Become your own virtual event expert

Tina Dear is taking her company’s premier tradeshow primarily virtual.  Automation Fair attracts over 10,000 attendees each year from around the globe and she explains how it has been re-mastered to deliver digitally, 16-20 November.

When we look back on 2020, I am sure many people will share a sense of disbelief when we realise just how quickly and effectively the trade show industry mobilised to translate its events to virtual and hybrid settings. The early days of the pandemic tested our creativity, our knowledge and our teams.

I am immensely proud of the team at Rockwell Automation which has moved swiftly to pivot and most important – to learn. I believe that is the most valuable thing we can do right now as an industry. After all, when the pandemic eventually does recede, very little will go back to ‘normal’ – including conferences and meetings.

The next generation of conferences will be shaped by what we learn today. And the most successful events will be organised by those who invest the time now in reflecting on and documenting both the missteps and successes of their events.

At Rockwell Automation, we are preparing to welcome more than 20,000 customers, partners and other industry experts to our largest annual event to learn, engage and demo the latest in automation.

Instead of welcoming everyone to the Anaheim Convention Center (where we were scheduled to meet in person in November), the event will be primarily online, along with some in-person demo sessions. Automation Fair At Home will feature more than 175 hours of educational opportunities and over 90 exhibits that will engage attendees, create memorable moments and provide compelling, impactful content. 

Automation Fair At Home

Here are a few of the top lessons we are keeping mind:

Rethink ‘virtual’ beyond back-to-back talking heads

One of the first challenges we had to tackle was recreating the hands-on experience virtually. Automation Fair is known for its in-person training, networking, and opportunities to see the latest product developments and innovations. So, we have recreated our physical space through 3D photography and will have a virtual show floor that is staffed with subject matter experts. In addition, we will be using Microsoft's altSpaceVR technology to provide interactive networking spaces.

The other way we have reconsidered the event is the timeline. What used to be a two-day event will be hosted over five days, featuring both pre-recorded and live events. And we are extending the event even further by making the content available on-demand for six months, giving attendees unprecedented flexibility in how they engage with the content.

Do your homework

If there is one lesson we have learned this year, it is that we have to become our own virtual event experts. That means it’s up to us to get smart quickly: invest the time and resources to attend other virtual or hybrid events; talk to friends and colleagues; meet with vendors and sit through the demos.

Reconfigure your KPIs and lead gen strategies

Many companies are asking: How can marketers and event organisers support the sales team without in-person tradeshows? At Rockwell Automation, we have gone back to the drawing board to determine what KPIs and behaviours are informing lead generation. For example:

  • How long did they spend in a session?
  • What kind of sessions did they watch?
  • Is there a correlation between the exhibits they visited and the sessions they took?

Go Get ‘Em!

There is one final lesson to keep in mind: There will be missteps. Technical glitches, virtual social hours that fall flat, a less than dynamic speaker. My advice: Document, document, document!

We really are all in this together, and it’s up to us to shape the success of these events in the future.

About the author: Tina Dear is vice-president of global marketing at Rockwell Automation. Registration for Automation Fair at Home is now open here.