Planning for the return of Live Business Events

A recent survey conducted by Freeman Company shows that 85% of respondents feel that in-person events are irreplaceable and an  integral part of their overall marketing strategy.


This survey shows the majority of attendees and exhibitors in the U.S. plan to return to face-to-face events by the fall of 2021. According to the study, 78 percent of attendees expect to attend in-person events in fall 2021, increasing to 94 percent by winter. Exhibitors are slightly more optimistic with 80 percent returning this fall, 95 percent will do so by winter.  This is a good sign for Exhibitors who are feeling a pent-up frustration related to not being face to face.

As we return to the live-events scene we’ll need to understand how the landscape will look as shows gradually resume.  Before we talk about the show floor, we’ll need to address some other areas that will need your focus:

  • Your Strategy:  How has your Marketing strategy evolved during the past year with no events?  Do you need to adjust your communications strategy within your organization to re-engage an audience?  Planning to meet with Marketing and Sales leaders in your company to address any changes and how they’ll relate to any live Marketing initiatives will be important.  A virtual component to your strategy can be an effective tool in getting in front of, and re-engaging your audience.  This virtual strategy can be a useful tool in promoting your presence at an event as well as a follow up tool for those who weren’t able to attend.  The virtual compliment to exhibiting is a must going forward.
  • Your Brand:  Has your branding and messaging changed since the last time you were on the show floor?  Now is the time to engage your Exhibit house to ensure all of your materials are up to date with any current branding within your organization.
  • Your Booth:  For many, exhibits have been moth-balled for nearly a year now.  Is everything up to date?  As mentioned above, are your graphics out dated now that a year has passed?  Some of the items you took for granted in your booth will need to be addressed.  Some events for example will restrict the distribution of giveaways and printed literature, to minimize the spread of germs.  Consider booth disinfection protocols to keep things clean and your guests feeling comfortable.  Disinfection sprayers and foggers, as well as hand sanitizing stations should be considered.  You may need to revisit the layout of your booth to ensure you can conduct business safely and in a socially distant manner.  Again, your exhibit house partner can work with you to ensure your booth is ready and safe.
  • Your schedule of events:  With the new year starting slow in the live marketing industry, many shows have been re-scheduled for later in the year.  This may mean that you’ll be dealing with compressed timelines between events.  On a national level (and not isolated to just our industry) there is a capacity issue in the Freight and trucking industry.  We have been informed my many industry representatives from the Transportation area to be prepared for longer transit times, additional costs, and in some cases damage due to the potential for lack of experienced handlers. Many suppliers in this industry have been dormant so it’s important to get started early, speak with your vendors about capacity, and any new terms that may apply for production due to the shut-down.  If you have a compressed show schedule it may make sense to consider a rental solution as an option.  For more about whether to rent or not, our recent blog article here may be helpful.
  • Your Budget:  Perhaps you were fortunate enough to be able to budget for a similar execution of your live events in 2021.  It’s probably not likely however!  The best way to maximize your budget at this point is to manage your overall operating costs related to in person events.  Take a look at your travel budget and define who really needs to attend this event.  Minimize booth staffing and travel costs.  Expect higher shipping and labor costs initially.  Many events thankfully have taken the initiative from NAB (National association of broadcasters show) and have moved to a flat-rate model for most exhibit show floor costs.  This is a hopeful trend that will likely (but gradually) continue in our industry.  In order to further save on operating costs and material handling (for those shows that have not gone to a fixed cost model), consider leaving heavy equipment and products home.  There are many new virtual and augmented ways to showcase products without necessarily paying to ship them to your booth space.  Consider a portable/modular option to exhibiting, even if only temporary, to help offset transporation, labor, and show site costs.  Portables and modular exhibits can still be an effective way to show off your brand.
  • “Sharpening your ax”:  Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening my ax”.  In other words, preparation is everything.  You haven’t done a face to face event in over a year.  Do you remember how?  Engaging with your audience is now going to come with an entirely new set of rules.  No hand shakes, no close face to face contact.  However the simple rules of engagement on the show floor remain almost the same.  In prior times, over 80% of all show attendees had some type of buying influence.  In post-covid times that actually may increase!  Why?  Corporate C-level decision makers are the folks who are most likely going to get budget and permission to travel prior to almost all others.  That means your audience may be even more qualified than ever when shows eventually return.  Our free Ebook, “Beyond the Booth: Capturing Prospects During the Show,” is packed with advice to help your team create meaningful relationships with those prospects who have buying authority.

So now we’ve made our internal adjustments and done some pre-event planning to thankfully get back to what we know best, face to face events.  Let’s talk about some safety measures that will be in place, or be done by you as an exhibitor.

  • Space:  Ensuring enough space in your booth will be paramount until widespread vaccinations are completed and a gradual return to “normal” (whatever that will be).  Here’s a handy calculation to give you an idea of how many people you can have in a space:  The guideline suggested by the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association (ESCA) is to divide gross booth square foot by 28.3 (a six foot distance equates to a circle of 28.3 square feet) to meet the standard 6-foot space distance.  For example, a 10’x10’ booth is 100 square feet. Divide that by 28.3 and the result is 3.5 persons in a 10’x10’ booth at the same time. This means with two staff present you can accommodate one attendee at a time. This may be the most troublesome issue of all to manage. At this time, it is uncertain how show management will respond to this severe occupancy recommendation. Using the same calculation, a 10×20′ booth will allow for a safe occupancy of 7 people, a 20×20′ booth allows for 14 people.  However we will need to account for the floor space your exhibit properties and products take up.  It may make sense to see if larger spaces are available if you anticipate having a space issue.
  • Cleaning protocols:  Effective and consistent cleaning and wipe down of all common surfaces will be important.  Consider adding a cleaning kit to your booth if you don’t already have one.  This may include extra face masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and even in larger spaces a disinfectant fogger so you can effectively cover larger areas.  Consider having a “Covid compliance officer” that manages this for your booth and your staffers.  Every exhibit should contain a hand sanitizer station (or two) at the aisle or strategically placed around various areas of larger exhibits.
  • Traffic Control:  Consider having an entrance and an exit, with defined social distancing graphics to show traffic flow.  Perhaps a booth staffer can engage, qualify and then direct an attendee to the appropriate area of the booth as people enter and exit.

    Keep your spaces safe and germ free

    Our exhibit safety kits can include items such as a fogger, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, face masks, and even a first aid kit


What does the recovery of In-person meetings and events look like?


The first key to success will be the resumption of air travel and hotel housing in ways that assure the general public that it is, indeed, safe to travel. Next, it will be necessary to demonstrate that the event venue, show management and service contractors have done everything reasonable to ensure the safety of event attendees.  This will also be true for supporting industries such as those in the hospitality industry such as restaurants.  These organizations will need to make every effort to provide a safe environment when visitors return.  Some things you may experience when shows resume may include:

  • Smaller exhibit spaces (downsized by companies intentionally in order to gauge participation and maximize ROI)
  • No Aisle carpets
  • Wider Aisles
  • Floorplans with more space for social distancing
  • Lower Attendance at first (but your attendees may be more qualified than before)
  • Rigorous check-in and attendance requirements (testing, temperature checks, and more)

    Hand sanitizer stands

    Hand Sanitizing stations may become an integral component of your booth post-Covid

Long-time industry leader, Chris Griffin, Business leader of CrewXP, and Vice President of the Executive Committee for the EDPA (Experiential Designers and Producers association) states, “Recovery is under way and that’s a great thing”.  Right now shows are happening, and happening more frequently.  Something we didn’t see a year ago.  Attendees want to return as there is a pent up demand for interaction.  It’s important for companies to gauge participation and attendance levels to ensure they can get a return on their investment.” 

It’s March 2021, and we are very likely still several months from the resumption of live events and trade shows in a greater frequency.   When the time is right, you can be certain that show management, general contractors, and your exhibit services providers will gladly take on heroic efforts to help in the recovery of these live events that are so crucial to the success of your business. There is no better time than now to start preparing for the return to the show floor and to other live events, conferences, and gatherings.  One thing this pandemic has taught us, is that there is no replacement for a face to face interaction.