Are exhibitions becoming the new latin?

March 8, 2017 Matt Coyne

Learning about our industry

Off the back of Confex last week, speaking & attending a number of conference sessions & plenty of networking around the event, it had me thinking, how do people learn about our industry?

Before going deep and meaningful on the exhibition world, I was reminded of our current state of learning from a conversation with a friend this weekend. She was trying to teach her child math - what fun! She was breaking it down to basics and using monetary change as her example. Shrapnel to you and I.

But what she found increasingly difficult, was that she realised herself when she goes to the shops, she uses Apple Pay or a contactless card. When she pays for parking, she either uses an app or phones the number. She no longer uses change. Or at least, not as regularly as when we grew up. So she found it difficult to use real world examples of her actually using change and wondered if there is another real world example to help her child learn to count. I'll leave the rest of that discussion for another day...

So aside from that niggling thought in my mind that we are slowly turning into the Demolition Man type society (amongst a myriad of other techno / futuristic fuelled films), it made me think. How do we teach people about our industry? Apart from attending sessions, there doesn't seem to be one place to go for information on what's worked or what's not, aside from company case studies or content sessions, which I suppose is one of the very purposes of going to an event – to learn from our peers! Yes, there are events like Confex, the AEO conference, Event Tech Live & Event Tech Talks, to name a few. They are all great learning opportunities, but there isn't a "bible" as it were to learn from. And so often at these events, we actually see the same presentation done slightly differently to previous years.

There are some fantastic universities out there running event specific courses, we even partner with one of them (Coventry), so our learnings are part of their syllabus. There are then some great initiatives such as the Thirty Under 30, or The Eventice that just happened at Confex, although technically that was only one winner who's going to gain some amazing experience from within our sector. But otherwise, we hear it time and time again, you typically fall into this industry and then learn from experience. Great... but what does that do for our future? Where do people go when they want to see what's worked well or what's not? Or does it matter?

I was talking to a few people late one night at the Hand & Flowers, the annual networking event around Confex, and a number of those experienced and senior within our industry all learnt from hard graft. Few had even gone to University. Most had worked from the ground up, gaining valuable experiences along the way. In contrast, people see a direct line into sector whether they study film, "marketing" or a myriad of other degrees. It was commented that event management degrees, don't really give away the experience that we learn from on a day to day basis. You could argue the same of those other sectors too...

So what are we doing to teach newcomers to our trade?

Or... is our trade really changing that much that, after a little bit of experience, they haven't learnt it all? Aside from a couple of new gadgets that come along every year?

There has been lots of discussion about how the trade show model hasn't evolved in over 100 years - aside from new technologies available to assist them - the general format has stayed the same. There are a number of examples of events being run differently of course, but, they are slow to being adopted on a wider scale. Does that mean they work? Are they right? Probably.

Whenever we see a new launch coming, we wait with bated breath to see what joyous new format they bring (well, I do anyway...). How many times do we see the first sales brochure and feel change is on the horizon? Perhaps the clue is in that sentence itself... Sales Brochure...

Alas, the event unfolds and it's the same thing, serving a new market, in the same way we have always done. Although it can often still create excitement, the format is still the same. Again, it’s not to say the event isn’t successful and indeed it offers the question, if it aint broke, does it need fixing?

I'm not saying it's a bad thing, clearly there are some very excellent exhibitions that occur in our world, but, if industry figures don't lie (read Jim Curry’s interview with Phil Soar) maybe it is. Maybe we do need to evolve more quickly than we falsely lead ourselves to believing?

So that our future isn't reading history books about exhibitions, we need to evolve to keep the future alive. To keep people interested. To keep what we do relevant.

Or do we? Maybe it isn't that broke after all? Have I said that already...?

So how do you onboard newcomers to our trade? Do you set aside budget to try new things? Do you take part in university programs or initiatives like the Thirty Under 30 to help educate our new blood and get them going at pace? Do you have a crack team of event commandos that role out new models or experiences that enable you to add new change every year?  I understand that both organiser & supplier need to keep competitive advantage, so they don't always share the minute of detail of what they're up to, but maybe that's because we're all trying to change, just that no-one wants to give away their secret just yet?

Back to my original point, as we see monetary change starting to disappear, it may well become our generations Latin. Let's not see exhibitions become the new Lorum Ipsum.

We are continually focusing on ways that we can capture, measure & affect engagement around an event and see data as being a driver for this change. These insights could shed light on new ways of working. New ways of engaging. New ways of marketing. New ways of sales. New ways...

Are you ready for it?

I’m intrigued…

Article originally posted on Linkedin

About the Author

Matt  Coyne

Matt has been working in events & exhibitions for over 10 years. From organising, to design, to website, and onto registration 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 data and registration solutions with the end users in mind. As Technology Engagement Architect for GES and an active participant in the industry, Matt has been involved in a variety of industrywide research projects and is an expert in how to prove ROI and manage data effectively.

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