Hybrid Hour: Tips for Virtual Exhibitors

Key takeaways from Exhibit Trainer Marlys Arnold

By Danica Tormohlen, Host of Hybrid Hour

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Marlys Arnold, ImageSpecialist, is an exhibitor trainer for events in a variety of industries, ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest U.S. trade shows. Marlys is an educator and advocate for trade show success, and she’s the author of Exhibit Design That Works and Build a Better Trade Show Image. She is also Founder of the Exhibit Marketers Academy and Host of the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast.


Marlys, who has attended somewhere between 70-100 online events since the pandemic, has been working with exhibitors on their virtual events, so she has a pulse on what exhibitors are experiencing in the digital space. Marlys is producing Spark, an online event that includes a combination of education sessions, networking opportunities, roundtable conversations, a curated showcase of sponsor exhibits, and more. The event is June 22-23.

Ideas for virtual booths.

She recommends “any kind of live engagement or demonstrations. Even if you're doing the demonstration and you're showing them, attendees still can feel like they're a part of the whole activity. Some of the most clever virtual booths I've seen have been at food-related shows. I saw one that did a chopped-style competition with a chef and another person. It was just like the Chopped show on Food Network. The exhibitor sent a kit with their product and let the two people choose what they were going to make. We all got to watch while they were preparing their dishes. At the end, the audience got to vote on the winner. That was a fun and engaging way to get the audience involved.”

Inspiration from infomercials.

“They demo everything from fitness equipment to home appliances. Even if you really don't need that fryer, you watch that infomercial and it makes you go, ‘oh yeah, I can really see how I could use that.’ You want to go for that same kind of feeling with the attendees at your virtual booth.”

The what hasn't changed, the how has.

When it comes to virtual events, “exhibitors still need to do pre-show promotion. You still need to have good booth staffers, and you still need to do post-show follow-up. Those things haven't changed. It's the how — the techniques, the tools and the opportunities — that has changed.”

Tips on virtual booth staffing.

Marlys created the “10 commandments of virtual booth staffing,” a tip sheet for exhibitors. One commandant: “You shall not assume all staffers understand the virtual environment. Even now, 15 months in, they don't. Offer education and tutorials and give exhibit staff the opportunity to try out the platform beforehand. At last count there's like something like 175 to 200 online conference platforms. Odds are, unless you're using one of the top-tier platforms, most people probably haven't used that platform before.”

Size doesn’t matter.

“Booth size no longer matters. The playing field has been leveled in the virtual world. Anybody can get creative and innovative. Some of the ones I've seen that have gotten really creative have been some of the smaller exhibitors. They're not the big household names. In fact, sometimes I've seen some of the household name exhibitor booths that were pathetic.”

Incentive exhibitors to get educated.

“About 25 to 30% of the exhibitors — or sometimes less — will take advantage of any kind of training. One way to increase exhibitor participation in training is gamification or rewarding them. A lot of shows will have some perks where exhibitors get priority points if they attend or maybe they can save money off the attendee list.”

Feel like you missed out? Listen to a recording of the full Clubhouse hour with Marlys Arnold here.

You can listen to Danica Tormohlen and JUNO weekly on the Clubhouse app! We are live tweeting every session. Join the conversation with #junohybridhh or tweet @junoliveconnect any questions in advance!

Mark your calendar: Join us for Hybrid Hour at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 24 with our guest Kimberly Carcone, Senior Vice President, Global Market Events for The Toy Association. Want to learn more about how TA is innovating in the digital space? Read my article and interview with Kim that was published by PCMA in August 2020, More Than Child’s Play: The Toy Association Launches Three Virtual Market Weeks.

Danica Tormohlen is an Award-Winning Journalist, Content Strategist and Omnichannel Media Pro. For trade show industry news and analysis, follow her on Twitter @DanicaTormohlen.