How to Prepare for the Return of Live Events: Part 2 (Updated 9.9.2021)

How-To Tips

Our original post was written a year ago and it’s time to revisit the topic of in-person events. We hope Part 1 of this piece (check it out if you haven’t already) energized you and made you feel optimistic for the future. We believe in-person trade shows will return—but what will they look like when they do?

Fast forward one year and we’re still figuring out what the future of in-person events looks like. Trade shows are evolving and it feels like we’re heading in the right direction, even if we’ve hit a few speed bumps along the way. So, rather than predictions, we’re sharing what we’ve seen in 2021. The differences we anticipate fall under the categories of exhibitors’ individual booth spaces, show-level practices and policies, and human interaction. We have also provided some tips and action items from our team here at EDE to help you better prepare.

New Ways to Build Trust Through Safety and Comfort in Your Exhibit

There will be expectations for every exhibitor to create a safe environment within their booth space. We anticipate that shows will require some of these, while some may be at the exhibitor’s moral discretion.

Here are some of our thoughts:

  • All exhibitors should eliminate unnecessary booth structures to allow more space for physically distanced conversations.
    • EDE Tip: this is a great time to rethink your exhibit strategy. Make sure every element has a clear purpose. Creating space is important, but creating purpose is the gold standard.
  •  Exhibitors should create sanitation schedules for high-touch surfaces within the exhibit.
    • EDE Tip: Make the schedule clearly visible to attendees to help build trust.
Open air meeting spaces
  • Exhibitors should make air flow a priority.
    • EDE Tip: Consider open-air meeting spaces (i.e. no ceiling, not completely closed off to the outside, etc.) to allow for air flow. If not open-air, UV air sanitizers are a big hit!
  • Companies should rethink giveaways and collateral. We might see more individually packaged giveaways to reduce the spread of germs.
    • EDE Tip: Turn giveaways into a way to follow up. Let people choose what they want, then you can mail it to them after. This creates a more premium experience rather than a bag full of “stuff” that will likely be left behind.
  • Food and beverage service is typically a great way to draw in attendees and keep them in your space; self-service and buffet-style are a thing of the past. Consider one-time use, pre-packagted giveaways or prepare for catering staff in your space. F&B is still a powerful tool, but needs to be thought through differently.
  • The use of interactive technology, such as virtual reality experiences, will likely be minimized. QR codes are all the rage, and a great way to share information (and track it) with the added bonus of exhibitors bringing it with them. Anything that can be accessed through a personal device is going to be more popular than ever!
    • EDE Tip: Without attract mechanisms like these, you may need to get more creative—as people may be more reluctant to explore unfamiliar companies. How can you turn your brand into must-see on the show floor? Will it be through strong branding and messaging? Or maybe a technology that attendees can access on their personal devices, such as augmented reality?
  • Hand sanitizer stations are a good addition to any space.
  • Giveaways should no longer be a free for all. Bring in a staffer to hand them out. It can also create another way to engage in a conversation.

Action Item: Work with your trusted exhibit partner to start brainstorming ways to make your exhibit a safer environment. The sooner you have these conversations, the more ready you will be to hit the ground running once a show is scheduled to proceed in-person.

Safety Practices and Policies to Expect From Shows

Of course, we will also see changes on a show-wide level. To kick it off with some of the no-brainers, we expect to see mask requirements or vaccine mandates (even for contractors) at shows moving forward.


  • Associations and convention centers will likely create wider aisles with more space between booths. Some shows are even removing aisle carpet.
  • We expect to see many social distancing signage reminders.
  • Although virtual events won’t replace in-person trade shows, we do foresee many larger shows providing a virtual supplement to reach the individuals that are still not able to travel or don’t feel comfortable doing so.
  • We believe industry associations and convention centers will have staff specifically designated for safety. This team will ensure all attendees are wearing masks, help to regulate traffic and maintain physical distancing, and sanitize high-touch surfaces throughout the day.
  • Instead of giveaways, shows are recommending charitable donations.
    • EDE Tip: a great way to build brand affinity and put your budget to a good use!

Action Item: Get ahead of the safety curve. Start exploring what is already happening at recent live events so you can get a sense of what to expect at your next live show. A great place to start is with this recap of the Together Again Expo.

How to Approach Attendee Engagement and Lower Attendance

We anticipate lower attendance for the foreseeable future, as both comfort levels and ability to travel will vary widely across the population. Although lower attendance might not sound great on the surface, we’ve seen higher-quality attendees at every show. This means the opportunity to spend your time in productive conversations with your most qualified leads.

As with most other things in life, we will need to establish a new way of forming connections and exchanging information. Before assuming everyone is comfortable with a handshake or hug, stop and ask about their comfort level. Some shows are weaving in colored bracelets and badge markers to indicate comfort levels. If they aren’t, a simple question can remove any awkwardness. Instead of exchanging business cards, smartphone users may turn to Apple’s AirDrop or other similar Bluetooth-sharing features.

Action Item: Research the latest tech to make exchanging information as simple as possible without business cards. One of our favorite LinkedIn features is the QR code that, when scanned, takes users directly to your profile. This is a great way for prospects and customers to get more than just your contact info. They can instantly learn more about you and your company, and why they will love working with you!

Prepare for the “New Normal” of In-Person Trade Shows

No one knows for sure what live events will look like when they return, but we have a good enough idea that we can begin to prepare ourselves for what is to come. Thinking about what the future of in-person trade shows looks like for your program? We’d love to brainstorm and help you out. Contact us at to get the conversation started with our team of experiential marketing experts.

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