I recently had the opportunity to share my thoughts with regard to the future of the trade show industry in light of COVID-19 with the International Federation of Exhibition & Event Services (IFES). While I am not an expert on pandemics or the economy, I do have many years of experience in the trade show and event industry and some consider me to be an expert on the impact of cultural differences. Welcome to The Great Global Reset!
I urge you to try to view the impact of COVID-19 through the eyes of culture. Our current situation is one that the entire world is experiencing together – making it a particularly unique experience. The impacts of COVID-19 are not localized, isolated or regional. No country, or continent or culture is immune. This has human impact that crosses all of those boundaries. And while we are all impacted, we will respond differently based on our culture, our temperament and other factors.
Crises often produce change. Societies, social norms, and cultures are being reshaped by this pandemic. Things that we took for granted such as how we greet friends, family members and professional colleagues have been up-ended overnight. “Social distancing” is now common in our vernacular. And industries are being reshaped. Factories are being retooled seemingly overnight to move from mass producing vehicles to manufacturing ventilators. Our industry has been especially hit hard, and will be reshaped.
Mark Batterson, American pastor and author, once said that “Rarely does anyone know they’re making history when they’re making it.” Right now, that certainly seems to be the case. As trade show professionals, we are experiencing our trade show support drying up rapidly as we are trying to forecast when business will return to normal. What structural changes do we need to make in order for our business to survive? Only time will give us the perspective and clarity to reveal the true impact of this pandemic.
So now is the time to rise to the occasion. Are you going to react? Reacting is impulsive, can lead to overreaction, and can sometimes be tense, aggressive and without thought. Or will you respond? Responding is intentional, rational and measured. We may not be able to control the situation or circumstances, but we can control our response.
Perhaps at some level, we needed this opportunity for a reset. A reset of our industry, a reset of our priorities, a reset of our values. Depending on your culture, religion, or political views, you may believe there is a purpose or you may think there is no purpose. Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, wrote, “In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” The impact of stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions and prohibitions on large gatherings have forced many of us to slow down, to reboot.
A reset doesn’t mean a complete shutdown or an ending. It means it will come back, but it may take a little time. And, using the computer analogy, it is likely that there will be some updates. Maybe these are security updates. And maybe there is new and better functionality. It may look and work a little differently, but hopefully it will be better after the reset.
One of the key reasons people are struggling so much is they are feeling a sense of loss; a sense of isolation. “People attract people” is something I refer to a lot in terms of creating ways to attract people to your exhibit or activity. But as humans, we long to be with others…and this is not going to go away. Klaus Schwab in his book, The Fourth Industrial Age, captured it well when he said, “the more digital and high-tech the world becomes, the greater the need to feel the human touch.” That is what is missing – and there will always be in an innate, strong human desire for that. This is why I can say with confidence that after COVID-19 there will be a renewed appreciation for time spent with others.
I urge you to imagine what the trade show and event world will look like post COVID-19. What will your business look like? Will your target audience look different? What new shape will the buying cycle take? How will culture (my culture) change permanently? I highly recommend no drayage! We will have the opportunity to reshape and influence what that will look like. Remember this is The Great Global Reset, it is our opportunity to change things during this time. So, imagine how it might be different. Many of us do not believe everything will simply return to exactly the way it was before.
We know that face to face will survive. Let’s work together to reimagine what our industry will look like after. And how different your company might be…
I leave you with a parting quote, “The closer you are to a problem, the LARGER it seems; it will look much SMALLER in the rear-view mirror.” JSH
Jeff Hannah is VP of International, Interiors, & Creative for Exhibit Concepts. He podcasts, consults, writes, and speaks about engagement strategies, and trade show differences between countries. Having founded companies in the UK, UAE and the USA, he has produced experiential environments in over 50 countries for many of the world’s top brands. He hosts The Global Exhibitor Podcast, and blogs at www.GlobalExhibitor.com. Hannah holds a BS in Industrial Design from Georgia Institute of Technology.