July 14, 2024 1:46 PM
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As_The_Saws_Turn Jim Obermeyer
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As The Saws Turn: Work/Life Balance in the Tradeshow Industry

by Jim Obermeyer

I cannot tell you how many conversations about our industry’s workforce issues I have been a part of in the last year. We’re facing shortages, a lack of skilled talent and various attitudes toward returning to work. It isn’t just our industry dealing with such things; however, there are some aspects of our industry that create a unique situation for us. 

Our industry is driven on deadlines; the opening day of the show doesn’t shift just because you’re not ready. We are an industry that operates 24/7/365; ask the guys who set up RSNA during Thanksgiving or CES on New Year’s Day. We are an industry that must respond to change quickly; that graphic that you sent to the show is wrong and needs to be reprinted in time for show opening tomorrow morning. We are an industry that must have a Plan B when Plan A fails; that truck delivering your exhibit to Las Vegas just ran off the road in a blizzard in Colorado.

The things that make this industry distinct–and dare I say, adventurous–seem to be exactly what is turning workers away right now. After two years of working at home, many do not wish to return to the way it was and prefer to continue working from home as a way of seeking balance in their lives. But what exactly does that mean?

I suppose it depends on what you really want in life. Do you want to stay home to be away from the office and your colleagues? Do you want to avoid the stress and challenges of the working world? This industry can be the cause of a lot of pressure and anxiety. And maybe that’s what you are focused on.

I prefer to look at it through a different lens.

When I look at this industry, I see people with passion, energy and drive. I see people committed to getting the project delivered, wherever and whenever it is needed. I see people up for challenges. I see people enjoying the adventure, seeing the world and experiencing life to the fullest. The balance is inherent in the industry. Who would not want to be a part of this?

In what other industry could you have the opportunity to see Elton John, Sting or Tim McGraw in a private concert? Where else could you meet Magic Johnson, Mario Andretti and Carroll Shelby at client events? In what other industry could you help your client host a private event at the Chicago Museum of Natural History or the San Diego Zoo? 

But it’s not just about the big things you get to experience. The small stuff is important, too. Sitting around a fire pit at the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada, with your crew telling stories. Having a cocktail with a client on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Tower in Chicago. Joining your client for dinner in that little out-of-the-way Szechuan restaurant in Shanghai, China. Spending a day off with your UK colleague driving from Hanover, Germany, to Berlin to visit the Berlin Wall (before it came down). These memories last a lifetime.

Working in this industry has given me the opportunity to take my parents to the Indianapolis 500, to walk the beaches of Marco Island, Florida, and sip an original Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista Café in San Francisco with my wife. It’s allowed me to explore the SEMA show with my son, and watch him drive a classic car across the auction stage at a car auction in Scottsdale. I’ve seen my daughter swim with dolphins at Sea World and stare down a shark at the Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay Resort.

Yes, there are long hours, there are long days away from home, there are weekends and holidays committed to working. There are tight deadlines and quick changes. But there are also the experiences and people you meet along the way who become part of your life.

I guess it comes down to this: What is it that you treasure most in life and where will you find it? For me, and I suspect for many of my colleagues, I find the things I treasure in this industry.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the exhibits and events industry 40 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house owner.  He can be reached at jobermeyer903@gmail.com    

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