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That Looks About Right – By Jim Obermeyer

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger“We’re going to be in the Hudson.”

It was Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (at right) announcing they were going to drop US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River. It is a story most of us are familiar with.  After the loss of both engines in their A320, Capt. Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles first intended to return to La Guardia and then decided they couldn’t make it.  Next, they were offered Teterboro Airport and Sully said, “We can’t do it.”

Ultimately, they pulled off the “Miracle on the Hudson” – ditching with no fatalities and no major injuries. They skillfully missed bridges and steered toward operating boats on the icy water to maximize the chance of rescue.  They didn’t have time to make precise calculations.  They didn’t have the benefit of guidance systems and landing procedures.  Their primary resource was the view out the window.

Why were Sullenberger and Skiles ( able to do this? They knew how to fly by TLAR – “That Looks About Right.”  They were in a situation where all the pre-flight planning and in-flight technical support was of absolutely no use.  They had to use all of their experience, intuition and ‘guts’ to get to the right outcome.  It wasn’t an exact science at that point.  It was a ‘that looks about right’ execution.

TLAR is a skill every pilot should possess. And I will suggest it is a skill every trade show manager and show floor supervisor should possess as well.  For one thing, like the pilots of US Air 1549, sometimes you just won’t have all of the resources you are accustomed to having.  Like when you are standing on the show floor less than 24 hours before the show opens and the wind rushing in from the dock door blows over your 16-foot tall, 30-foot long backwall.  If you have TLAR skills, you can get by without those resources.

You grab the guys on your crew, you reassemble the wall as quickly as you can, you make adjustments and corrections for any scratched graphics, pull in local suppliers to replace anything damaged beyond repair, re-arrange the furniture to hide any visible exhibit damage, clean everything up and step back and say ‘that looks about right’.

Sometimes we only have the time or resources for a roughly good job. The reality is the show is still going to open tomorrow morning.  Nothing you can do will change that, so stopping now to do all the planning and follow all the proper procedures is not going to help you.  Missing the show opening is not an option.  Getting the exhibit to look and work as best as possible is the end goal, given the situation.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that a backwall falling over in a convention center is in any way equal to landing a jet on the water and saving hundreds of lives. I am simply pointing out that in all professions, there comes a time when all the policies, procedures and planning will be of no use.  At that moment, how you react and respond to the situation says a lot about you.  And it says a lot about your ability to save lives, or save the client.

Sometimes the need to have everything planned out in detail deters you from taking timely action when you need to. Although detailed planning is a wonderful thing, having additional TLAR skills gives you the confidence to quickly create and execute an alternative plan when needed.  In my example here, if the supervisor did not have these skills – the ability to think quickly on his feet and get a solution executed in the compressed timeframe, and make the exhibit look about right, the alternative would be failure on the show floor.  Had Sully not had these skills, the outcome could have been much worse.

Lacking these skills is like a painter who can only paint by number. They may look like good artists, but without the numbers they are helpless.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a vice president at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at

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