How Did electronica’s First Virtual Show Pan Out?

November 16, 2020 by Luke James

Just two months before electronica, event organizers announced that the trade show would go digital. How did the conference's first-ever online event go?

On September 5, electronica, the world’s leading trade fair and conference for electronics announced that it would be held digitally for the very first time as a replacement for the in-person trade fair held in Munich. This announcement comes in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and increasingly stringent travel restrictions in Europe. 


electronica virtual was announced in September

electronica virtual was announced in September. Screenshot from electronica

“Even though an in-person trade fair could have been conducted with the help of our safety and hygiene concept, the latest developments related to travel restrictions in many countries forced us to rethink our plans,” said Falk Senger, managing director of the event’s organizer, Messe München.


A Virtual electronica for 2020

electronica is known worldwide as a platform to discuss the global electronics industry. In recent years, the conference has been heavily focused around automotive, embedded systems, 5G, smart and clean energy, and embedded systems. 

This year, the virtual trade fair, which took place between November 9–12, involved more than 200 international electronics companies including industry giants like NXP Semiconductor, Samsung, and STMicroelectronics. In addition to digital presentations from exhibitors, there was a four-day online program that focused on the issue of security in the embedded world and the latest trends and developments in power supply and battery systems. 

There was also a CEO Roundtable event, which has become a well-anticipated feature of electronica over the years.


Participants at the CEO Roundtable event

Participants at the CEO Roundtable event from NXP, ST, Pepperl+Fuchs, and  Infineon addressed the question, “In which direction is the electronics industry developing in the era of COVID-19 and beyond?” Screenshot from electronica

This year, the roundtable was delivered as a live stream with executives from Infineon, ST, Pepperl+Fuchs, and NXP discussing how the electronics industry can develop during testing circumstances like the coronavirus pandemic.


The User Experience of Virtual electronica

Many participants of the event have already provided feedback on electronica's first virtual event.

For example, Nick Foot, the PR Director at BWW Communications, commented on how the virtual event was difficult to use, with registration and navigation being particularly problematic. Foot was also critical of how some big-name exhibitors appeared to "cheap out" in their virtual presence and how many conference sessions mandated attendees to turn on their cameras to participate.


Virtual show floor of electronica 2020

Virtual show floor of electronica 2020. Screenshot from electronica

Indeed, prior to the virtual event, there was very little information published by electronica, potentially suggesting that it had been quickly put together. While electronica has had eight months to prepare for a virtual event, it’s fair to say that nobody could have foreseen restrictions lasting this long; many initially expected travel limits to be over in a matter of weeks with life returning to relative normality by summer. 

It’s also important to remember that the big attraction of electronica isn’t the conference itself, but the ability to freely interact with exhibitors and their products. While electronica does feature conference presentations, these are only attended by a relatively small number of visitors. This means that this year’s event was always going to be somewhat limited at no fault of the organizer.


The Limitations of Digital Trade Shows

The problem with digital/virtual trade shows is that they cannot be entirely digital. Physical trade shows, conferences, and online events that have gone/will be going virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic may be at a disadvantage because they weren’t designed to be digital in the first place. 

Many events that are designed to be delivered digitally require some form of physical setting in which the main action—an interview, a seminar, a showcase, or a product demonstration—can take place. Many firms have been unable or unwilling to set up a physical event space for their participation in digital events, leaving CEOs and key executives to awkwardly attend via Zoom from their home offices.


Template of an exhibitor booth at electronica 2020

Template of an exhibitor booth at electronica 2020. Screenshot from electronica

Many exhibitors at electronica opted for virtual booths because they didn't require creating extensive (and expensive) trade stands. This has led to many firms (not only at electronica but also at other virtual fairs and events) exercising poor judgment when it comes to investing in their virtual presence: Aesthetics still matter and can make the difference between a must-see broadcast and one that can be easily skipped or forgotten. 

If anything, virtual trade fairs have shown us that in-person events are still and will always be essential. Hopefully, by this time next year, electronica can safely return with the physical format that has made it a resounding success in years past. 



Have you attended any virtual trade shows this year? How has your experience compared to in-person conferences? What might improve these digital events for you as an EE? Share your thoughts in the comments below.