways in your virtual event.


In this video (above), I discuss the importance of “promotion source” tracking and data analysis.


And in this final video (where I got all dressed up), I talk about ways to dress up your virtual event.

If you view the videos, be sure to let me know what you liked or disliked – thanks!

Virtual Event Best Practices

January 23, 2009

With a number of virtual events on tap for 2009 (see the calendar of events here), marketers and exhibitors are busy preparing – assembling content for their booth, rounding up colleagues for “booth duty” and preparing the sales team for a burst of hot sales leads.  I’ve assembled past blog posts into a collection of virtual event best practices.  Without further ado:

  1. Bring the right people, have the right content (in your booth), perform the right actions and provide the right prizes (
  2. Utilize surveys to provide a deeper understanding of your customer prospects and generate insights back to your product management team (
  3. Leverage Twitter – show-hosts can look to Twitter to expand the reach of the event’s audience and exhibitors can leverage Twitter to invite their followers to visit their booth at  the event (
  4. It’s not always about “net new sales leads” – get closer to your existing customers (
  5. Use treasure hunts to increase engagement (
  6. Have a process in place to handle the hot sales leads (
  7. Utilize multiple metrics to judge success – Cost Per Lead (CPL) is the key metric for most marketers, but also consider other success metrics [e.g. quality of leads, conversion of inquiry to sales engagement, etc.] (

What best practices do you utilize at virtual events?  I welcome your input – feel free to drop a comment below.

Use Treasure Hunts to Increase Engagement in Virtual Events

December 23, 2008


Flickr ("Crazy Cake Lady")

Source: Flickr ("Crazy Cake Lady")

You’ve planned a great virtual event.  You sold a number of high profile sponsorships.  You promoted the event to your members and generated strong registrant counts.  You’re looking forward to the big day, when the exhibitors (and your boss) pat you on the back.  But wait!  You’re work is not done.  Even if you have a large audience – and, the right audience, exhibitors will deem the event underwhelming if that audience doesn’t adequately engage with them.

In a prior blog post, I wrote about the effectiveness of prize giveaways at virtual events.  In that post, I wrote about the notion of smaller prizes to generate interest.  Here, I endorse a slightly different approach: use a grand prize (e.g. flat screen HDTV, if budget allows) and up the ante for prize qualification.  Instead of “presence” in some event location, require that attendees complete all steps of a treasure hunt in order to qualify for the prize.

With a multi-sponsor virtual event, you’re going to want to keep all of your exhibitors happy (without favoring any particular exhibitor).  So set up the treasure hunt so that each exhibitor benefits.  Here is a sample treasure hunt template.  I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what actions each step encourages.

Sample Treasure Hunt

  1. Find the White Paper titled Best Practices for Data Deduplication.  Name the author of the White Paper
  2. Find the White Paper titled Data Backup and Recovery.  Name the sponsor booth in which it’s located
  3. There is a booth representative in this event named Joe Kennedy.  Name the sponsor booth in which he’s stationed
  4. In the second Webcast presentation today, the speaker is from what company?

If you go with a treasure hunt, be sure to promote it heavily, both within the event and in email promotions and web site listings prior to the event.  To select the grand prize winner, ask your virtual event platform provider if the platform’s survey function can do the trick.  You may be able to “host” the treasure hunt quiz via the survey – using either multiple choice selections or, using a free-form text field to solicit answers from treasure hunt participants.

Happy Hunting!

How to Exhibit at B-to-B Virtual Tradeshows

December 14, 2008

Planning to be an exhibitor at a B-to-B Virtual Tradeshow (VTS)?  Here’s how to become a VTS All-Star:

  1. The right people – to attain All-Star status, first find your own team of all-stars from within your company.  You’ll want a good mix of product folks (product managers and/or product marketers), sales folks (direct sales reps or Inside sales reps) and technical folks (engineers or sales engineers).  Prepare your team for the event by bringing them up to speed on VTS (if this is their first time) and give each member clear goals of what you’d like them to do and accomplish.  For instance, the sales folks proactively connect with attendees; the product marketers participate in the public forums; the sales engineers are “on call” to the product marketer in case a really tough technical question is asked.
  2. The right content – place content in your virtual booth that is directly applicable to the theme of the event.  Take the time to carefully select your White Papers, Case Studies, podcasts, videos, etc.  Don’t simply repeat what you used at an unrelated event.  Attendees will be on the look-out for useful content, so if you’re selections are on the mark, you’ll generate more views and downloads.  Think of it as a form of search engine optimization – where the “spider” is the visitor to your booth.
  3. The right actions – train your booth reps to proactively connect with your booth visitors.  Thank them for their visit, send them a virtual business card, invite them to review your booth’s content.  Ask them about specific challenges they face and have your product marketers suggest solutions.  You’ll come out ahead if you help the attendees, rather than doing a hard sell on your products and services.  Attendees at B-to-B virtual events are not shy about seeking you out, which means they’ll come asking for pricing and product information.  When they do, make sure you have answers – or, be able to find an answer within an hour.  There’s no greater shame than getting hot leads at a VTS and then making them wait for the info they’ve asked for.
  4. The right prizes – that’s right, everyone loves the giveaway, even if it’s as small as a $25 gas card or coffee card.  A “big prize” (e.g. Nintendo Wii or HDTV) always attracts attention, but I like doing a large number of smaller prizes – reason being, attendees like the immediate gratification of winning a small prize, instead of receiving a chance to win the big prize.  So whether  it’s 100 USB drives or 50 Starbucks gift cards, you’ll get the attendees’ attention.  The most effective prize I’ve seen – copies of a book (by an expert) whose name was known by all attendees.

So there you go.  Do the “right” thing to secure your spot on the VTS All-Star Team.  Good luck and have fun.

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