SEMICON West is taking the innovative decision to go virtual. The online show will have a star-studded lineup of Keynotes and Guest Speakers to help attract the maximum online audience. Trevor Galbraith spoke to David Anderson, President of SEMI Americas about how it will work for exhibitors and he explores the visitor experience.
This year has been a particularly difficult year for trade shows around the world. We’ve seen numerous shows canceled or postponed and can I start off by asking you to give us an update on the current position of semi events globally?
We had to cancel our major Korea show in February. Our China Show that was scheduled in March has been postponed till June 27th through the 29th. China, which was scheduled to be in March, was postponed. And in fact we just got approval from the Shanghai government to host that event, June 27th through 29th. It may be largely a regional event because of travel restrictions and so forth. But you know, the show must go on as they say, and, it will. SEMICON West was planned for July and we’ve decided to make that event virtual. Our Southeast Asia show, which is largely backend and advanced packaging, was scheduled for May has been postponed to August. However, they’re reevaluating that as the continuation of restrictions on large events continue. Taiwan is still planned for September. And just so you know, we’re still planning some events once things begin to re-open, but it’s been a very difficult year not just the shows, but other conferences have been canceled as well.
Well, that was going to be, my next question. You do a lot of conferences and standards meetings and various other activities. How have they been affected?
We do some regional events around the US every spring and fall in five different cities and all of those were canceled for the spring. So, we are actually turning to a virtual forum. We are doing some webinar series in place of these events. Our standards meeting are being held online as well. So, we continue, but online! But, it is a continual learning process for us all. In fact, our entire staff is working remotely and that’s actually gone tremendously well considering the rapidity with which we all exited and went remote. But, everybody is participating and, you know, moving forward on all of our events, whether they be webinars, or virtual forums for the larger shows. We’ve even done a series of webinars on the future of work.What is, how has this impacted the workforce overall? and what does it mean coming out of this and moving into the future? And so it’s been an interesting time.
And what were your takeaways from that? I am guessing for the SEMI staff that work in the Valley or in San Francisco you probably get an extra productivity cause they’re not sitting in traffic?
That’s certainly true in most locations where we are.
I know we’re going to talk today about SEMICON West in particular. You’ve decided to take that show virtual, which is a big step. Can you tell me what sort of research you did before arriving at this decision? You know, when you were deciding in what forum you were going to hold this event?
Well, we want to provide an Avenue for our members and other customers to exhibit their technologies. We do have a significant amount of conference that goes on with SEMICON West. Last year, we had over 280 speakers. We cover a lot of the distance from the business aspects, through our market symposium, all the way through every detailed technology aspects. We want to make sure that we continue to drive those technologies and technology communities forward. So, we evaluated many things that were being done as shows were being canceled. We were monitoring very closely and began to look for alternatives for that. We decided that we can’t hold a large event in July in San Francisco, that we would try to do it virtually. It’s a big experiment for us, but you know, we’re going to give it the old college try as they say.
Did you attend any other virtual events and other industries, you know, to see how it works?
We have, we’ve looked at several other events and everything from food industry to other industries as well. Not many technology or at least semiconductor specific events. There haven’t been any. I think this is a first for our industry, but we’ve looked at it, we’ve gone through how the exhibition halls are laid out, how the interaction with the booth works, and how the conferences are maintained and so forth. And we feel that we can give almost the same experience virtually that you have at the event. We’ll try to mimic it as much as possible. So when you enter the website, it will be rendered to look like the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
Staying on the topic of the research for a moment; when you looked at these other trade shows and compared them to their physical structure the year previous, do you think that you will be able to, to maintain a good look and feel and maintain a reasonable visitor level?
Yeah, I think because you have the option of hosting it for a longer period of time, you have visitors that can come in over a longer period of time. You can host live content and prerecorded on-demand content. And what we found was that the visitors numbers stay pretty high. And if you use the right attributes in system to drive people to different areas, then they make the right context. The ability to have live conference content not only enables us to have that engagement with the audience, but it also enables our exhibitors to have live interface and real time interface with attendees. So while it is virtual, I think the fact that we’ve gotten so used to chatting and being on Zoom meetings and having the face to face virtually now in the last three months that we’re pretty confident that that will make it a good experience.
We’re going to talk now about how the system works. Previously, you had a situation with virtual trade shows where they were using avatars and all this kind of thing to emulate using animation, if you like. But, it was all a bit fake. What are you doing to try and make this more of a, a real immersive experience?
There are many different platforms, some have animation and others don’t. So, we’ve elected to pick one where we can actually put in renderings of the photos of the Moscone center. And so, as you would enter the lobby of the Moscone center to register and get your badge normally, will do the same entering the Moscone center online, and there’ll be lots of signage and direction to help a visitor navigate through the virtual environment. You’ll be able to move from the lobby to the theater, for example, to see keynotes or other technical presentations. You’ll be able to come back and go to the exhibit floor and it will be divided into categories of exhibitors. So you can pick a specific area, go to the floor, see all the exhibitors, and then go to a booth. At the booth, you may even have a real time interface with the booth attendees. In fact, we can drop in live photos of the people who would actually be in the booth when you visit as well as in the lobby, we can have photos of our attendees. We can have photos of our staff so everything can be done rendered photographically to be more real life than some of the prior avatars on the animated systems that have been out there for a while.
They can have product information, technical content, and they can even take them to a training program offsite if they want to do that.
It’s a photograph of the lobby, not a video of the lobby which presumably has been taken from last year’s event, is it?
It could be yes, and likely will be. The nice thing is everything is clickable. So you can add signage from sponsors or from the direction of where you want to drive the attendees. And so any element of the lobby or any element of the theater or the trade show floor can be made into a clickable component that takes you to a different location. Then what it really does is enables a lot of gamification. You can actually have prizes for people to go visit different locations within the environment; go to see a keynote, go see a technical presentation or visit a booth. And inside the exhibitors booths, we have opportunities for them to show videos. They can have product information, have technical content, and they can even take them to a training program offsite if they want to do that.
So we have a tremendous ability to have everything that would be in a physical booth, but done virtually. We plan to have some live content over the initial few days of the conference, beginning on July 20th, but everything both live and the prerecorded content will be available on demand for two months up to September. The advantage is we have a much easier global access, without the cost of travel and hotels and meals. You can view these things from the convenience of your home 24/7. It actually enables us to have access to different speakers that we might not have access to at a live event. So, we have some really creative content and it truly enables us to provide a lot of sponsorship opportunities across the entire virtual environment for our sponsors. So it’s a really unique experiment.
So you’re going to keep it live for two months. Are you going to have an appointment system connected to the exhibitors page so that if the person’s not there, they can make an appointment to speak with them?
For the first three days of the exhibit, we will have times where there ideally will be live interface via chat or video chat, but then beyond that and even in, at nighttime we will have an appointment system so they can make contact and set a time to have a contact with the exhibitor. We’re doing the same in workforce development as well. In fact, we’re having a virtual job fair where university students can make appointments to talk with representatives from our member companies. So, it really is taking all the elements that would be on the trade show pavilions around smart technologies, like mobility and med tech and smart manufacturing, quantum computing and AI, as well as workforce development. There will be pavilions on the show for that people can attend and see the content there. There’s “Meet the Experts” stages in each of those pavilions, which will have content being delivered by experts and in those particular areas. And we’re really trying to showcase all of our technical communities.
Are you going to have a keynote or keynotes?
Yes, we will. In fact, we have several keynotes over the course of the first three days. We have former Vice-President Al Gore as a keynote. We have Applied Materials, Gary Dickerson, and John Kelly III from IBM. Futurist, Steve Brown and Paul Saffo. We have some panels with folks like Gary Bowles from Singularity University, John Hagel, the Director of the Center for the Edge for Deloitte and many others. So, we have some really unique access in this environment to people that we wouldn’t normally always be able to get on stage. We’re pretty excited.
So what has been the general reception from the exhibitors on this format? I mean are they keen on the idea?
I’d have to honestly say it’s mixed, but most are very interested. It’s new to all of us. It’s new to them. It’s new to us. We’re walking through the capabilities of the booth and what the content can be. And frankly, many are excited. In fact, some of the larger companies that haven’t exhibited at SEMICON West in the last few years are actually considering having a booth in this virtual environment because it’s such a simple way to display their product information and a be part of the sponsorship of the environment.
You said that you’ve got a lot of meetings. What about the conference side or the symposium side of the event? Are you planning an extensive program there?
Yes, we are. We have a, quite a lot of content. We will have over 200 speakers, across many different areas, including our keynotes. We have about a dozen keynotes plan. We will have technical programs in smart mobility in smart med tech, in quantum computing and AI in workforce development in smart manufacturing in scaling and advanced packaging and all the technical aspects that we would have at the live event. We are planning the same content for the virtual event. The advantage is to where we are now. Admittedly, it’s a heavy lift to get it into the virtual environment, but we’ve been working on the live show for quite some time. And so we’re trying to take the full content of the symposium and the conference that would be at the live event online. And so a lot of that will be prerecorded, so that will be available on demand at any time. And there will be some that will actually be live during the first few days that will actually then be recorded and then available on demand throughout the course of the event. So all of the speaker content will be available for throughout the course of the couple of months that we have it posted online.
What about the Q and A at the end of these? I mean, because essentially each one of these is like a mini-webinar in itself. Is there an opportunity for a Q and A, at the end of each session?
For the live content during the first three days, there’s certainly an opportunity for Q and A and we’ll take advantage of that. Even some of the prerecorded presentations, if they’re timed events can be “simulive”, meaning that we can have a live Q and A, even with a prerecorded presentation with the speaker there. So there are opportunities for Q and A and you know, we will also have the ability to post questions and then come back later with an answer from the speakers.
I guess the upside to a virtual forum is that it allows you to draw from a wider pool of talent. You can bring in some global speakers that wouldn’t otherwise be able to make the trip to San Francisco?
Absolutely. You know, the access to speakers is very unique in the fact that nobody has to travel and so we can capture them where they are and at their convenience. So we have several weeks to, to capture them prior to the event and having global access. Typically SEMICON West draws about 25% of our audience globally. We feel that with the global access of the virtual event, it will probably be 50% of our audience will be international. And it may be even more. But you know, having the ability to have that global access over a long period of time, 24/7 really opens up the opportunity for growing the visitors that come in and try out the show and adding some gamification to drive them specifically through the exhibit halls and to the exhibit booths enables them to make the content with the exhibitors.
So have you had any sort of gauge of what the visitor feedback or interest level is for this yet?
It’s tough to say so far. We opened registration May 18th, so we’ll get a better feel for that as we go forward. We had opened registration for exhibitors for the live show prior to making the decision to go virtual. And you know, people were actually signing up with the hopes that we would have a live event that’s often converted now to the virtual attendees. But we’ve looked at some of the other shows. Salesforce is doing this. The Canton Fair, which was a very large show is doing this. A lot of shows are going virtual, not just conferences, but the entire exhibition content. So it’s going to be a real interesting set of data, which to be honest, is one of the benefits of a virtual environment. You can collect a lot of data of where attendees go and what their interests are and what presentations and technical events they attended. And, it gives us a better way to formulate agendas for future meetings, because we know what people are interested in.
You mentioned the Canton fair. It has an audience in the region of 1.2 million, which is massive and to the physical event. But, you also have a fairly large audience at SEMICON West. Is the system that you’re using, going to be capable of dealing with that level of traffic?
It should be, yes. We have identified a system that can handle several thousand visitors at the same time and we anticipate that will be the case. You know, we have our typical keynotes at the live event that seats 750. We’ve had that filled over the last couple of years with some live simulcasts down to the show floor. So, you know, we get the same sort of numbers online. We should be okay, and maybe even better.
Excellent. Well, it’s a fascinating experiment. Dave I wish you and the semi team every success and I want to thank you for joining us today and telling us that the virtual SEMICON West. Can you please just remind us what the dates are?