When it was confirmed back in March that the Las Vegas-based trade event InfoComm was to be cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, internal conversations contemplating the concept of a virtual show were already underway. With a portfolio of nine international trade shows, AVIXA had just closed the curtain on ISE 2020 – its final outing at the Amsterdam RAI in February prior to its big move to Barcelona in 2021. As those who were in attendance can testify, it was something of an unusual event, given the absence of some high profile exhibitors on account of both coronavirus concerns and the travel chaos that swept the globe at the hand of Storm Ciara.
The show management of ISE and the RAI exhibition center were in regular contact with local health authorities, as well as following the daily updates via the World Health Organisation to determine whether or not the show should go ahead, weighing up contingency plans but eventually opting to continue as planned. When doors opened on day one, visitors were greeted with signs warning against handshaking and physical contact, while bottles of hand sanitising gel were liberally scattered around the halls. Yet despite the unfamiliar feel that pervaded proceedings, ISE 2020 was a success, with exhibitors and attendees positive about the business they had conducted on the show floor despite the strange conditions.
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However, when the increasing severity of the coronavirus pandemic began to reveal itself on a global scale, gatherings of all shapes and sizes were either optimistically postponed or cancelled outright. For AVIXA, which had already been discussing the digital realm as complementary to the traditional physical trade show platform, there was little time to waste in putting those plans into action.
“We have a portfolio of nine trade shows around the world, the first of which is ISE in February, so for us, the planning consideration about the show started in January as soon as it became clear that coronavirus had the potential for global impact,” Joyce explains, describing the conception of InfoComm 2020 Connected. “Once it started having a global impact we recognised that ISE was going to require a lot of management and planning around the health and safety of exhibitors and attendees. And we were working with health authorities to see if that show should take place, which of course it did. So we recognised that our show calendar was going to change entirely right at the start of the year.
“In the weeks following ISE, the InfoComm expo team were dealing with quickly changing information, and were evaluating whether the show could take place and how they could do the best to support the exhibitors to make sure that they weren’t incurring even further costs with regard to shipping and stand build. So, the main consideration was of course the health and safety of all involved. The team worked very closely with all of the key stakeholder groups towards the best outcome. They very quickly came up with the concept for a virtual show that was broad and rich and really gave the sense of being at the show. The team knew it had to be so much more than a webinar and some online sessions.”
Crucial to InfoComm 2020 Connected’s success will be its ability to generate the sense of community that is the cornerstone of any successful event within a digital platform. This, Joyce notes, has always been at the heart of AVIXA’s ambitions for the concept.
“People will be able to engage in virtual exhibitions, meet and network with people and exhibitors that they may not have been able to do in person,” she says. “The true benefit and intention of InfoComm 2020 Connected is to give it that scale and make it an experience and opportunity for content and education. It reaches a broad cross-section of markets, from education, corporate, entertainment, hospitality, live events. There will be panel sessions and seminars on so many topics relating to specific regions within the international market. It’s a truly enriched platform.”
According to Joyce, exhibitors were very much at the heart of AVIXA’s research when constructing the show’s framework and determining what it should look like.
“We did a survey among attendees and exhibitors and overwhelmingly they wanted to know about technology, new products, trend reports, education sessions and audio sessions, so with our exhibitor community engaged and three days of content being planned, the virtual show was created,” Joyce continues. “It is a very rich virtual experience. It’s not AI – there is no putting on a set of goggles and walking the show floor – it is much more of an enriched portal. It enables people to check out product spotlights, visit virtual booths; request a meeting with an exhibitor, view product demos, watch videos, read white papers. There will be exhibitor presentations, matchmaking sessions, networking sessions, new tech lighting realism, there are obviously keynotes and thought leadership sessions. And there are attendee-driven sessions like Q&As, so it’s very interactive. People can also attend after show drinks sessions to connect with peers and socialise.”
At the time of writing, there has been a significant number of registrations for InfoComm Connected from outside of the US. This, Joyce elaborates, highlights a unique aspect of the event, in that people from around the world that may not previously have been able to attend the show in Las Vegas can now capitalise on everything the show has to offer.
“At this point (June 1) attendance from outside of the US currently stands at over 31 per cent, which is very positive,” she states. “It’s doing exactly what we want, which is bringing a broader spread of attendees.
“My message to those who haven’t yet signed up and possibly aren’t sure about the mechanics of such a show, would be to register and explore what’s going to be available. You have the ability to book meetings with people, see new products and technologies and have that enriched experience. You have content you can drop into in different time zones that are convenient for you, and you will have relevant content for your region. There are three core time zones that will feature content relevant to a diverse range of markets and territories in several different languages including Spanish, French, German and Italian.
“Ultimately, this is new – it’s not the same as physically walking a show floor in Las Vegas. But it’s the first time we have attempted something in this manner to serve and connect the community and ensure that exhibitors can continue to do business. While large trade shows as we knew them may be changing, it is our mission as an association – to act as a catalyst for global market growth for the AV industry and to serve as a trusted hub. Our model for this year and very likely next is going to more and more of a physical-virtual hybrid where we can continue to bring the industry together, combining both the physical and digital experience.”