You can’t do everything online. Watching a machine work virtually is just not the same

The question of whether to attend a trade show or exhibit at one, whether it is held locally or is an international exhibition, will always be debated as long as organisers are willing to hold them. Trade shows are a lot of work. If you are an exhibitor, you have budgeting, travel and logistical headaches. If you are an attendee, you have travel issues, miles of exhibits to go through, and tasks from your regular job pile up while you are away from the office. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the decision making on this subject out of our hands and forced many creative minds to think differently.

This year will be the first year since 1989 that I have not attended an international exhibition. Sometimes I would travel more than once in the year to attend an exhibition. This is a sure give away as to what I think about attending. While they are a lot of work, trade shows are energising, as you learn about new technology, renew friendships, and enjoy social events. There is no better way to make so much face to face contact and network, in such a short time period. I have been very fortunate to see the transition and growth in the metalworking industry over the last 31 years. And I would not have been able to keep abreast with the technological developments had I not attended these exhibitions.

However, COVID-19 has forced the creative minds to find new ways to engage with people and sell product. The Internet and the digital tools at our disposal have created a whole new virtual world, which, whether we like it or not, is going to be part of our future. Like adding a website to your marketing platform, we must now consider these virtual events as an ongoing vehicle providing year-round value, instead of seeing them just as a medium to host a launch of a new product. And of course it goes without saying that they have to be meaningful and not just a sales pitch, otherwise you will not attract the attendee back. They also have to be structured so that they are easy to navigate. Believe it or not there are still many out there that struggle with just visiting and viewing a website. But then again, I blame the website designers who, in my opinion, are expressing their creative juices rather than thinking from the outside and looking in.

I have to admit though that I would probably need 48 hours and more in a day to attend all of these virtual events that I am invited to. I know it is my choice to be selective but the volume is overwhelming and many overlap. There seems to be no research done as to what your ‘event’ will clash with. I get the distinct feeling that it is a case of getting it out there as a one-upmanship on your competitor at times.

It was therefore very refreshing to receive a notification that was headlined: Take a break from the virtual and visit the Italian trade show 32.BI-MU. We all know that it will be important for exhibition organisers to recognise that the future will include both physical and digital engagement. We’ll need to digitally accommodate the exchange of knowledge that makes in-person events so valuable, while learning how to move forward safely and effectively with onsite interactions and networking opportunities that can’t be replicated online.

As one visitor said about his visit to EMO: “The opportunities to make contact with fellow industrialists are endless, sharing ideas and problem solving in machining or manufacturing. Seeing the latest developments in our industry and to see in which direction our industry is moving in, what goals are set by world leaders in their specialised fields, was absolutely astonishing.” You can’t do this online. Watching a machine work virtually is just not the same.