Do Virtual Shows Benefit You? We Answer Your Top Questions.

Yes, it’s trade show season again, but as no surprise to anyone, everything’s virtual. Trade shows are one of the best ways to set the stage for a solid year for your business, network with your peers, and of course, build relationships with companies that supply decoration pros and promo distributors. 

First, coming up in Q1 2021, there are a few virtual events to check out (and attend):

So with most in-person trade shows and conferences in a holding pattern for now, are you ready to attend these same shows in online venues? We answer the top questions we’ve heard most from distributors, decorators and other industry pros about how to get the most out of cyber shows. Now’s your chance to create a solid alternate plan to reach your contacts, gain product knowledge and network like a pro.

1. “I’m so used to meeting suppliers in person. How do I maximize the online trade show experience?”

Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. Many online, virtual trade show platforms have capabilities to facilitate video and chat communication with suppliers, on your schedule. “That way, you’re not tied to your computer or phone all day, if you don’t want to be,” says Jamar Laster executive editor of Impressions.

“Take advantage of video chats with your suppliers. While it takes a little more effort than a text chat, having that human interaction via video helps normalize your experience.” Stacy Layton, alphabroder

“Whether it’s real-time chat sessions or posting your questions inside a virtual booth for supplier reps to answer at any time during the virtual event, virtual show platforms facilitate meetings and allow you to get information from suppliers in the way that works best for you,” Laster says. 

Chatting with 20 or 30 suppliers, attending classes and catching up with friends all in one day can make it hard to retain information. That’s why we recommend setting up individual appointments with your preferred suppliers, so you have the full attention of your supplier partner during that time slot. During these meetings you can focus your efforts, such as learning about new products, and creating wins for you and your clients.

Consider also asking your suppliers about:

  • Digital catalog tools they offer. There’s a whole new world of marketing and sales tools to help you sell more apparel and promo products in the digital space to your customers.
Safety, plus engaging videos, easy to use sharing tools, and immediate free distribution to your clients gives customers that use a digitally enhanced catalog a clear competitive advantage. If your business sells custom apparel, our 2021 book is right for you. Click here to watch how our digitally enhanced book can help grow your business.
  • “New arrivals” data. Suppliers collect information on the new top-flight styles and products and can let you know their picks for what to present.

“Take advantage of video chats with your suppliers,” says Stacy Layton, catalog and event manager at alphabroder. “While it takes a little more effort than a text chat, just having that human interaction via video helps normalize—and maximize—your experience.”

Action Tip: Use PPAI Expo Exhibitor List, ASI Digital Expo site or ImpressionsConnect Exhibitor List to find the apparel, promo products and decoration suppliers you want to talk to at these cyber shows. You’ll find they’re eager to help your business thrive. Also take a look at how each show platform will allow you to interact with your supplier partners.

2. “How am I supposed to experience new products from behind a computer screen?”

Though virtual events can’t replicate the physical experience of touching and feeling a new product in person, trade show technology allows you to familiarize yourself with a new ringspun cotton T-shirt or a Columbia water bottle.

“To learn about new products, attendees can view videos, slide shows and detailed photos, and get access to other interactive materials in a virtual environment,” Laster says. “Video, in particular, is a vital tool for experiencing new products in a virtual environment. The most effective platforms will offer this capability as a basic feature to ensure attendees get as much exposure to products as possible.”

“The shows offer networking lounges where you can chat with fellow distributors and decorators, so visit those. Find out how your peers are dealing with the ‘new normal’ and conducting their business relations virtually.” Stacy Layton, alphabroder  

alphabroder/Prime Line will feature all new apparel and promo products in these virtual exhibit spaces. “We recommend engaging with a sales rep who can add a little more ‘romance’ to all the new products,” Layton says. “Always ask lots of questions.”

Action Tip: Plan out your calendar just like you would for an in-person event, to allow for chatting with suppliers and seeing new products, networking, and attending seminars. Don’t forget to build in much-needed breaks to get up from your desk to stretch and walk around.

3. “How do I make the most of virtual seminars and keynote speakers?”

The educational content you get to propel your business forward in 2021 is an essential part of the trade show experience. However, since most of us have been Zooming with our colleagues, clients and suppliers for the better part of a year at this point, attending virtual seminars should be an easy transition. 

“The good news is that virtual platforms and environments can seamlessly replicate the seminar content experience via videos, slide decks, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and more,” says Laster, who helps develop the education program for the Impressions Expo events. 

Laster says to carefully review the seminar and keynote schedule and plan your time for attending accordingly. “Then, make sure your operating system—whether on your computer or phone, or both—is up to date and meets the minimum technological requirements for the virtual event so you can access and enjoy everything seamlessly,” he says. “You want to be able to take advantage of a full slate of seminar and speaker content.”

“The content presented in virtual seminars and conference sessions is a vital part of the trade show experience. The good news? Virtual platforms and environments can seamlessly replicate the seminar content experience via videos, slide decks, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and more.” Jamar Laster, Impressions

When you’re reviewing educational seminar schedules, see if you have to attend your “must” sessions live or if you can access replays later. That will help you plan your schedule more effectively. 

And when you attend these seminars, participate. Don’t stay anonymous behind your screen: Instead, introduce yourself in session chats, and contribute to discussions and ask questions. On social, participate with hashtags to continue the conversation and share what you’re learning. Use our hashtag (#virtualpromoshows) when you post from the shows!

If there are on-demand sessions you plan to watch after the show, we recommend scheduling time to watch them within a week to keep the context fresh in your mind.

Action Tip: Visit each show’s site to browse their virtual education schedules: PPAI Expo Direct-2-You, ASI Digital Expo or Impressions Connect.

4. “I love in-person networking.  How do I do that virtually and make the same strong connections?”

Yes, networking is a vital part of the trade show experience. The great news? Digital show platforms have the technology to bring many of the vibrant, interactive elements of in-person networking to online environments.


“From structured virtual events designed for guest and attendee interaction, to dedicated chat rooms that enable people to connect and network,” Laster says, “there are lots of ways for event attendees to interact and exchange information, to keep the conversation going after the event.”

Layton points out that most virtual shows offer open networking lounges where you can drop in and chat with fellow distributors and decorators. “Take advantage of those spaces,” she says. “Find out how your peers are dealing with the ‘new normal’ and conducting their business relations virtually. It’s been a long time since we’ve been together in person, so it’s nice to see some industry ‘friendly’ faces.”

Plan to reach out to your new contacts and review materials from suppliers the first week after the conference, and follow up as needed.

“At our virtual show, each attendee can connect with top industry exhibitors, discover new suppliers and techniques, and learn from top industry experts, all from the comfort of your own home or office.”
Jamar Laster, Impressions

Action Tip: Visit each show’s site to learn about your virtual networking opportunities: PPAI Expo Direct-2-You, ASI Digital Expo site or Impressions Connect.

Remember, your suppliers can be your greatest source of virtual information and inspiration when it comes to making your company more efficient and profitable, especially year-round, 24/7 resources. Two educational resources to check out include:

  • Fashion Apparel Masterclass (FAM) from BELLA+CANVAS, a first-of-its-kind free education and community hub that addresses the challenges we face as an industry, changes to the status quo, and solutions for selling apparel on a whole new level.
  • Newly launched ZOOMacademy, an educational platform designed for promotional product professionals and available at no cost. ZOOMacademy offers straight-forward, in-depth and on-demand courses focused on digital marketing and sales.

What to Do Today

Because you can use virtual trade show technology from your home, office or shop, it’s the right networking and educational choice for Q1—it’s good for business and your bottom line.

1. First, look into industry virtual trade show options.

As we mentioned earlier, coming up in Q1 2021, there are a few virtual events to check out (and attend):

“Since these virtual events are still being planned out, check on industry association websites for their event schedules and updates,” Layton says. “Compare the shows’ offerings. What are the registration expectations? What other suppliers are exhibiting? Ask lots of questions! Plan to attend the events where you think you’ll get the most bang for your buck, as the cost varies.”

2. Think about whether you should host your own online event.

Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon and holding virtual events in one form or another. Should you host an event for your clients?

“There are a ton of virtual event platforms out there, and they’re worth researching to see whether or not an online event would be lucrative for your business,” Layton says. “Plus, since the big-picture future of events is still unknown, it’s beneficial for you to familiarize yourself with these platforms. The virtual element isn’t likely to go away, even when things are back to ‘normal.’”

Some popular virtual trade show platforms to look at include:  Intrado, ON24, Bizzabo, HOPIN, Kalture and Intellum. For smaller events, you can use Zoom or Microsoft Teams. As far as timing, for small virtual events, most people need between three to six weeks to promote the event successfully. For large virtual conferences, 65% of marketers need more than six weeks to promote the event and drive the desired amount of registrations, according to Markletic.

Of course, feel free to reach out to your alphabroder/Primeline rep to learn where we’re exhibiting virtually and how to set up appointments with us.

Here’s to a great start to your company’s 2021, with impactful virtual shows that will help you level up in Q1.

3 thoughts on “Do Virtual Shows Benefit You? We Answer Your Top Questions.”

  1. While there is nothing good about the pandemic, the sudden massive demand for video has been a lifesaver for people like me. I’ve been a full-time VO guy since 2010 and never saw this much conference material bedore.

      1. Laurie, while nothing can replace a live event, you highlight the potential of virtual experiences. I would add that you have the potential to reach even larger audiences with virtual because you tap an audience that may never have been able to attended shows due to budgets constraints or other reasons. The virtual content also extends well beyond the confines of a live event. For this reason, it makes sense to develop a virtual selling tool that is owned, giving endless flexibility on how and where it can be used.

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