Reimagining the Events & Roadshow Industry After Coronavirus

Unprecedented disruption requires us to take another look at corporate events and roadshows and what needs to change. We as an industry need to think about how to reimagine some of the things we are doing, whether that’s digital marketing, tradeshows, trips, meetings, or roadshows. Our panel of experts recently hosted a webinar on the “next normal” of roadshows (view full recording) and discussed what planners and attendees can expect in the near future.

With many tradeshows quarantined and canceled, we are at the very beginning stages of local private events beginning to arise. While we believe that tradeshows will return one day soon, there will still be some short-term disruptions that will have significant effects. One is that some companies will have travel restrictions, thus, limited attendance. So even as shows reopen, there will be attendees unable to attend due to their own company travel restrictions. Another is that the consumer psyche has been damaged by COVID-19. So even if they are allowed to attend, there may be individuals who are still reluctant to get on an airplane and travel.

The idea behind a tradeshow is getting a large group of people to travel to one location for one show. Alternatively, the model flips for roadshows, and the companies go to the people. The example below shows a company taking their event to 10 different cities to touch major metropolitan areas and markets.

roadshows next normalSo what does the next normal look like?

As our team looks ahead for roadshows and tradeshows, we thought we’d split the next few quarters into 3 phases: abnormal, temporary, and old normal. We expect this “abnormal” phase (living in the pandemic, health precautions, social distancing) to extend through Q3. As we get into the tail end of Q3 and Q4, we expect things to start heading “back to normal” during the “temporary” phase. While we’ll still most likely see some heavy restrictions and changes to events, we anticipate people slowly becoming more comfortable with the changes, as well as getting back to how our world use to operate pre-COVID-19. “Old normal” is exactly as it sounds and should start trickling in beginning Q1 of 2021. We still expect to see certain changes, such as F&B standards, limitations on group sizes, and social distancing protocols. But we hope that we’re mostly out of the abnormal and temporary phases by January 2021.


Virtual Roadshows – Q2, Q3, Q4 (to start in Q2)

While we cannot meet in person due to today’s social distancing restrictions, we can still meet virtually. Our team came up with a few ideas and ways for you to continue to engage with your clients during these abnormal and temporary phases. These events are great opportunities for virtual face-to-face connections and meetings.

Virtual Private Concerts

I’m sure we all miss the opportunity to see our favorite artists live; luckily for us, there’s still a way to do that! Private virtual concerts with an artist are quickly gaining in popularity. These intimate and interactive experiences with artists are unlike anything you could have imagined. During these private concerts, you have the opportunity to ask questions directly to the artist, request songs, and enjoy a personal concert with your favorite artist. These events can be as small as 20 attendees or can be as large as 300 attendees.

Virtual Sports Q&A Sessions

Like concerts, sports will look different too. Following the same idea for virtual concerts, these virtual sports Q&A sessions are also great intimate and interactive events. Here, you’re able to give attendees that rare opportunity to ask their favorite sports player questions about past games or how they got to where they are today. This is an excellent opportunity for local markets to consider outsourcing a retired hometown player for a lesser retainer fee, but still have that popularity factor in those local markets to draw attendance.

Virtual Cooking Class with a Chef

This has been one of the most popular of the virtual events today. Here, you have the opportunity to cook alongside a chef in the comfort of your kitchen. To further customize this event, attendees are sent the recipe of the dish being created, along with a pre-paid Visa gift card so attendees can pre-purchase the necessary ingredients before the cooking class. These classes are best when small to allow for more engaging conversations, to be able to follow along at an easy pace and to ask questions throughout the cooking course. We’d recommend anywhere from 10-15 attendees for this event.

roadshow covid-19 optionsVirtual Mixology/Wine Tasting

Similar to the virtual cooking classes, mixology follows the same format; just replace the dish with a fun drink! Again, to further customize this event, attendees are sent the drink recipe, along with the few ingredients needed prior to the class.

Wine tasting events include a session with a sommelier who discusses different topics from wine appreciation to wine pairings and anything in between. Each attendee would be sent a pre-selected wine package before the event. For further customization, consider adding in a branded bottle of wine, turning the bottle into a keepsake post-event.

Again, these types of events would be best if scaled down to around 10-15 attendees just to allow for attendee engagement, good conversations, and the ability for the attendees to feel a part of and involved with the event.

virtual wine tasting covid-19 roadshowsVirtual Paint Nite

Virtual paint night is a spin-off of Painting with a Twist (those in-studio paint classes I’m sure many of you may have done with friends or family). The format is the same, just at home! This family-friendly virtual event option offers your group the opportunity to follow alongside an artist to create a masterpiece of your own! Paint kits can be sent directly to your attendees before the event. We’d recommend a group size around 20-25 attendees to allow for engagement, questions, and for attendees to follow along at an easy pace.

Small Events –  Q3, Q4 Q1, Q2 (to start in Q3)

We expect that by Q3, we’re able to slowly taper off virtual events and start getting together in smaller groups. We believe once restaurants and other types of venues start reopening, small group events will start popping up in local markets.

Lunch & Learns

Lunch and learns are going to be amazing opportunities for companies to reintroduce themselves and their products (or new products) to prospects and clients, especially after we’ve been in complete isolation.

Dinner Events

Dinner events will likely start trickling in during Q3 and Q4 as more restaurants reopen their doors and restrictions on group sizes lighten. What is great about dinner events is the flexibility for a relaxed agenda with little business talk or sway the opposite direction and follow a strict schedule with more business discussion. Because these dinner events are usually a little longer, we’re able to be a little more creative with add-ons (such as wine pairings, beer tastings, and speaking engagements.)

roadshow covid-19 dinner optionsCooking Class with a Chef

With a very similar structure as the virtual cooking class event discussed above, small groups would be hosted (in-person) by a chef at a restaurant or cooking studio. Attendees would have the opportunity to either create a dish along-side the chef (for more of a cooking class experience), or the event could include a chef-led demo followed by dinner. These events are very customizable and great interactive experiences for attendees.

Top Golf

Top Golf has been a great venue in the past for our groups who are interested in holding a meeting and following it up with an activity. It’s also a great venue to host a networking reception. The space limitations in the bays are naturally smaller, making this venue an excellent option for smaller group events. Most Top Golf locations have private rooms available to allow groups the option of starting the day off with a business meeting then closing with a few rounds of golf, food, and conversation.

roadshow covid-19 optionsPrivate Shopping Experience

As retailers reopen storefronts, another tremendous small group event opportunity is to host an in-store social event. Invite your prospects to a popular brand store like Kendra Scott, Nike, or Fossil in your local markets, and host an in-store social event or private shopping experience and allow guests to choose a gift from a selection of merchandise. Throw in some cocktails and make it a networking and happy hour reception. These events are limited to the storefront’s available space but can typically range from 20-40 in size.

Grand Events – Q4, Q1, Q2 (to start in Q4)

The comeback for these “grand events” will be dependent upon when these venues reopening, which we predict happening closer to Q1 and Q2. The main concern at this point is the number of people attending these events in these large venues, i.e., movie theaters, arenas, and stadiums. Relaxed physical distancing protocols and reduced venue capacities will help move us in the direction of allowing groups back into these venues for larger gatherings.

Movie Premiere

Movie premieres are a great opportunity to open your invitation list to more manager-level attendees or earlier stage leads. This event works best with new releases, and since families are encouraged, consider a family-friendly movie. Include a short networking event prior to the start of the movie so guests can get popcorn, beverages, and take a moment to network with the hosts and other industry colleagues.

What is also great about these events is that you have the option to buy out the entire auditorium, which allows you to control the environment. Most auditoriums seat 200-300 people, which allows the capability to encourage physically distancing by minimizing the max attendance to somewhere around 100-150 people.

movie premiere roadshow coronavirusConcerts

Everybody loves going to a “bucket-list” concert, and they are a great way to bring people together in a more casual setting. While it seems we will not see in-person or live concerts until Q1 or Q2 of 2021 when they do resume, they will likely look much different. Venues are going to need to restrict capacity; seats and rows may be blocked off; masks could be required; hand sanitizing stations will be located throughout the venue, and temperature checks may be done at the gate upon entrance.

A great alternative option to stadium seating is premium suites. The in-suite experience allows for hosts to better control their environment. This includes closely monitoring food and beverage stations, having personal in-suite staff with sanitation protocols, and a smaller vicinity to control group size. Typically, suites can accommodate up to 25-30 people, and we expect that arenas will reduce that capacity as well.  An added benefit to hosting an event in-suite is the opportunity for networking throughout the entire show.

Sporting Events

There is a lot of discussion on when sporting events with fan attendance will start up again, and it seems to be changing daily. Many of the points just made for concerts will apply to sporting events as well. Stadiums will reduce their capacities, and safety and sanitation standards will be strict.

Again, we recommend suites as the safest way to bring your clients together as it gives you more control in a smaller space. We expect these changes will come at a price; ticket prices will increase for both concerts and sporting events for venues to cover the expense of reduced capacity and cleaning requirements.

Gifting Experiences

We use gifting for our client’s incentive and events programs to appreciate, celebrate, or motivate. For roadshows, we focus on appreciation and celebrating attendees, from appreciation for partnerships to celebrating achievements. The biggest takeaway in this section is the gift often becomes the draw. That idea stretches across both in-person and virtual events. Gifting experiences following your meetings is a great way to encourage attendance, and when done right, it often leaves a lasting effect.


Looking for more options than a roadshow? Take a look at the “next normal” for corporate meetings and incentive travel for more insight on how to kickstart your programs when people start returning to the office and travel gets back to full-swing.



Phoebe Wright

Author Phoebe Wright

Program Manager | Expertise is detailed attention in program execution and corporate communication.

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