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Inside vs. outside thinking

I had intended to write this column, the first column of a new year, on how our industry is working its way out of the recession. I had planned to wait until I returned from the annual EDPA conference to write it, hoping to pick up some interesting tidbits of information to support my general thinking that we are in fact working our way out, but something else caught my attention while I was there.

In the last two years, I think a lot of us have retreated into our caves and focused primarily on keeping our businesses alive and breathing; this is certainly justifiable. In any environment, crisis brings survival instincts to the forefront.

I know in my case, it meant reducing the amount of time I spent volunteering my time for the EDPA Foundation. It also meant missing last year’s meeting. I was focused inside the box.

The fallacy here, I believe, is that while pulling back and focusing only internally, we are missing the opportunity to grow and learn, and get help from those around us. This isolationist approach prevents us from taking advantage of group thinking and our peers’ experiences.

We miss the exchange of ideas, the sharing of the good and the bad experiences, and meeting new people that add to the tapestry of our industry experience. Simply put, we miss out on what we humans are made for; relationship.

Once at the meeting this year, it didn’t take me long to realize how much I miss the interaction with our industry. In conversation after conversation I was reminded of how much I can still learn from my friends in the industry, thank you Lana and Hendrik and Dan, and how much more there is to learn from people I just met for the first time, thank you Benedict and Kate.

There were some profound moments throughout the conference that reminded me of all the good of being part of this industry.
• Watching Jack McEntee accept the Hazel Hays award for his contribution to our industry and listening to him speak to us after being away for so long. I had just earlier the same day been telling someone about this guy that changed the face of tradeshow labor.

• Seeing Don Svehla receive the Ambassador Award. The guy just seems to have this never-ending well of enthusiasm for our business. And I’m not just saying that because he is my publisher.

• Hearing that the silent auction generated over $16,000 for the EDPA Foundation; an incredible gesture on the part of industry members to support this organization’s mission and programs.

I also had the chance to get a glimpse of this business through the eyes of a total newcomer to this industry and this event. Eighteen months ago we hired a new controller. This fall she became involved in the planning of a new educational track for the conference, and ended up moderating several sessions and presenting one on her own.

She told me that leading up to the event, she was nervous about being a newcomer and had some anxiety about being an outsider in our world. She wasn’t sure what to expect from being there.

By the end of the conference she had made dozens of new friends and was speaking of being welcomed into the family, being received with open arms and met with friendship where ever she went. Her nervousness prior to the event had been replaced with rampant enthusiasm.

I think Rob Cohen, the new president of the EDPA, said it best in his remarks. He said we are a family. We know each others children without having ever met them. We know each others trials and tribulations without being there when they happen. We coach and encourage each other, even though we are competitors. We are all very fortunate to have two families, our own ‘blood family’ and our industry family.

Coming here reminds me that I am part of something bigger than what is happening inside the walls of my company, and that I should participate in this more.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 29 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the tradeshow and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.



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