Originally published by Trade Show Executive August 2018 Edition
I remember a time when the lines between the “business world” and the “outside world” were clearly defined and separated. Sure, there was some crossover in the sense that socializing is a part of doing business (I think we can all agree that this applies even more so in our industry). But for the most part, the social issues and lifestyle trends that were happening outside of the face-to-face marketplace stayed out of sight at our business events and trade shows.
Well, that time has passed.
I believe we are entering a new age of how we conduct business. One in which the lines between these worlds are increasingly blurred. How much this reality affects other industries varies, but it certainly plays a big part in how today’s exhibitions and events are organized. Allow me to rephrase: it should play a big part in how today’s exhibitions and events are organized.
I can already feel some of my contemporaries cringing and I completely understand this response. Change is not always welcome, especially when you’ve been around a while and you’re comfortable with how you do things. But change happens, whether you want it to or not.
So, what kind of change am I talking about and how can you make it work for your shows?
The biggest change we have seen is in the diversity among our attendees. It is no secret that today’s attendees represent monumentally vast ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds. The challenge for the show organizer is to create an experience that resonates across the entire spectrum. For Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition, this translates into creating an inclusive environment that still meets the needs that bring professionals to our show in the first place.
One of IAEE’s strategies is to lead with our head and our hearts. Research tells us that today’s attendees want to feel a connection with their business associates, so we’ve developed a more mindful approach to how we structure our educational offerings. We have paid attention to the feedback from our focus groups such as women’s initiatives, young professionals, LGBQT community and industry veterans.
The result is an exciting array of education and networking opportunities that blow away the older business model which has gotten, quite frankly, stale for a lot of attendees. Each year, we explore new ideas and concepts for Expo! Expo!’s 100+ learning sessions that include mega rooms, campfire-style chats, learning “pit stops,” new product theatres and “vibe” lounges to make a three-day work education extravaganza much more palatable to every attendee.
This doesn’t mean we’ve done away with all traditional concepts however because, hey, some things do stand the test of time. We still have the learning tracks that delve into important topics such as the science and technology of a show, global insights, attendee marketing, show design and strategy, exhibitor sales and sponsorship, and leadership and management. But the idea is to fuse the practical (“I need to be here”) with the impactful (“I want to be here!”).
This means that your attendees need to enjoy being at your show. This is another significant change at hand. People want to have fun! Yes, this is a business trip and not a vacation. Yes, you’re getting paid to work and not to play. However, the new perception is that work can – and should – involve enjoyment and research shows that attendees have come to expect both from your event! Which is why we also focus on infusing more downright fun into the Expo! Expo! experience.
It is a lot to consider and work around, but the success of face-to-face commerce is based on the personal connections made between buyers and sellers. Nowadays, the “outside world” plays a vital role in how people view themselves. People no longer check their diversity at the door; it is an integral part of them and a part you need to connect with if you want to do business with them.
My advice is this: do not push away or ignore the change.
It’s the adaptable spirit of those adventurous souls who pedaled a bicycle with canvas flaps that got us to the moon and beyond. I know this is a well-informed industry, so you already know we are poised to continue our upward growth according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). Use this new perspective to place your exhibitions and events at the front end of that prediction.
Because times, they are a-changing!
David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA
President & CEO