Here is a key lesson the COVID-19 pandemic taught us: no matter how hard the situation, we adapt. On a personal level, this is good news. On an industry level, this is unsettling.

Corporate travel bans and safety concerns about attending events forced exhibitors to adapt and find alternative ways to promote products and services. As companies redirect their budget for events and trade shows to other marketing efforts, we fear for the future of our industry.

Nobody knows to what extent physical events will be back in 2021, but we can expect a significant drop in the number of exhibitors. What we know is digital solutions will play a big role next year.

Our challenge: many people associate digital with either difficult (“Will I have to learn new software?”) or boring (“I don’t want my company to be just a link in a directory.”). It’s our job to reshape this perception and come up with solutions that create value for exhibitors.

Last year, I noticed something interesting happening at a few events in Dubai. Some attendees were walking around with a tablet facilitating video conferencing meetings between exhibitors and their colleagues back in the office. This image stuck with me and gave me an insight into the experience a hybrid event could offer for both exhibitors and attendees.

I asked myself: How can we help people interact with exhibitors that can’t be present at events and trade shows? What kind of digital experience could help create the value exhibitors are looking for?

Despite the disruption brought by the pandemic, companies still have the same goals. They want ways to showcase products and services, give away promotional brochures, give presentations and have sales meetings.

With these ideas in mind, here are nine innovative ways to create value for exhibitors who can’t attend events in 2021.

  1. Increase appeal for participation by removing barriers and allowing exhibitors to capture leads before, during, and after the event;
  2. Create premium listing opportunities such as “Featured Product”, “Made in Country” (such as USA and UK);
  3. Make it easy for attendees to find exhibitors they are interested in using well-structured search tools and filters;
  4. Help exhibitors attract attendees by offering content curation services and tools for creating compelling content and media;
  1. Allow real-time follow up with interested attendees through reliable notification systems, and enable sales calls to occur on-demand, even before and after the event dates;
  2. Offer exhibitors opportunities to speak remotely on sponsored keynotes;
  3. Showcase exhibitors who can’t attend (a “feature wall” is a great option)where attendees can collect information and, through a concierge service, seeproducts and services demos;
  4. Increase the speed attendees find exhibitors using machine-learningtechniques, targeted recommendations and match-making tools based onattendee’s activities at the event;
  5. Let attendees on-site share their experience with colleagues participatingvirtually through the use of collaboration and messaging tools.

Our industry is being forced to rethink the way it operates. We must adapt to the new market demands. There is no other option. If we want events and trade shows to remain relevant, it’s time to show exhibitors we can deliver value even if they can’t attend events in 2021.