April 29, 2021
What do Vision Expo East, ISC West, MAGIC Las Vegas, World of Concrete, and Black Hat USA have in common this year?
They’re the trade show pioneers of the Coronavirus era.
These shows, which all take place in the summer of 2021, mark the first large, in-person shows in the United States since Covid-19 shut down the entire industry in March, 2020.
If you’re attending, staffing, or exhibiting at one of these shows, or at any in-person trade show in 2021, what specific changes should you expect to your trade show experience? How will entering your venue, walking your exhibit floor, and interacting with your exhibitors look and feel different when the priority is safety, not sales?
By reviewing the Covid-19 health & safety plans these five shows have already announced, we can build a rough composite of the changes all trade shows will likely adopt into 2022. Some of these changes you’ll expect, others will surprise you, and all will turn your show into a whole new experience.
Congratulations! You braved an airplane / train / bus / car / bicycle, and made it to your show.
What changes should you expect as you first approach and enter the venue?
PUT ON YOUR MASK: You saw this coming; you’ll need to wear a mask. Expect all shows to require approved face coverings that fully cover your nose and mouth at all times. Shows may also disqualify some unapproved-but-popular face coverings, like gaiters (which provide no protection from Covid-19). ISC West issued these guidelines on acceptable face coverings for its show; expect other shows to follow suit. UPDATE 5/24/21: At World of Concrete, masks are no longer required, only recommended.
ENTER THROUGH THE “ENTRANCE” DOOR: As you approach an outer venue door, you’ll likely notice it’s labeled “entrance” or “exit.” No more double duty for doors; Vision Expo East, World of Concrete and MAGIC Las Vegas will all designate some doors as “in” doors, and others as “out” doors. This goes for all areas of the venue, from exhibit halls to meeting rooms to restrooms. Look for signage directing you to the right door, and expect a show staffer to (gently) redirect you if you’re heading “in through the ‘out’ door.”
ENJOY THE FRESH AIR! Does the air inside the venue remind you of the outside the venue? That’s because it is. World of Concrete has announced that “the Las Vegas Convention Center’s HVAC systems will remain running throughout the course of the event, designed to introduce fresh air into the building on a constant basis.” (Hopefully it’ll cool the air as well, as Vegas routinely pops 100 degrees during World of Concrete’s June time frame.)
GET YOUR TEMPERATURE CHECKED: Your first official task inside the venue: prove you’re fever-free. All shows will likely require temperature screenings as you enter the venue or exhibit hall. Some will scan you individually with a touch-free forehead thermometer; others will scan everyone simultaneously with thermal temperature scanning. Either way, if your temp is over 100.4F, expect to be denied entry to the show. (Vision Expo East is also issuing a wristband to each person who passes the temperature screening, which must be worn all day. Wristband colors will change daily to ensure you’re scanned daily.)
KEEP YOUR (SIX-FOOT) DISTANCE: All shows will require that everyone maintains a distance of six feet from everyone else. UPDATE 5/24/21: World of Concrete has lowered its distance requirement to three feet.
DON’T HUG OR SHAKE HANDS: Vision Expo East and ISC West have announced “no handshakes / no hugs” rules that amount to this: don’t touch other people. Changing these ingrained habits will take some adjustment. Will handshakes and hugs get replaced by a non-contact greeting, like hand waves or head nods? Time will tell.
READY, SET, WAIT: Remember those carefree days of trade shows past when you could walk into any open area anytime you wanted? Not anymore. Like bouncers at a club keeping the crowd count under the fire code limit, expect event staff to enforce capacity controls that limit the number of people in every enclosed space from elevators to exhibit halls. Expect to wait in many (socially-distant) lines to enter these spaces, maybe until someone else leaves and makes room for you.
YES, THAT DOORKNOB IS CLEAN: MAGIC Las Vegas has announced that event staff will continuously sanitize “high-touch areas” (doorknobs, escalator handrails, elevator buttons, etc.). Event staff carrying disinfectant bottles and rags should be commonplace.
SO. MUCH. HAND SANITIZER. You’ll see hand sanitizing stations everywhere you turn, with signage and staff encouraging you to disinfect your hands regularly.
You’ve entered the venue, passed the temperature scan, and found your way to the exhibit hall entrance. What changes will greet you as you step onto the exhibit floor?
MORE ROOM TO BREATHE: The same capacity controls used for the venue will be used for the exhibit hall. To ensure those in the hall have enough space to stay socially distant, and to comply with state, local and venue requirements for Covid-19, World of Concrete will monitor and limit the number of people in each exhibit hall at a time. Staff will scan the credentials of everyone entering and exiting the exhibit hall, track the head count, and prevent people from entering the hall when it’s “full.” Expect to wait in an entrance line one way or the other, and expect far fewer people in the exhibit hall when you finally make it in.
DIG THAT WIDE, CONCRETE AISLE…: Vision Expo East is widening its aisles to ten feet, and Black Hat USA is mandating “traffic lanes” in its aisles. (It’s unclear if aisles will allow one-way or two-way traffic.) To make cleaning easier, Vision Expo East will leave its aisles uncarpeted, and make carpeting optional for exhibit booths.
…AND THOSE SNAZZY BOOTH DIVIDERS: Like a restaurant partitioning its dining tables, Vision Expo is requiring 8-foot-tall dividers (drape or hardball) to separate side-by-side booths.
As you wander the trade show exhibit floor, what changes should you expect in the exhibit booths themselves? Try these:
FEWER PEOPLE…: As with other areas of the show, Vision Expo East and ISC West are limiting the number of people allowed in an exhibit booth at a given time. Limits are based on industry occupancy guidelines from the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO), and presumably include exhibitors and attendees combined. To calculate a booth’s maximum occupancy, divide the booth’s total square footage by 28.3. This formula allows about three people per 100 square feet of booth space, which means a 10×10 booth is allowed up to three people, and a 20×20 booth is allowed up to fourteen people. Vision Expo East will place a sign at each booth showing its maximum occupancy; ISC West is only recommending this limit, not requiring it.
…AND MORE HAND SANITIZER: Vision Expo East is requiring all exhibitors to offer hand sanitizer at their booths; ISC West again recommends it but doesn’t require it. Expect all shows to follow suit.
FACE SHIELDS: ISC West is requiring anyone who can’t maintain a distance of at least six feet from those around them (such as booth staffers working alongside each other) to wear a face shield in addition to their mask.
CLEANING OF SHARED ITEMS: Vision Expo East is requiring booth staffers to clean any item in the booth after it’s handled, such as a pen, sample product, computer mouse, brochure, etc.
NO BOWLS OF GIVEAWAYS: Instead of leaving piles of candy, pens, stress balls, brochures, catalogs or other giveaways out for attendees to grab (sometimes by the handful), Vision Expo East is requiring all giveaways to be handed out individually by a booth staffer wearing gloves and standing behind a barrier or wearing a face shield.
NO EATING OR DRINKING: Appetizer and drink carts are so 2019. At Vision Expo East, booths may not serve food or beverages to attendees, and attendees and exhibitors may not eat or drink at booths. The only consumption allowed at a booth is exhibit staff drinking “personal beverages” (presumably from a personal bottle).
NO PRODUCT SAMPLES: ISC West is asking exhibitors to avoid giving out sample products entirely.
As you read these trade show safety rules, you might wonder: what happens when someone breaks them? If you attempt to dash into a restroom already at capacity, sneak into the venue through an “out” door, or pull your mask under your nose to sniff that outdoor air as it’s pumped indoors, who’ll stop you?
Sure enough, these trade shows are employing crews of compliance monitors (Vision Expo East calls their monitors “Safety Enforcement Officers”). They’ll stand at entrances and exits, patrol hallways and exhibit aisles, and gently remind anyone they find bending the rules to adjust their behavior.
I’ve worked at over 250 trade shows, and they’ve all shared a high-pitched, frenetic energy. (And t-shirts.) From the mad dash into the exhibit hall when the show opens, to jockeying for position in the food court lines, to sprinting after the shuttle bus that just pulled away, trade shows deliver their own heightened intensity.
In the Coronavirus era, expect that intensity to yield to a slower pace, and an awkward, tentative vibe. Expect fewer people, more empty space, and a lower decibel level. Expect a line to enter every enclosed space, from shuttle buses to food courts to exhibit halls to meeting rooms. Expect some discomfort with personal interactions that used to feel natural and fluid, as everyone negotiates how to greet each other without touching, smile with their eyes, and run a booth demo from a distance. Expect fewer interactions in your day, and fewer goodies in your bag. Expect to see and do less, and to have “less” take longer.
With all these restrictions, should you even go to your show? ABSOLUTELY. Remember the good news: the show is running at all. These restrictions are simply the adaptations required this year to do business face-to-face safely. They’re far better than the outright cancellations we’ve endured for 15 months. And they’ll likely diminish in 2022 and beyond as more people get vaccinated and the Coronavirus (hopefully) abates. Ten years from now, this will be the show you remember, the story you tell industry newcomers about “the Covid-19 year, when we couldn’t even eat in here.”
Just be patient. Smile and breathe through it all. And be a pioneer at these pioneering shows.
I’ll see you on the show floor!
Founded in 1998, Spark Presentations provides high-impact, professional trade show services that help exhibitors increase their lead quantity and quality, including:
— training to help exhibit staff engage, qualify and educate attendees (updated for the Covid-19 era)
— advanced lead capture / badge scanning technology
— related services like booth presentation scriptwriting and slide design, booth video production, and booth design consulting
Spark’s trade show client list includes dozens of organizations, from well-known corporations like AT&T, Best Buy, FedEx, The Home Depot, Hyundai, Intel, Olympus, Owens-Corning, Samsung, Sony, and Volvo, to high-tech industry players like AMD, Citrix, Symantec, Trend Micro, and Veritas Technologies.
Spark owner Andy Saks is also the author of The Presentation Playbook, which helps businesspeople build and deliver winning presentations.