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Global event chaos… time for a rethink?

With shaking hands currently out of bounds, investing in both new and existing business relationships is more important than ever. With video call fatigue becoming very real, where do we go from here?

Trade shows are a strange beast. No matter their size, from an exhibitor’s point of view they are a lot of work, and from an organisers side, a huge logistical operation. One thing that can be agreed on is that it takes effort, co-operation and collaboration on both sides of the coin.

A flourishing show or conference is hard to sustain in today’s busy world. The internet, webinars, online video, IM, conference calls, squeezed budgets and increased time pressure all add up to a huge conflict of interest. Yes, the world is shrinking, and in many ways that is a fantastic thing. Communication has never been easier. Or has it?

Many years ago, when I was starting out I was told several key things which have stayed with me. Firstly, the most powerful sales and marketing tool anyone owns is their ears, backed up by their eyes. Secondly, people buy from people.

Communication. We never stop communicating, but the way we do that has moved on enormously. The personal relationship between supplier and provider has changed, and while we are able to be in touch globally at the touch of a button, do we really still know the people we do business with?

This is where the trade show, conference or exhibition still has a vital role to play. Face-to-face meetings, shaking hands (or touching elbows!), sharing a joke on an exhibition stand, catching up on personal changes both in and out of the workplace are so important, and all vital parts of building relationships and trust. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be that trusted supplier who over the years becomes an instinctive go-to for the client. That is much harder to do purely on a remote basis.

The recent shock waves sent out by Coronavirus across the trade show industry has had a devastating impact on the shape and future of all shows, and in particular international ones. With all the major shows now on hold until at least 2021, there are still no guarantees that they will ever return in the same way again. Relationships and communication have never been so tested. Hopefully these larger shows will still have a place on a wider scale, but the technology sector may well emerge looking very different with the reliance on them starting to lessen. The question now is, “what happens next?”.

As 2020 has progressed many of us have spent countless hours attending virtual meetings and conferences. They are without doubt a fantastic tool that keeps information flowing in the short term, but what about further down the line? Connecting virtually is even harder and much more variable in terms on quality and productivity. A webinar host can spend hours (even days!) preparing  the perfect presentation but if their internet connection falters, or one of the delegates lose connection at the part that was relevant for them, you have lost the connection both virtually and emotionally.

There is another option. Just as important, but on a smaller scale: local shows. Relevant, focussed, productive. These smaller shows aimed purely at the more immediate market provide a unique ability to blend learning with relationship nurturing in a small, carefully controlled environment. Conferences being supported by an exhibition with real value placed on the time spent away from the office can only be a good thing. Relationships are strengthened. Trust is built. Individuals and organisations both prosper and evolve, driving innovation and thoughts forwards.

I sincerely hope that the shows that have been affected by Coronavirus can bounce back from the turmoil of this year, but I also hope it maybe offers a chance to balance the scale slightly with smaller shows stepping up and into a gap that demands just the same dedication and effort but reaps rewards closer to home…

Just one example of this is UKEmbedded on the 13th May 2021 (www.ukembedded.co.uk) – a conference and exhibition with training, aimed at the embedded marketplace in the UK. Global players meeting at a national and local level alongside smaller, yet highly influential experts. Surely we can gently start planning to get out there again.

Don’t hide behind closed doors. While the traditional handshake may now be a thing of the past, meetings can – and should – happen over a coffee in a location with the space and facilities to keep everyone safe. People need people, and humanity thrives on interaction.

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