Learning from what's missing

By Chris Dorn, MD Idea International


I’m not going to repeat what you've been reading everywhere else. But, the fact is this past year, as brutal as it has been for all of us, was also a learning experience - at least it was for me.

Here's what I learned:
I’m fortunate to work in a fantastic industry, but it's time we educated the rest of the world about the power of business events. They are not in the same category as rock concerts; they are events that fuel the economy.

As human beings, we crave personal interactions, face-to-face encounters, eye contact. I’ve had enough screen time to last for years. But, honestly, I don’t see hybrid shows lasting beyond a few seasons, until people are confident about health and safety measures.

People need to be social, and tradeshows are the most efficient and cost-effective way to build relationships and partnerships.

I love to travel and I missed it. I missed the craziness of airports, the conversations in airport lounges, the thrill of an upgrade, and the anticipation of a maybe-good meal. And at the end of the flight, I looked forward to checking into a new hotel.

I miss the show floor: everything about it. I miss shipments arriving, I miss set-up deadlines, I miss the smiles on my clients’ faces when they're happy with the results of our work. And most of all, I miss walking the floor and running into old friends and catching up.

There’s nothing like sharing meals with people in restaurants, unless it’s introducing those same people to foods unique to the APAC region and watching their smiles replace scepticism after the first few bites.

For the first time since I moved to Japan, I have not been able to go to the US. So, there were no trips to Iowa to see my parents and teach my kids to ride a tractor.

I felt the pain of a large percentage of my customers, the exhibit houses devastated by the pandemic. I work with a lot of brave, resilient people and we are all looking forward to working together again. By adjusting my own sleep schedule, I was fortunate to keep up with people around the world.

I came to appreciate some of Japan's cultural norms: masks are not a new concept. People in Japan don’t hug or shake hands. We remove our shoes upon entering a house. There is an overall focus on cleanliness, something that kept Covid from overwhelming us.

So having learned all that, here's what I know: Technology is evolving that will allow us to improve ROI. For example, we’ll do more precise tracking, and technology will allow us to facilitate more targeted personal interactions.

Like business relationships in Japan, relationships in the tradeshow industry depend on trust and loyalty. Our relationships are long-term, and although we haven't worked together for over a year, we know that we’re there for one another.

I like helping people navigate a new culture. That can include materials, work practices, transportation to and from the convention centres, all of the above. We always tell our customers to leave the set-up to us so they can immerse themselves in the beautiful cities in our part of the world.

The APAC region fuels a good portion of the world’s economy, and tradeshows heighten that impact. So, in a sense, Covid has made the world seem much smaller because of our shared experience.

As I write this, the world, along with tradeshows and, to some extent, travel, is beginning to open up. Globally, there will be a march forward, a transition. First going to restaurants, then domestic travel – planes, hotels. Finally, people will begin to get confident.

I am looking forward to seeing all of you again soon and extending our promise of  ‘peace of mind a half-world away’.