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EDPA ACCESS Future Forward Conference Recap

EDPA ACCESS Future Forward Conference Recap

by DJ Heckes, CEO/Owner EXHIB-IT!

EDPA Access 2021 brought in 200 attendees with anticipation and excitement to learn what is the future forward going to be in our industry. It’s time to kiss the past goodbye! We are a group of survivors, so saddle up for a good “future forward.” The event kicked off with keynote speaker Greg Schwem, a corporate humor comedian and author. He brought levity to the event and really did a great job in correlating humor with future forward thinking.

Next up was keynote speaker Troy Hazard from Australia. He talked about future proofing your business and measuring things in a simple fashion to get out of this hole. The economy goes up and down and life goes on. So, what does North look like? It is time for a restart and to focus from focused objectives to scenario planning. We need to create a culture of confidence and look at contact vs. content. Become someone significant for your customers. Be distinctive, add value to distinction, and talk with clients, not at them. Take your customers on a journey to build trust to increase business. He covered four key things for future focus: 1) Clarity on who is your client; 2) Unity with employees; 3) Consistency—the right people in the right job for the right reasons; and 4) Delivery—always looking for and anticipating client needs.

Next up was Randy Acker from Exhibit Media Group talking about “Industry Data Insights” and sharing on where he believes our industry is going. According to the seven impact studies done, face-to-face (F2F) events are coming back. The survey showed that 86 percent of respondents are seeing the quality of attendees and ROI better from F2F Shows. Also, only 17 percent of respondents said they have no desire to go back to F2F shows. With the uncertainty and travel restrictions, 83 percent  desired to engage but couldn’t be due to travel restrictions. Most interestingly was that 86 percent  of respondents said they favor F2F marketplace over digital marketplace and 90 percent  said they do not add on digital extensions to their events. When it comes to ROI from digital events, net promoter score revealed -51! The biggest challenges in our industry are bringing back employees, the continued brain drain, and the reality of not being able to predict sales revenue six weeks in future. Challenges moving forward will be inflation and supply chain concerns. Most exhibit companies are down in revenue by 43 percent average.

Greg Moyer, CEO of Innovati Group, took the stage next on “Rethinking Innovation” and said, “Yes, the virus is a nuisance, but be inventive—change the world!”  He recommends looking at increasing insurance policies to cover liability protection, freight costs and cancellations of shows. He also said the next 10 years will yield more change than the last 100 years! To succeed, will require inventive thinking. He reported that 77 percent of workers believe that being creative is very important and 80 percent felt the pressure to be productive over creative. He shared his proven philosophy of Illuminate/Investigate/Incubate = Enlighten; while Imagine/Interpret = Transform; and Interpret/Ignite = Amplify. His last message was Inventive Thinking = Creativity + Principles + Passion + Practices.

Amy Sondrup, president of EDPA, spoke on “Recap 2021” and gave Insights to 2022 and beyond. She believes that the biggest challenge has been disorganized/understaffed clients and managing PTO for employees. Clients seem to be disorganized and are asking for more help due to lack of staffing. Opportunities moving forward will be companies that have been competitors are now developing partner relationships. Workplace challenges will be keeping morale, training new people and “TGRs,” (The Great Resignations). People have changed in the last 18 months. The takeaway is there is far less competition and far more collaboration. She left off with a gratitude message: Thank the people for sticking with us and not bailing.

EDPA offered sessions for “Design Issues Forum” led by Stephen Ross, VP of ECO Access TCA, Inc., and “CFO Insights 2022 and Beyond” led by Larry Yunger, CFO, Kubik. Both sessions were well attended, and the audience was able to share relevant information to assist each other with what is happening in these areas in business.

One of my favorite sessions was the “Future is Here: Connecting with the Industry’s Future Leaders.” Future leaders shared “Setting the Stage for Leadership Training” for the next generation of future leaders. Collaboration was key in looking forward for companies to have legacy leadership.

The final day of ACCESS started with the executive committee, Amy Sondrup, “President’s Updates of 2021 Goals Recap,” and a “Financials Report” from Dan Serebin.Generational workplace expert and author Jeff Butler’s keynote, “Building an Effective Multi-Generational Workplace” really hit home. His take on the generational differences recapped the catch-22 of generational leadership in dealing with (1) experience determines future success, (2) the world is constantly changing, and (3) you don’t know what you don’t know. Every human relationship has expectations, explicit or implicit, and what is important to each generation is different. He suggests each company focus on work/life balance, work ethic, culture and communication protocols. He believes we must know the past to avoid repeating it in the future and we must know each other to build a future, adding, “Leadership is not just about leading but also following.” He also believes great leaders stand out and prepare for the realities of today and all the unknown possibilities of tomorrow.

To wrap up the EDPA ACCESS conference, there was an advocacy panel that shared all the highlights of EDPA advocacy and what it means for us going forward. The 2022 focus will be continuing the industry association task force, consistently posting content on the EDPA exhibitor advocacy page, and providing  exhibitors opportunities to voice their needs to the industry. Last year was a pivotal year for advocacy in reaching out to the legislators who could make a difference in our industry. The advocacy committee influenced the PPP2 that passed in December 2020. Currently a bill is being drafted by a Nevada senator that includes a Tradeshow and Convention Recovery Act that will help show organizers, venues now owned by municipalities and service providers, builders and producers. What the advocacy panel says is it’s a marathon and not a sprint to get things done with advocacy, it is like a game of chess when deciding your next strategic move.

In conclusion, our industry is in future forward momentum and the focus is making the time for a restart. We have all been carrying a lot of baggage for the last 18 months. In looking ahead, exhibitors are wanting to get back to face-to-face events and have not seen a good ROI for digital events. Hybrid events may be happening, but they are not as popular for the future as we had thought last year. One conference takeaway is that our focus should be on our clients and creating a strong customer journey and creating a strong internal culture for our employees. The new normal for our industry is looking more like 2023 and 2022 will continue upward but will not be as good as pre-pandemic. The continued efforts for creating a safe space for each event will be ongoing. We must rethink—not business as usual, but more of a start-up and ramp-up mentality. We will need to solve problems differently than we did in 2019.

What I got most out of all this is that EDPA is in our corner and the committees have been working diligently to keep us in the know by partnering with other organizations and sharing insights that affect our industry. Advocacy has been at the forefront of EDPA representing our voices to be heard on Capitol Hill.

DJ Heckes is owner/CEO and of Exhib-it!, providers of graphic design, branding and tradeshow marketing services. From concept to completion, EXHIB-IT! provides event, retail and tradeshow marketing and design for a successful experience—all in one place. For more info, visit

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