Orkide Karasu
Trade Fair Manager
IVAM Microtechnology Network
Dec. 9, 2021
Orkide Karasu
Trade Fair Manager
IVAM Microtechnology Network

How to run a sucessful trade show under pandemic circumstances

IVAM has been organizing joint trade show appearances for companies and institutes at international exhibitions in the user markets of microtechnology for many years. The last two years have been particularly challenging: Cancellations at short notice, sometimes double the planning effort for digital and live on-site events, and again and again new challenges in a jungle of regulations that - it feels - change weekly. 

We approached this year's COMPAMED - currently our largest trade fair platform - with great excitement but also uncertainty. We usually occupy an area of around 700 square meters on-site, where more than fifty high-tech manufacturers present their products. This year - despite the continuing strict entry regulations - there were 42 exhibitors to look after and supply on-site. 

One conclusion, in any case, is that it went much better than expected. I would like to take this opportunity to share our experiences and our most important learnings with you. 

1. Better to be safe than sorry

Good and comprehensive preparation pays off: Constantly adapted regional, national and local regulations regarding hygiene measures are unsettling. We decided at an very early stage to take the safest route directly in order to

  • avoid having to plan a new in the event of possible tightenings
  • not to have unexpected costs later on and
  • not to create uncertainties in case of problematic situations.

For example, like some of our exhibitors' teams, we opted for a so-called "2G plus" variant behind the scenes, which means that even fully vaccinated or recovered colleagues had an additional rapid antigen test in the morning. We also recommended this to our service providers on-site and provided the test kits for this purpose. In fact, this allowed an asymptomatic case to be filtered before critical contacts occurred in our area. Even if, due to the excellent ProtAction concept of Messe Düsseldorf, nothing had happened at all, a COVID-positive case would have led to some unrest. We also preferred to provide masks and disinfection options in abundance to best meet all individual requirements. 

2. Prefer to digitize rather than disinfect

You're probably familiar with this: boxes and boxes of printed materials are on their way to the trade show. On-site, everything will pass through dozens of hands as it is packed, unpacked, repacked, set up, laid out and refilled. In our case, stands for brochure material used to have to be assembled, placed, stocked and regularly cleaned so that the high-gloss surfaces do not show fingerprints.  

For this reason, we considered very carefully in advance which brochures, leaflets and flyers we wanted to display at all and which information would be much better provided only digitally. In the end, we decided on two elementary info materials that contain useful on-site information and prepared information on all other projects using Qr-codes. As an "analog compromise" we printed these codes on business cards and handed them out together with our own card during the meeting.  

This variant was well received in many cases, saves working time and a lot of disinfectant on-site, and is also much more sustainable in terms of printing and transport costs.   

3. Hard to act green: in the pandemic, sustainability seems to be more difficult   

As already mentioned, we try to pursue the aspect of sustainability. With the trade fair organization under the hygiene concept, this is a big challenge that we have not yet been able to master so well.

We have reached our limits for example in the area of catering. We wanted to offer hygienic snacks and meals that were exposed to as little contact as possible. It quickly became clear that, for example, openly serving soup would not be feasible under this year's conditions.  

In the case of packaged snacks, sandwiches and rolls, we noticed that catering companies hardly ever used paper packaging, but instead made extensive use of plastic. In the future, we will try to ask specifically whether alternatives are possible. Popular and well-known brand products such as chocolate bars, other confectionery, cakes or savory snacks are unfortunately also not to be found as small portions in sustainable packaging. The range of sustainably packaged snacks is unfortunately limited to a similar-tasting selection of more or less uniform product groups, such as organic cereal bars. 

4. A plan B is good, a plan C is better

As mentioned at the beginning, the organizational challenges regarding events have become immense in these times.

Be prepared for the fact that no matter how well and comprehensively you prepare an activity, it usually turns out differently than expected.  

Keep in mind: 

  • The probability that someone from your team, an invited speaker or an ordered service person will be absent at short notice is unfortunately very high. Besides vaccination breakthroughs and possible quarantine orders for family members such as children, "normal" cold symptoms are also a good reason not to participate. Customers may also cancel appointments at very short notice.
  • We have learned: It is impossible to plan walking routes and contact points on paper. People intuitively walk differently anyway, and most of the time it's not bad at all. Just try to gently touch up on the spot. Use existing equipment for this, such as roll-up displays or sideboards.
  • The Corona crisis hit many service providers hard. There is currently a shortage of service staff in many areas such as security, cleaning, catering, event technology. Especially in areas where traditionally many part-time workers (retirees/students etc) were used, the months of unpaid breaks have pushed staff into other industries.  Therefore, do not expect experienced forces and be forgiving if everything does not work out as usual!

5. Keep smiling and the world smiles back

Even if no one sees it under the mask: Smile! Cool-headedness and flexibility are the keys to success in these times. It is also true that at the moment everyone has a lot of experience with the current adversities and therefore reacts calmly when something doesn't work right away. In particular, technical difficulties with digital or hybrid events are part of everyday life. That doesn't mean that one shouldn't make sure that everything runs smoothly, but that you should be more relaxed when things don't work right away. Keep smiling!

Do you have more suggestions on how to run a successful trade show under pandemic circumstances? Or are you interested in exhibiting with us at next years' COMPAMED. Do not hesitate to contact us!