The Truth About Working in The Exhibitions Industry

The Truth About Working in The Exhibitions Industry

Walk Through a Day in Exhibitions with Matt Coyne

It’s that time of year again. Everyone is shouting about the wonder-fabulousness of the exhibitions industry. You’ll see plenty of press releases, articles and statements about how fantastic the exhibitions industry is…but under the hype…

What is it really like to work in our industry?

In my 15+ years in exhibitions, I’ve been in various roles, working across hundreds of events across multiple sectors—from recycling and waste management, to the future of technology and marketing. I know a little about a lot of different sectors, to the point where my friends wonder if I’m some sort of spy with mixed up case any government agencies are reading, James Bond has nothing on me.

This Global Exhibitions Day (#GED19), I’m travelling. Travelling to yet another European destination and venue, but this time, it’s a destination I’ve not been to before. A country that’s been on my personal bucket list for some time. This keeps me going even though it’s going to take 16 hours from home-door to hotel-room-door to get there, it’s ok. I love it. 


It’s not often that business and pleasure mix, but this time, I’m able to enjoy a little bit of Swimrun in and around the most beautiful of lakes of Sweden...I just need to finish before my first meeting of the day! How lucky are we to get to travel to such beautiful places for our job?

But it’s not always all shiny, smiley, lovely, jubbly. I look at Mykyta's 4:00 AM Tweet and even though he looks tired, he still demonstrates commitment to his clients and to our industry, something you can see in abundance in event professionals, everywhere you look.

For me, this morning involved leaving the house not long after 5:30AM, kissing my babies goodbye. No real time for breakfast (I have Huel on days like these... it keeps me going), I jump in the car to the airport. Roadwork. Darn it. But I make it with an hour to spare. Bags checked, ready to board. Then, I hear it: "Your flight time will be delayed at 8:10 AM, 8:20 AM, 8:35 AM… 9.25 AM". So, the first delay begins. Maybe I didn't need to get up at 5:00 AM.

Gate called, boarding was quick, apart from those with too many big of my biggest bug bears of regular business travel. Alas, we sit down.

There’s not enough space to get my laptop out between my seat and the one in front, as many might do; it’s not the easiest time to work when you’re 6’5. Instead, I catch up on a few emails, watch a documentary and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Smooth landing, bags collected, it’s a two-hour bus ride to my final destination.


Walking out of the terminal, I receive a helpful text message...“Your bus has been cancelled.” Apparently in the two hours of being airborne, they needed me to confirm if I still wanted a seat on the bus...two hours before it departs...there are no more busses bookable until 9pm...dinner is at six.

This is where modern technology helps when being away from work and home and having literally no idea where to go...I wait. DING! I'm booked and on my way, checking in with the family, that the kiddos got dropped off at school today okay. No real drama apart from child #2 forgetting to put his shoes on as they started the walk to school.

Why am I writing this?

There is a LOT of content out there about the exhibition industry and what we want to help people achieve no matter if they’re visitors, exhibitors or organisers. But not every day is rosy, every single exhibition professional who works in this everchanging landscape, will experience the highs and lows at some point. My taxi just hit the white bumpy lines on the motorway doing 120km/h...I wonder if I’ll make it to the end...

Yes, we get to travel. Yes, we get to see new cities. Yes, we get to meet some awesome people, but this day is going to be nearing a full day of pure travel. Not a great deal achieved for me.

Some great thinking time. Thinking about our strategy, experiences we provide, things we can do differently. Taking in every advert, video, message I see, wondering how as an industry we present ourselves to the outside world. Do they know we exist? Are we just a mechanism for them to generate more business or learn new ideas? Is that a bad thing? Certainly not!

Emails are binging in now that I’m connected again, and I am replying to what I can. Then a phone call. We’ve still got 1.5 hours to go...

The day is but half done, as I take another call, and the rest of it will pan out a little like this...

I arrive at the hotel about 5pm. Quick time to explore this amazing lakeside city before my dinner meeting.

I go for a run. Change. Make it just in time for dinner. We shake hands. I think to myself, “Why don’t you know 32 different languages?” It’s always an honour to meet with international clients who do their best in English (often better than my English-born colleagues ;).

We discuss everything from how our businesses are doing to what families have been up to. We have one, or two (maybe six...I won't be able to recall) drinks and we say our goodbyes.

My hotel room pillow is calling.

My day has been long, but you know what? I LOVE IT. I love everything the exhibition world has given me. I love being challenged to find solutions that work across a broad spectrum of personas. I love the diversity of the people and the work. I love catching up with industry friends, some of which are now very dear to me. Who will we see at the AEO's next week?

I love the opportunities.

If you want to be a carpet fitter, a stand designer, a digital marketing guru, a data scientist, a customer relationship genius... whatever your interest, our industry has something for you.

Oh. And we do some serious business, too.

Happy Global Exhibitions Day One and All!

About the Author

Matt  Coyne

Matt has been working in events & exhibitions for over 15 years. From organising, to design, to website, and onto registration, engagement and intelligent data services, Matt has extensive experience at every level. With a background in organisation, marketing and design Matt is able to cut through the technology and approach engagement and registration solutions with the end users in mind. As Group Commercial Director for Visit by GES and an active participant in the industry, Matt has been involved in a variety of industrywide research projects and is an expert in creating effective event experiences.

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