Trade Show Trends 2021

Writing about trade show design trends in this day and age is tough. I’m a bit stumped because, well, there have been no trade shows to establish anything that’s trending yet. The whole format of a trade show could be shifting its shape and becoming something different. Virtual events were an excellent placeholder while large events were put on pause, but they won’t last forever; in fact, events are beginning to open up again. Many hybrid event ideas have been developed and implemented quickly, and I think that the hybrid format will be here to stay too. Nothing can replace face-to-face interaction and provide the opportunity for networking and product demonstration like an in-person trade show can. However, the fact that hybrid events can expand a trade show’s reach by making it more accessible and inclusive to both attendees and exhibitors is too good a thing to let go of. Moving forward, I believe that trade shows will include a digital element and interactive online experience. This is how the world is moving right now, so let’s ride that wave and see if we can all adapt to something new. Let’s take a look at a few trends that may emerge in the wake of a new way of interacting with the public.

When in-person events are fully back up and running, fewer people will be allowed to attend. This decrease in numbers could result not only in fewer attendees but fewer exhibitors, making competition for a spot more intense. Everyone will be wearing masks. Wider-spaced aisles will be the new normal, with loads of sanitization and directional signage everywhere you look. There might be mandatory temperature checks when you walk through the doors or a waiver that you have to sign before you’re allowed in. In the hope to be socially distant from each other, the shape and configurations of booths may change to help with this. Instead of open-plan concepts, there may start to emerge a more walled-in design of the exhibiting space that can contain just a few people at a time. Attendees could be asked to book appointments with exhibitors in advance, and Plexi shield barriers will most likely be everywhere. Virtual product demonstrations may begin to surface more and more as the demonstrator would have to travel less for work in addition to bringing down the event’s headcount.

Hybrid trade shows will of course involve technology already, but tech within your physical display booths has been in constant fashion for years. Things like VR, holograms, touchscreens, and video walls are captivating and tend to draw people into your space. If people interact with your booth, there is a better chance that they’ll remember you, and tech is a great way to encourage that kind of interaction. Touchscreens may have to be complemented by disposable gloves that might deter interaction, but beacon technology can deliver content to nearby devices without touching anything. Beacon technology may also be used by the conference itself to help with immediate registration upon arrival, a more rewarding networking experience for attendees, or to detect hot spots within a too crowded building (more on beacon technology use in trade shows here.) Downloadable business cards and documents containing your company’s information will be more relevant and sought after than ever before, and graphics may start to include a handy QR code to ensure a touch-less exchange of information. Technology is inescapable and is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace. Keeping up with the trends will show people that your company is on the cutting edge and has a finger on the pulse.

Lots of exhibitors are going to try to engage with all five of their customers’ senses. Having a multi-sensory experience is intense, and with that intensity comes memory. Encouraging and having space for people to interact with your booth is a huge plus and makes a lasting impression. Gamifying things can create that interaction and appeal to a broader audience, in addition to drawing people into your space. Last year, I helped set up a booth for our client, Reliance Consulting. They had put personalized decals onto a high-striker for their booth visitors to play with and enter for a chance to win a giveaway. How could something like that not attract attention? The drama that ensues as soon as someone interacts with that game can attract many more people from aisles away. The more people you have linger in and around your booth, the more chances you will have to make a meaningful connection.

Here at Exhibit Studio, we are patiently awaiting the reopening of events in Canada and are eagerly waiting to see all of your trendsetting ideas at the next trade show!

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