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What’s the Future for Trade Shows?

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

Trade shows are a lot of work. If you’re an exhibitor, you have budgeting, travel and logistical headaches. If you’re an attendee, you have travel issues, miles of exhibits to go through, and tasks from your regular job pile up while you’re gone. If you’re like me, you know it can be exhausting. But boy, do I miss trade shows, and I’m sure my colleagues do too.

While they are a lot of work, trade shows are energizing, as you to learn about new technology, renew friendships, and enjoy social events. Even in the Internet age, they are vital.

I had been scheduled to attend SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing event in March and IMTS in September, and I’m sad about missing them. Trade shows are part of the rhythm of the manufacturing industry, and the beat is off these days.

New Ways to Engage

So where do we go from here? Today, the answer is online. Creative minds are finding new ways to engage people with digital tools. IMTS is launching new digital ventures and SME is developing an online Smart Manufacturing Experience.

That is all well and good, but I certainly hope that we will be able to be together in person before too long. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a tougher foe than first thought, and reopening certain venues too soon has led to a resurgence of the virus in parts of the U.S. as of this writing. It remains to be seen what will happen to other trade shows scheduled for the rest of this year and next.

So what’s our next move?

First, it will be important for event producers to recognize that the future will include both physical and digital engagement. This transition was already underway; COVID-19 has only accelerated the shift. 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.

We must also consider “events” as an ongoing community providing value year-round, instead of seeing them just as a two-to-five-day point in time in a physical location. The events that find ways to provide value beyond the convention center will find their online offerings in greater demand, and that attendees, exhibitors and speakers will make their physical events a priority as well.

Those that cannot evolve and bank on one week a year as their value proposition to the community may not find the future as promising.

SME is developing virtual counterparts to the physical events we produce, and is working to provide ongoing value to the community that enhances, rather than replaces, our onsite activity.

Until We Meet Again

As we make progress against the pandemic, being able to gather safely is a great goal and one to look forward to. Hope to see you then!

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