Let me begin by reiterating that I said "seemingly outdated." I don't believe that it is, but it's an argument that's been thrown around. (I also staunchly argue that print isn't dead, it's just resting.) Trade shows can be extremely valuable to exhibitors and attendees, but they're caught in the middle of an evolution that leaves their future hard to see.
The internet today makes communication, whether it's by a simple email or a video feed, instant and easier than ever before. Not only that, the sheer amount of information available on the internet is essentially unlimited.
Both of these, communication and information, were staples of the advantage that trade shows used to provide. Inspiration, innovation and collaboration were often in full effect when a group or like-minded individuals from an industry got together... nowadays there are no barriers to keep that from happening every single day from the comfort of an office or even a couch.
Before an exhibitor even has a chance to attract an attendee to their booth, there have to be attendees in the first place. It's a feat that's getting harder and harder, because the information available elsewhere is so staggering. Exhibitors and Organizers alike are challenged with crafting a unique experience that will entice people to attend and participate, rather than point and click from home.
Social and new media are also changing the game. Series like Ted Talks have embraced social and new media to spread their messages past the limits of their attendees. They have managed to successfully merge the live with the broadcast and used it to grow into a widely known brand, but many other shows have struggled to keep up.
The availability of great lectures and content online means that people don't necessarily have to attend a show in person to get the message, something that trade shows used to capitalize on. Following a hashtag on Twitter may not leave a person with the warm fuzzy feel of can-do-ness that often comes after listening to a great speech, but if you can glean the talking points from a collection of tweets... why not?
I don't claim to have any of the answers, but my recent trip has gotten me thinking a lot about the direction of trade shows. How many booths have to give away an iPad before the tactic becomes tired and a new draw is needed? If followers, fans, and retweets have become a major goal–using the attendees to help reach internet users–how is social media going to affect the environment on the floor?
As a company that offers exhibit materials and services, we're excited to see what the future has in store and look forward to taking part!