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How To Stay in the Fast Lane in the Trade Show Industry [Part 2]

At Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition, you are with your people and part of a community you cannot find anywhere else. Advice, challenges and solutions are offered among attendees and exhibitors. Expo! Expo! offers attendees a wealth of information they can take straight to their organization. Like the exhibition and event industry, the attendee make-up of Expo! Expo! is rich in diversity and always evolving.

IAEE had the opportunity to speak with Tom Gattuso, CEM, Trade Shows Director of Specialty Equipment Manufacturing Association (SEMA). In Part 1 of his interview, Tom spoke about his time in the trade show industry and how Expo! Expo! has shaped his career in the industry. In the final part of his interview, Tom shares the importance of chapter involvement and tips that you can use to be successful at Expo! Expo!.

As an active member of the Chapter Leaders Council and Southwestern Chapter, why is it important to have a strong chapter presence at Expo! Expo!?

There’s safety in numbers. The more people you can have in your circle of influence, the more rounded you can be in getting advice and making improvements, both professionally and to the events we organize. I like people to know that they’ve got a local association that they can go to for support for education and networking. It’s a group of people that understand their needs or listen to their needs on a regional base. For me, the local chapter is something that you can literally touch base with monthly and that aspect, it differs from the national chapter.

Name an unforgettable moment that has happened to you at Expo! Expo!.

That’s an interesting point because they all meld together. I was talking to somebody recently where you remember the cities and once you talk about the cities, then you remember the stuff you did.

Seeing people that I hadn’t seen in a while are some of the best memories. The discussions that happen on and off the trade show floor are the ones that stay with you and turn into real change.

If you were talking to someone who had not attended Expo! Expo! and was considering going, what you say to him/her?

I would say it’s definitely worth the time and effort to attend. I would tell them to maximize their time on the trade show floor because it does go fast. If they got an interest to stay in the industry for a long time, you can make great contacts and build really solid relationships.

What tip would you give to a first-time attendee that you wish someone had told you when you attended Expo! Expo! for the first time?

There’s two. I would say make sure you go to your local chapter reception. I accidentally went to mine and discovered it. That’s an important event to go to.

Again, your time on the trade show floor goes quickly. You have to make the most of that. I would schedule your whole week maximizing that time on the trade show floor.

At Expo! Expo!, there’s a diverse group of attendees from all levels of their career. As a mentor, you help nurture and grow someone’s career. How can attending Expo! Expo! help advance the career of someone who’s new to the industry?

Expo! Expo! can put you on the cutting edge of finding and exploiting new trends. It will also give you the opportunity to meet really good contacts that you can rely on as a resource to ask questions and learn from. Being able to be in the industry during one of its finest moments is something that can give motivation on doing a better job and continuing to build your career in such a unique industry.

When you go to Expo! Expo! at any point in your career, you can talk to your peers about anything from successes and failures to frustrations and challenges. You find out that they have the same frustrations and challenges as you and it puts it into perspective that you’re not alone. You’re part of something bigger than yourself.

Being able to go and share some of the things you know as well as learn from your peers is really valuable. Your peer group changes based on certain demographics, where you are in your career and what you do in your job. You can attend Expo! Expo! one year as one role, but when you grow in your career, there’s so much more that’s there. As you grow in your career, there’s more and more stuff to learn and it’s all happening at Expo! Expo!.

What is one event or program that attendees cannot miss at Expo! Expo! that you thoroughly enjoy?

Oh wow, I can’t limit to just one. There’s actually three.

I can’t talk about the trade show enough. For me, the time goes really, really fast. I definitely like being on the trade show floor.

I like the Opening Reception and especially going into it after attending the Chapter Reception.

I like the Keynotes. To me, that’s an opportunity that IAEE has to connect with me and show me that they understand the industry and my part in it. Really that one for me is really valuable. Knowing that your association and chapter understands you. I want to come out of there motivated and educated. I want to come out of there knowing that I am a part of something really great.

You mention the Keynotes as a program that people should attend. Are there any Keynotes in particular that stick out for you?

One of the keynotes that come to mind is Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and futurist from the 2012 Expo! Expo! in Las Vegas. It’s one of those things that got a little outside the box and helped you expand your thought process. It helps you get out of your comfort zone. It gave me this sense of being able to think on many different levels. When you get back to reality, you’ve got subconsciously this knowledge of thinking of things from many different perspectives and thinking about the future. That keynote for me was pretty cool.

Will you be attending this year’s Expo! Expo! in San Antonio? If so, what are you looking forward to experience and learn at this year’s Expo! Expo!?

Yes! I’m looking forward to our chapter reception because we’re in a great Southwest region of the country. It’s always great to connect with people. I’m looking forward to seeing really where the industry is pushing itself to go, what innovation is out there, what trends are out there and what are the new things. It’s interesting because we may not be ready to employ everything that we see but we’re looking for little nuggets of value that we will find everywhere, like the trade show floor, education sessions, and networking sessions. There’s value with every conversation that you have at the show.

I’m sure I will come with a checklist of areas I want to investigate. For me, it’s more about new concepts. I like to talk about the concept of a trade show as corporate event and personalizing trade shows for a buyer so they feel like they are understood by the association. That’s one of our mindsets at SEMA – to connect with our buyer and exhibitor. We want our attendees to feel like they’re part of something that they can be proud of. I want to focus on developing that thought process and conversations around that concept. Essentially, I want attendees to feel like they’re being welcomed with a warm hug and that they’re part of the family.

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