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A Successful NAWLA Exchange Event

General News

Since the COVID pandemic halted travel and industry events, numerous trade associations across all industries have transitioned to virtual tradeshows.  I have personally participated in four virtual tradeshows since June, including the NAWLA Exchange event that took place this week.

There is no doubt that an online event can never replicate the benefits of an in-person event.  Education sessions are enhanced with a live audience and, candidly, no distractions of a barking dog or an incoming phone call.  The tradeshow floor engages all your senses, compared to a bland, cookie cutter virtual booth.  And there is no way to recreate the value of meeting a new contact in a hotel lobby, networking reception or shared cab ride.

That said, each virtual tradeshow I attended this year did their very best to build a sense of community and value.  And, to their credit, each had some success.  But having just completed the NAWLA Exchange event on Thursday, I can state unequivocally, it was the best of the four virtual tradeshows I attended this year.

NAWLA wisely limited the show to three afternoons.  This made each day seem manageable and still allowed time to focus on other work.

NAWLA also had a great lineup of educational sessions and speakers.  The topics were highly relevant to the attendees, confirmed by the strong participation at each workshop. Though speakers had the option to pre-record their session, they were on hand during the session to answer live questions.  This was a tremendous benefit, compared to other virtual events I have attended.

The speed networking event was a highlight of the NAWLA Exchange.  I counted over 200 participants, who together jammed to music and shared comments in between five minute “face to face” meetings with someone randomly paired with us.  For the less extroverted, an “ice breaker” question was available, but I found each of my seven meetings went by quickly without needing to tap the ice breaker question.

As an exhibitor with a virtual booth, I can say that “booth traffic” was light, compared to a live event.  This may be due to scheduling concurrent workshops to the tradeshow hours, which would naturally draw attendees away from virtual exhibit hall.  This was unfortunate for exhibitors and attendees, especially because the virtual platform had a very cool feature that allowed attendees to initiate an on-the-spot Zoom meeting with each exhibitor.  I had not experienced this capability with other virtual tradeshows and I believe it was underutilized during the NAWLA Exchange.

The NAWLA Exchange ended with an amazing panel of industry CEOs speaking to how they adapted in 2020, and what they are forecasting for 2021.  It was a perfect way to conclude a successful virtual event.

I hope that in the very near future we will again be walking the show floor of an actual exhibit hall.  Until then, the NAWLA Exchange was a great model for a virtual event.

Mark Erickson is Sr. Vice President at Blue Book Services Inc.