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How to create a virtual trade show

Social distancing and the COVID-19 pandemic have completely disrupted the in-person trade show business model. However, they haven’t changed the fact that people still need to connect and do business. The solution? Virtual trade shows.

What is a virtual trade show?

Virtual trade shows are online marketplaces where goods and services are bought and exchanged during a specific amount of time—usually a few days to a week. They are the digital representations of traditional, in-person trade shows, which are simply exhibitions where organizations and companies promote their products and services.

Who attends virtual trade shows?

To create a successful virtual trade show, you must attract the right people. Buyers and Sellers are the two main audiences who attend any trade show, and online trade shows are no different.

Buyers attend virtual trade shows to:

  1. Identify ways to solve problems or take advantage of new opportunities
  2. Explore new products and services that can help get ahead in their careers
  3. Connect with existing partners
  4. Find a new job

Sellers use digital trade shows as platforms to:

  1. Maintain relationships with current clients
  2. Generate leads and identifying new potential customers
  3. Build partnerships with other organizations
  4. Attract talent to their organization

What are the goals of virtual trade shows?

While every virtual expo is unique, there are two key requirements that must be part of any virtual trade show platform: Commerce and Content.

Commerce (or, in this case, eCommerce)

  1. Allow buyers and sellers to exchange contact information
  2. Allow buyers to purchase products and services from sellers


  1. Allow sellers to demonstrate their products and services to buyers
  2. Allow buyers and sellers to exchange ideas

Some trade shows are completely focused on commerce, with very little content as part of the experience. Others rely heavily on content and education as part of the value proposition for the event. A virtual trade show can be modeled after the in-person event, but it must ultimately achieve the goals of the audiences it convenes.

How do you design an online trade show?

The answer is: It depends. Virtual trade shows are secure, interactive websites that allow buyers and sellers to meet, exchange information, and purchase products.

There are hundreds of agencies and technology companies that help organizations design, build, and host the website infrastructure for digital trade shows.Some platforms look like 3-D renderings of real-life exhibition halls, complete with booths and avatars of people walking around and talking to each other. Others feel more like online stores or websites like

The look and feel of a virtual trade show depends on the audiences and their motivations—the host organization must determine the ideal environment that will help fulfill the needs of its buyers and sellers.

Are virtual trade shows here to stay?

Yes. Virtual trade shows should continue to exist, in some form, even after we get through the COVID-19 pandemic. The likely scenario is a hybrid trade show event where there are both in-person and online components.

Now is the time to develop a virtual trade show strategy that generates revenue for your organization. If you have questions on how to get started, email me at and I’d be happy to share my thoughts.



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