I recently attended three live events – one conference and two exhibitions – in three weeks in two countries – the United States and England: SISO’s Summer Conference in the US, International Confex (London) and Speciality Fine Food Fair (London). The experiences were surreal, challenging and fantastic all at the same time.
Here are some tips for those of you returning to live business-to-business events after 18 months (or more):
Travel: It’s different! The bulk of travelers are tourists instead business ones – even mid-week. Pack your patience and keep track of your phone. (I left mine in an uber at the start of one journey.) About packing – don’t forget layers, band aids/moleskin, snacks (restaurants have shorter hours these days) and comfortable shoes.
Hotels: Room cleaning varies from property to property. Out of three hotels, one never cleaned the room (4-night stay); one cleaned every other day; one cleaned daily.
Shoes, Part 1: Remember those shoes in your closet/wardrobe that haven’t been worn in 18 months? Besides being a bit dusty, they probably feel a lot different than they used to! Wear them around your house/neighborhood and see how comfortable or uncomfortable they are. Now imagine standing and walking in them for twelve hours. Will they work? If not, see below. This advice goes for men as well as women. Make sure you break in new shoes before getting to show site.
Shoes, Part 2: It is now 100% acceptable to wear nice trainers /sneakers with business attire for both men and women. In fact, most exhibitors and attendees at the two expos were in some form of very comfortable shoes. I counted a total of 4 women wearing heels. Four!
At Event: Remember your business cards! So many people forgot theirs. Networking is the #1 reason people are attending in-person events – especially those that are meeting together for the first-time post-pandemic shut down. Make it easy for them to reconnect.
Start educational/expo sessions later in the morning and provide longer breaks between educational sessions for people to network than you used to. Do you have to start sessions or open the exhibit floor at 7:30 or 8:00am? Why? (If your answer is because it’s always been done that way, that’s not a real reason.) Chances are good your attendees, exhibitors and sponsors have all been out in the evenings entertaining/being entertained.
Exhibit Floor: Most suppliers are still gearing up, so don’t expect the instant service provided pre-COVID. Communicate the importance of pre-ordering in advance of any upcoming in-person expos frequently.
Did I mention it’s perfectly acceptable to wear trainers/sneakers on the show floor?
Exhibit Floor, Part 2: Being an exhibitor pre-COVID was hard. That experience has not changed. Walk in your exhibitors’ shoes and see how your organisation can simplify the process.
Exhibitor Education: NSP scores from UFI/Explori studies continually site exhibitor education as one indicator of a strong, positive NPS score. Many, many people have changed jobs, so take advantage of the Great Restart to bring in and promote education – including qualifying prospects, engagement on the show floor and following up on leads promptly post show.
Networking: Use recommended safety/health precautions for your events. However, don’t be surprised that most of your visitors, exhibitors, and sponsors will probably not follow those recommendations off the show floor or event site. Expect hugging, handshakes and no social distancing. Think about negative covid tests and vaccine requirements to help keep your b2b event from becoming a super-spreader.
Last note: It was fun and incredible to see friends and colleagues, as well as meet new people during the in-person b2b events and expos I attended in person. Expect exhaustion and sensory overload to hit at times – it’s been a long time and we are all out of practice. When overload hits, take a few minutes for a “time out” as needed. No one will notice.