Virtual exhibitions in practice

№ 3, 2020

Job title: директор выставочного унитарного предприятия «Белинтерэкспо» БелТПП


The first virtual exhibition of Belarusian manufacturers "Made in Belarus #AgroFood" was launched on June 16, 2020. The exhibition was an interactive pavilion consisting of virtual stands of more than 30 Belarusian enterprises. At each stand, virtual product samples, business offers and videos were displayed. Visitors to the stands were able to familiarize themselves with video greetings by the company heads and communicate with company representatives via text chat.

The exhibition was highly praised by participants and visitors from different countries. The success has been predetermined by the hard work of the Belinterexpo employees, who mastered and launched a completely new type of project in less than three months. After analyzing the work done, we can focus on some issues that should be considered when organizing such events.

First. While preparing the virtual exhibition, we found out that building a complex exhibition stand in a remote corner of the planet is much easier than launching a virtual stand. The reason is that the process of an online platform creation is similar to the development of software products, such as applications, websites, etc. And this process usually takes more than five days (the time needed to install an individual stand of medium complexity).

Second. There are dozens of platforms designed for online events. In most cases, they have been created by IT specialists who have no practical experience in exhibition activity. Quite often, these platforms do not take into account the real needs of exhibitors and visitors and are quite inconvenient to use. Modifying the finished software is problematic, if not impossible. So, we had to adapt, combine various technical solutions.

Third. We had to deal with a lot of questions from the potential exhibitors, who had no clear idea of working in an online format. To visualize this project, we prepared and sent potential participants a detailed presentation with illustrations of the key elements of the platform and its detailed description. Besides, we prepared step-by-step instructions for filling the platform, as well as a video guide for visitors.

Another serious issue was the content of the online platform. All exhibition materials, such as logos, banners, texts, required significant adaptation. Still, the physical stand at the exhibition and the stand on the computer screen are perceived in completely different ways. Texts should be extremely short, images should be large, bright and with a minimum of text, since they are visible in a small size on a computer screen, and especially on a mobile device.

The same approach shall be applied to the virtual stand. The company description should be short and catchy, not like a curriculum vitae. There should be only one catalogue, prepared specifically for the exhibition, indicating the main competitive advantages of the presented goods. It is better to leave detailed technical descriptions on the company's website and make active links to these documents in the catalogue rather than uploading dozens of specifications to the stand, for such information is highly discouraged by online visitors.

Besides, work was carried out to attract visitors: online advertising, publications in industry-specific and central media in ten countries, inviting businesses through chambers of commerce, business unions and ministries of different countries. As a result, during the first week of its work, the exhibition was visited by several thousand people from thirty-five countries of the world.

To give further attention to the virtual exhibition, we thoroughly worked out the business program of the event. Firstly, we chose not to avoid the traditional opening ceremony and held it in a remote format. The heads of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Belarus, Uzbekistan and Ukraine inaugurated the exhibition – in their offices, but together. In addition, as part of the business program, the International Agricultural Online Forum was held. 12 speakers from nine countries participated in it, and more than two thousand people watched the broadcast. Also, an online conference "Belarus is a Shining Pearl in Eurasia" dedicated to the cooperation of Belarus and China was arranged jointly with the Chinese partners. The audience of the conference included 1300 Chinese business representatives.

Today, having experience in holding an exhibition in an online format, I can unequivocally say that virtual exhibitions are worth holding. The situation for 2020 is such that, although the exhibitions confirm their dates, travel restrictions still exist. Therefore, online events can be a good solution to help maintain business activity during this period.

And for those who are thinking about holding a virtual exhibition or online conference, I can give the following recommendations:

The event should have a key idea or topic.

At least two or three months should be allocated for high-quality preparation for the event. It is necessary to draw up a detailed action plan for the whole preparation period with the terms for their implementation and the employees responsible.

A carefully timed scenario should be drawn up for the period of the event.

It is useful to prepare the most detailed and accessible instructions on using the platform for all participants, in different formats, including videos.

Low audience engagement is one of the disadvantages of the online format. Such events require more saturated content, the possibility of feedback and interactivity is a must; live broadcasting is preferable.

According to the statistics, more than 70 percent of viewers attend exhibitions and participate in online conferences using mobile devices. Therefore, is important to check how each of the windows or pages looks on the mobile screen.

The biggest part of the information in communication is obtained from the so-called body language. While communicating through Zoom, or other messengers, this part of the information can be lost. These losses can be minimized by asking the speakers to place the camera so that their hands are visible, but not too far, since in this case their facial expressions and gestures will not be visible to the audience. Also, such tools as a running line, presentations, pop-up images may be used to keep the audience's attention.