The Future of Trade Shows | Trends in 2021

OUTdrive episode 54: The Future of Trade Shows | Trends in 2021 with Scott Hanna

OUTdrive Episode 54 with Scott Hanna

Trade shows and events are coming back, but they look a little different than they have in the past. In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Scott Hanna about trade shows in a post-COVID-19 environment and industry trends in 2021.

Scott is the Vice President of Sales for Skyline E3 and E3 interactive. Together, these companies provide unforgettable experiences through exhibits, events and environments. Although things have changed over the past 16 years, the COVID-19 pandemic left a lasting impact on the industry.

Keep reading to learn about trade show trends in 2021, the impacts of COVID-19 on trade shows and how Scott’s team has adapted to make this year one of the best yet.

Post-COVID-19 Trade Shows and Events

COVID-19 impacted every business in some way, and trade shows are no different. Nearly all live events were cancelled, and many became virtual events instead. As a company that focuses mainly on large in-person events, Skyline E3 was significantly impacted.

“Right away, when shows started canceling, the service side of our business shut down almost completely,” said Scott. “I think people were optimistic that it might only last for a few months, so we still had sales for a little bit. But then really after a month or two that really dropped off.”

As sales stopped, Skyline E3 recognized the opportunity to meet customer needs in new ways. As virtual and hybrid events developed, there was an opportunity to provide interactive experiences utilizing new technologies. This was the start of E3 interactive, which focuses on interactive and virtual experiences such as virtual trade shows, trainings and interactive meetings.

“Certainly finding the opportunity to launch E3 interactive was a big change,” said Scott. “Just knowing that there’s another potential way that we can help clients. There is one more thing that we can do to help them be better and extend their business beyond the trade show floor.”

The E3 interactive team believes that every experience matters, no matter the size. They use a proprietary web-based platform, FusionXP, to deliver the best results possible. The technology is innovative, but relationships continue to play a vital role. Scott shares how he continues to see relationships evolve.

“There’s just a reevaluation of what’s important to our clients, what’s important to us and seeing the importance of relationships over the last year,” said Scott. “Not being able to be face to face with people just reinforces that this is such a relationship driven business. And we’re very fortunate to have a lot of great clients where we’ve established those relationships.”

Scott and his team developed new technologies to meet customer needs in 2020. As live events resume this year, they are leveraging these technologies and relationships to meet customer needs.

Trade Show Trends in 2021

The effects of COVID-19 are here to stay, and professionals like Scott see some of them as a good thing. There are several trends to have on your radar, whether you are planning to attend or are building an exhibit for a client.

Interactive and Virtual Experiences

Many companies saw decreased internal costs during 2020. They saved money on travel costs, hotel rooms, hosting clients and more. As they return to normal, many are wondering how to maintain this reduced cost while engaging clients at a high level. Virtual experiences like E3 interactive are a great solution.

“I think that’s going to be something they can continue to do moving forward,” said Scott. “It doesn’t mean that face to face goes away, but you can supplement it with something else that gives you more opportunity to engage with clients at a high level. There’s more opportunity to expand your business, reach into different markets or go somewhere else geographically that you couldn’t go before.”

Higher-Quality Attendance

Scott anticipates lower attendance as trade shows and events return. Streamlined processes are carrying over from COVID-19 and companies are focusing on using their resources more efficiently.

“I think attendance might still be down at some of these shows for a while,” said Scott. “I think companies may be a little bit cautious with their travel budgets to make sure that things are really back and happening. But instead of a company sending six people to a show, they’re going to send two or three people that are probably decision makers. So I think the attendance will be quality.”

Proactive Outreach and Preparation

Lower attendance means that attendees are going to get through the show efficiently and only see the things they need to see. Because of this, Scott suggests connecting ahead of time to ensure you have a designated time to meet.

“Time is going to be more restricted on the show floor,” said Scott. “I think exhibitors need to be doing outreach in advance. They need to have scheduled meetings in their exhibit space to make sure they’re getting the people in that they want to talk to rather than hoping that they happen to be able to pop in and stop by.”

Shows Returning to Normal Schedule

Trade shows in 2021 are not following their normal schedule, but Scott expects this to change as time goes on.

“We’re expecting a really busy fall season, and I think that’s going to continue into 2022,” said Scott. “But I think that overall, these shows have to revert back to what’s normal, because that’s what people have become used to. It may take a year or year and a half to see that happen, but I think we will see shows get back to where they are normally.”

Innovative Design Trends

Scott’s design team produces exceptional work, and there are several design trends he anticipates for 2021.

“I think a lot of really clean lines, backlighting and certainly bringing tech into the space,” said Scott. “Not just thinking about hybrid events overall, but bringing in more video and more interactive content within the space itself. The world is becoming more digital, so even in a face-to-face environment you’re going to see a lot of tech brought into the physical spaces.

Marketing Trends and Opportunities in 2021

Scott also sees several trends in the marketing area that complement more specific trade show trends. One of the most prevalent trends is continued technological innovation.

“I think this last year really pushed VR more to the forefront,” said Scott. “I think in a professional sense, but also from recreational use. With people being stuck at home, I think there was a lot more sales happening in VR headsets and experiences.”

Virtual reality continues to grow and there is still a lot of untapped potential. It may take a while, but eventually virtual experiences and new digital technologies will become mainstream.

“I think we’ll start to see websites that are designed to engage clients in a different way,” said Scott. “Something has to change. There has to be that next thing to engage clients in a different way at a different level, and I think it’s going to be some type of digital interactive that does it. It’s still early on, but it’s just taking that leap and being an early adopter.”

Scott also shares insights on how he stays up to date with trends in the industry. Every client is different and there is always an opportunity to learn something new. Without learning and trying new things, it’s difficult to improve.

“I can’t step back from sales myself and not do it for a period of time, then expect to be able to train someone on how it works,” said Scott. “I like to stay in the game and just continue to get in front of clients and continue to be a part of the process. Because the best way to do it is to hear what clients are saying to see what resonates with them and just keep yourself fresh.”

Doing Business in Rural America

As a professional who thrives on personal connections and meeting client needs, Scott enjoys doing business in rural America. He especially appreciates the relationships that he has with others in the area. In fact, one of the most important things any professional can do is build strong relationships to navigate the challenges.

“Make sure you find a great partner like Callis that can help you navigate it,” said Scott. “Because there is so much opportunity and if you find the right people to help you, there is just so much potential for growing your business, being successful and achieving what you want. You don’t have to do it alone.”

Scott may work with agency partners like our team at Callis, but he guides Skyline E3 and E3 interactive clients as well. His favorite part? Bringing their vision to life.

“My favorite part is sitting with a client and hearing what issues they’re dealing with or what they’re trying to accomplish, then coming up with something new and different that maybe they haven’t ever heard of,” said Scott.

At the end of the day, meeting the needs of clients and customers is what doing business is all about. Cutting-edge technology and innovative design help accomplish goals, but without strong relationships it’s difficult to accomplish any goal. Out here in rural America, relationships built on honesty, trust and character are what it’s all about.

Tune in to this episode of OUTdrive to hear more about trade show trends in 2021, the impacts of COVID-19 and doing business out here in rural America. To learn more about the future of exhibits and trade shows, visit and