I recently returned from a dental trade show in Florida with about 1100 people in attendance. It was the first conference I had been to since March 2020 when I was at ADX in Australia, and the conference ended a day early when COVID-19 broke out. I barely made it out of the country before the airlines canceled all the flights! Exciting times.
I wondered how this conference would go. Prior to traveling, we placed bets on whether or not it would get canceled as COVID numbers seemed to be going up and public concern around events spiked.
I want to share a few thoughts and observations:
1) Many people you meet are a bit gun shy and awkward after not doing this in 1-2 years. This is understandable. Many people have had greatly reduced in-person contact, especially in a business setting, for quite a while. Keep this in mind!
2) The conference I attended had red/yellow/green wrist bands, which indicated your comfort level interacting with people. This is a good idea as an initial cue when meeting people on the floor, especially as a vendor.
3) About 20%-30% of the people there wore masks. I expect this to continue to be standard at large events for a while
4) A lot of vendors didn’t show up last minute. I was even told one of the larger sponsors who had a significant presence didn’t even make it! We saw a few empty tables here and there. I was also told of many last-minute attendee cancellations, but because there was also a waiting list, there was no change in attendance.
If you’re running a conference, these last-minute adjustments will probably happen, so I would have a plan and be ready to call people on the waiting list and keep them updated as the event approaches so you can fill gaps as necessary.
As for virtual conferences: while everyone has gotten comfortable using Zoom in the last year, I think there is also a lot of Zoom fatigue. I never really was a fan of the “virtual conference” idea, and I’ve heard negative comments from everyone who has done one as a vendor.
The next few live conferences and how they go (barring COVID outbreaks) will be key. I am hopeful that we’ve reached enough herd immunity through mass vaccination campaigns and natural immunity gained the hard way that we can get back to meeting in person again soon! Many are already scheduled, so let’s wish them lots of luck!