Editorial Note: Originally published in the October 2021 issue of Trade Show Executive magazine.
Last month, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) held its annual Predict conference in which it presented a thorough examination of the COVID-19 impact on our industry to date, and provided in-depth forecasting data for executive leaders to use as we formulate our strategies for the near future. We learned that while there is plenty of room for cautious optimism, we remain tasked with leading our teams through an ongoing crisis.
The most challenging aspect of this crisis is its unpredictability. While our industry has proven it possesses a superior capability to meet this challenge head on, the stressor of not knowing how much longer we will continue along this trajectory places the demand on executives for a specific type of leadership. How do we continue building resilience in the wake of an open-ended crisis?
As a result, we have seen a resurgence among executives of the term VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. While not a new concept, its significance has taken on a new life since the onset of a pandemic that has proven it has every single one of these aspects covered. Directly assessing and addressing VUCA is a powerful mechanism for reinvigorating our strategic vision in the face of the unknown. Here’s why.
Volatile. We are in a much better position now than ever before to deal with volatility. As we like to say in Texas, this is not our first rodeo. That was last year, in which we learned that show organizers absolutely must prepare to make sudden, sizable shifts with their events. These come down to whether a show will cancel, go fully digital, go hybrid, continue as a physical event, or be customized to its audience and stakeholders.
As we collectively experienced each of these scenarios and their associated learning curves, we have shared the lessons learned along the way. Collaboration is our greatest shield against volatility. It has been one of our industry’s strongest assets since before the pandemic and will continue to help us make our way through this crisis.
Uncertain. Since there is no fully getting around the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, our most viable tactic is to mitigate them as much as possible through safety protocols and security measures at our shows. Our industry has done an outstanding job of quickly creating a wealth of resources through efforts from organizations such as the Global Biorisk Advisory Council™(GBAC), and service providers offering onsite health checks, testing and safety apparatuses, for show organizers to ensure the safest possible environments in which we can conduct business.
Complex. Our industry consists of many moving parts involving many stakeholders. It is incumbent upon executive leaders to effectively navigate the complexities of meeting the needs of staff, board members, attendees, exhibitors and sponsors. Clear and transparent communication, both within and outside of your organization, has never been more vital. Leaders must be open to new and creative ways of tackling unprecedented challenges, and must foster an environment of solution-based teamwork within their organization. This involves having tough conversations addressing ROI, attendee confidence and exhibitor sentiment that are imperative to breaking down the complexity surrounding your best course of action.
Ambiguous. You cannot create solutions to problems you do not understand. CEIR has done an excellent job of collecting, processing and disseminating data that moves us away from ambiguity and toward applicable solutions to keep our shows heading in the right direction. Research and case studies that keep us abreast of how our industry is performing and adapting to the current crisis is key to overcoming the challenges we know and those we have yet to know. It behooves show organizers to continue contributing data and participating in these studies.
Yes, we are in a higher state of VUCA than we would like. But, as I stated earlier, we have no reason not to move onward and forward with cautious optimism as we get our industry back to the state of growth that we enjoyed prior to the pandemic. After all, exhibitions mean business!
David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA
IAEE President & CEO