Back In Business – Pros and Cons of Attending Virtual Trade Shows

As our winter continues to turn into a virtual event-scape for the optics & photonics market, I’m seeing many options to participate and lots of unfamiliarity and hesitation among exhibitors and attendees. I’ve sorted through some of the details to shortcut things as to why you still should consider attending. We will be doing this for most of 2021; it would be a shame to miss out when information is so easily shared this way.

This week’s show on my radar is the Photonics West Show. It’s free to attend, but they are encouraging early registration to gauge bandwidth needs and other planning. The Forum is free for anyone to attend. All of the scheduled conference presentations, downloads, live features, and networking sessions are available. This year, your entire staff can wade through the immense amount of presentations and materials available – at no charge to their employer for attending, flights, or expensive hotels and meals.

If exhibitors would like a credit for 2020, they should apply, but it can be rolled over into 2021 instead if you prefer.

Virtual Events in General

Networking – Sadly, there will not be any wining and dining or enjoying a beer in person. However, nothing will stop you from enjoying a beverage while attending online. For Photonics West, there are several options that will be led on specific topics of equity and diversity, and two sessions specifically for networking, with two more sessions for career labs.

Exhibitors – This is a steal this year, with an additional level to give up to five staff more access as “booth coverage.” You will have the opportunity to provide a pre-recorded product demo for viewing and submitting questions. No missing shipments, no booth set up time. With the calendar function, interested parties will email you with their selected time to get together via digital video. The show is open 24/7, so anyone attending from Europe, Asia, or the South Pole can get in on the fun.

Pros – No travel fees. Introverts celebrate! No long flights or awkward chit chat. Log on when you have time, or block out your day to enjoy selected topic presentations—no tired feet at the end. Hit pause and attend to something urgent (get a snack, answer your boss’s text) without missing anything important. No mask fails or attempting to have a quiet conversation from 6 feet apart.

Talk to people and find a solution to your next project questions.

Job hunting? Do it in the comfort of your home office. This is one the best shows to job hunt in optics, so dust off that resume.

Market Reach – If a big part of your target market is China, Canada or Europe, this may be the only way to reach that group of prospects until the travel bans are lifted to the US.

Cons – This is all still in the experimental stage for the most part. Things might not play out as planned. Things may crash. It’s ok. Everyone is learning on-the-fly right now, and there is no dress rehearsal. On the pro side, if you are attending, you won’t need to sort it out yourself. 

Additional options that have surfaced recently are looking at ways to provide more visibility for exhibitors. Media companies are scrambling up webinars, new sponsorships, video hosting, and production to support this overall digital endeavor. Talk to your SPIE rep to learn what options might be the best fit for your group.

There is really no option to replace real, live human interaction. We’re all feeling the need for that these days. In the meantime, explore a new option and try something new. You may be pleasantly surprised. Much of the comments and feedback I’ve heard so far have been from people that prefer the “in-person” handshake approach to business building. Well, my friends, we all do. If the current travel restrictions are still in place by fall, and you haven’t taken an hour to test out a new way to attend, you may miss out on a great opportunity to meet with people.

Amanda MacDonald

Amanda MacDonald

Founder of Full Gallop Communications

Amanda is a marketing veteran that works with businesses on improving brand communication, marketing strategy, and creating content marketing. When not in the office, Amanda can be found at the barn with her horse, walking her two dogs on Lake Ontario or baking something carbtastic in the oven.

Contact her at to inquire about how your marketing efforts can become more successful.

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