by F. Andrew Taylor
It seemed like it was going to be such a good year. Plans were made for a full and exciting schedule of conventions and tradeshows, chances for companies to show off their new projects, products and promotions. Somewhere around the end of February, things started getting a little weird. Within a month the world was trying to figure out how to operate traditionally in-person businesses from Zoom while people salvaged scraps of booths.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Obviously a lot of it was, but paraphrasing Neitzche, (or was it Conan the Barbarian?), “Whatever doesn’t kill us, really bums us out, but eventually makes us stronger.” Those that survived the Darwinian Hunger Games learned to operate leaner, tighter and faster… as well as remotely.
As bad as the situation was, it would have been much worse in an earlier age. Clearly everyone in the tradeshow and convention business would prefer to be traveling, meeting old and new clients in person and showing off their cool booths in a tactile environment, but at least with high speed internet, affordable video recording and editing options, there were options. If this was 30 years ago, all we could have done is gone into massive production of Haz-mat suits with huge shoulders and faux rolled up sleeves.
Remember thinking it was a little weird that a lot of Japanese tourists wore face masks? Now we all have a favorite mask. Some of us have a few dozen. Some of us even have a lucky mask.
Which brings up another weird positive piece of pandemic fallout; a lot of us learned, or re-learned skills this year, including sewing, cooking, woodworking, gardening and creating and operating a TV studio in the pantry. Imagine a situation when this mess is over where those skills come into play. Picture a scenario where an unfortunate hoverboard accident rips a hole in a stretched fabric booth. While Cindy quickly orders a replacement, Harry uploads a hilarious Tik-Tok video of the incident directing people to the booth, while Carlos whips out his handy dandy sewing kit and expertly patches the booth with backstitching he learned during lockdown. In the past you would have had to rely on duct tape, two-day shipping and a casually draped jacket to hide the mess.
There’s no denying this has been a terrible year for business in general, and the tradeshow and convention industry, in specific, was decimated. Virtually every convention was cancelled or postponed, with the exception of those that were virtually held. At some point we’ll add up all the losses, but the numbers will be too great for the average person to comprehend it. Many people can’t comprehend the difference between a billion and a trillion easily.
Some businesses will never reopen. Some conventions will never be held again, but by and large, we have to have faith that we as a people and us an industry are strong enough to come back out of it. The world is slowly, but surely, getting ready to start up again, but this time will do it with our new skills, our new technical know-how and flexibility. We’ll know which meetings have to be face to face, which ones should be online and which ones should not even be bothered with.
This year, some facilities have managed to use the downtime to improve their physical plant. Some companies have had the time to reorganize and re-prioritize. Some individuals have reassessed their own lives, both professional and personal, and made changes that will lead to real improvement… even if that means major change.
Again, no one is denying this has been a rusty razor blade of a year. We’re all hurting, we’re all anxious, we’re all ready for it to be over, but it will be over. We’ll all come back, better, stronger and ready to make it all work. For some of us, that will mean hanging on to our lucky mask, even if we’re just keeping it in our pocket—and that’s okay.
We’re all in this together, so, as another wise man (not Neitzche), once said, and reminded us this year, “Be excellent to one another.” You’d better not mess with us 2021, we’re all a lot tougher now.
This story originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. 2020 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 24. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_jan-feb_2021