After the fireworks fade, growers, retailers and horticultural suppliers typically pack a truck for Columbus and Cultivate. But, as usual, 2020 took our plans and tossed them out the window. Instead of building a booth and strolling the Short North, exhibitors and attendees alike are wondering what to expect from Cultivate’20 Virtual — taking place exclusively online from July 13-16.
While we’re not sure what next week will bring, AmericanHort has provided several resources for exhibitors and attendees on the CultivateVirtual.com website. Additionally, AmericanHort’s vice president of marketing and member engagement Mary Beth Cowardin hosted a July 8 webinar which was attended by 300 professionals eager to get their first glimpse at a virtual trade show.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that you need to be registered to get in. However, there is a free registration option for attendees who want to walk the virtual trade show floor and visit exhibitors. An All-Access pass allows entry to education sessions and is free for AmericanHort members and $99 for non-members.
Once you’re registered, you’ll be able to access the event when it begins on July 13. The first thing you’ll see is a first-person view of a conference center lobby, festooned with plants and advertising, just like the real thing. From there, you have several options. You can click on exhibitor halls to enter the alphabetically-ordered hall of nearly 300 exhibitors. You can go the main stage, which is where major keynote speakers will be presenting their talks throughout the event. You can access educational sessions, The New Varieties Zone, the New Product Zone, or the networking lounge. Or if you’re having trouble with anything, you can visit the help desk, where staff members will be available to answer your questions via chat box. If clicking through the virtual environment isn’t your style, there will always be a navigation bar at the bottom of your screen with icons for all these options, including the main lobby.
You might want to sharpen up your typing skills, because most of the communication at Cultivate Virtual will take place via chat box. You can chat directly with other attendees or exhibitors in several ways. You can always access the current attendee list from the navigation bar. When you’re logged into Cultivate Virtual, you’ll be visible in the attendee list — reminiscent of AIM’s classic “buddy list” interface. The instant messaging system will be familiar to anyone who has experience with Skype, Teams, etc. The green, yellow and red circle next to your name shows other attendees whether you are available to chat, away from your computer, or busy. You can set yourself as busy if you’re chatting with someone else, attending a main stage program or educational session. You can start 1:1 chats direct from the list, or have small group or public chats, depending on where you are in the virtual trade show.
For instance, every morning in the networking lounge, you can meet and interact with other attendees during the Morning Coffee Chat. You can ask questions at the interactive industry roundtables each afternoon or during the Q&A portion of educational sessions. And of course, you can visit exhibitors in their booths or at the New Varieties Zone and New Products areas.
The full schedule of educational sessions is available here, so you can plan which talks to attend. Even though the event is virtual, there are some live events. AmericanHort will have several on-demand educational sessions that attendees can access any time after they are released. On-demand series are available starting at 10 a.m. Eastern daily during Cultivate Virtual. Live educational events begin at 2 p.m. Eastern.
When you decide to enter the exhibition hall, you’ll see an alphabetical list of exhibitor logos. You can use your mouse or keyboard to scroll through the “aisles” or use the search function to look up an exhibitor by name or product category.
Exhibitors have had six templates to choose from when creating their booths. The booths have the capability to play videos on entry. Attendees can access links, PDFs and more by clicking on various objects in the booth. They can also display a list of people from the exhibiting company, and if they have the green circle by their name, they can start a chat.
For exhibitors, when someone enters your booth, you will hear a doorbell sound alerting you to their presence. From there, you can start chatting like you would at a typical trade show. If no one from the exhibiting company is currently logged in, visitors will have the option to leave a message.
One interesting consequence to the virtual trade show experience is the addition of a “virtual briefcase.” As you’re visiting booths, where you’d normally pick up a handout, brochure or catalog, you can choose to add it to your virtual briefcase. You can add on-demand educational sessions to your briefcase to watch at your convenience and even live sessions that have not occurred yet to help you plan your show. You will be able to access all materials in your briefcase until Cultivate’20 Virtual closes on Sept. 1.
For those who are craving some face-to-face interaction in these socially-distanced times, several of the networking options have Zoom video chat functionality. This includes the morning coffee chat, industry roundtables, select educational sessions and all of the evening social gatherings, which take place at 5 p.m Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Finally, for the competitive show-goers, AmericanHort has created a leaderboard. You can earn points for the activities you engage in as a participant of Cultivate’20 Virtual. As you visit booths, attend networking events or educational sessions, watch videos and download content, your points will be tracked. Attendees at the top of the leaderboard are eligible to win prizes, which will be awarded after the event ends.