by Jim Obermeyer
It started Thursday around noon. I walked off the plane at Orlando International Airport and picked up my rental car. I drove straight over to OCCC—no maps, no GPS. It’s been a while, but I’ve done it way too many times to need directions. I could feel it growing inside me as I drove up to the parking lot at Orange County Convention Center West Hall. I walked up to the desk just outside the door to the hall. I knew it was coming. First the temperature check and then the questions about symptoms. But then she did it.
She wrapped that yellow band around my wrist and caught a few wrist hairs in the glue.
That sealed it. It was real. This was not the dream I’ve been having for the last four months. I was actually walking onto a tradeshow floor.
The Together Again Expo was held at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center on July 24. It was designed to be an industry event that would deliver safety, hope and a positive path forward for live events. Live event industry leaders, innovators, and professionals were to join in community to showcase new strategies and tools to navigate how live events can be hosted safely and responsibly.
It was set to feature an afternoon of education and collaboration among live event industry leaders and innovators to share the new realities of onboarding live events. Attendees were to expect to learn and experience new strategies and approaches that will create smart and secure event environments.
The Expo would include impactful resources and tools as well as a showcase for new products and services that facilitate safe and responsible live engagements.
And if you couldn’t be there in person, there was an opportunity to be a part of the event virtually. That all sounded really good. But what was it really like to be there?
The first thing you noticed was the incredible energy level in the hall. With 1,400 live industry professionals, 8,225 virtual attendees and 250 exhibitors, it was very obvious from the start that the people here were all fired up and excited to actually be on a show floor again. This was certainly not the largest show we’ve all been to. The exhibit structures were not the most lavish we’ve ever seen, and for the most part, the products presented were for the “new normal.” But none of that really mattered. Everyone was just happy to be there, and actually talking face-to-face; or, more accurately, mask-to-mask. (Pictured left, a “virtual high-five” giveaway at the Nuvista booth.)
The safety protocols established by OCCC and Alliance Exposition Services were intended to prove that a live event could happen while still adhering to CDC guidelines. Everyone in the building was required to wear a mask at all times. Temperature checks were done upon entering the building. Badging was handled via mobile app. Aisles on the show floor were marked as one-way aisles.
The general session space at the back of the hall had seating spaced to accommodate six-foot social distancing requirements and the concession stands and seating for dining were spaced out with only four chairs per table. Hand sanitizer stations were placed throughout the hall.
Bottom line: all of the procedures we have been hearing about and adhering to for the last four months in the rest of the world were put into practice for this event.
The morning general sessions, which were available virtually as well, included presentations by Jerry Demings (pictured right), mayor of Orange County, Mark Tester, executive director of the OCCC, and a variety of senior executives in the meetings and events industry.
In an afternoon session, David DuBois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, presented his organization’s research on the global outlook for going live safely. His presentation data is available through IAEE and the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.
A number of other live presentations on related safety topics were offered on the main stage throughout the day. Presenters included Sunbelt Rentals, Poretta & Orr, CORT Events and United Service Companies.
In a separate space set up just for the show, Centerplate hosted several live cooking demos, featuring their executive chef explaining and demonstrating safe cooking procedures for large group sessions. And then the audience sampled the results of their work and boy, were they delicious!
Between the general sessions, the cooking demonstrations and a large expo hall full of exhibits to visit, this well-attended one-day event went by very quickly. I spent the day walking the show floor visiting exhibitors, attending sessions and staffing the Exhibit City News booth. I loved every minute of it.
I think to all in attendance it achieved its mission: to prove that live events were certainly feasible in these times. Hopefully, this message will be carried well beyond the walls of the Orange County Convention Center.
But what was the best part? Conversations with people—in person (pictured right is Inside Track’s David Sterne with Jim Obermeyer). Real conversations, not virtual conversations. No dogs barking or birds chirping or kids screaming in the background. Just two or three people standing in a booth or in the aisle having a conversation.
And what else did I come away with? Sore feet, an aching knee. I haven’t felt this pain in a very long time…it almost felt good. And I’m still wearing my wrist band. Thanks so much to everyone at the OCCC and Nationwide Alliance Exposition for producing this event—and with a tentative list of ten more cities to take it to in the upcoming weeks (dates are tentative as well), including Nashville (Aug. 28), Las Vegas (Sept. 3), Indy (Sept. 8), Atlanta (Sept. 11), Dallas (Sept. 15), Denver (Sept. 18), D.C. (Sept. 22), Chicago (Sept. 25), Boston (Sept. 29) and L.A. (Oct. 2) Welcome back to the tradeshow floor…
Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house owner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.