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by Stephen Nold

Thank You for Being Here

In his new book, Thank You For Being Late, An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, internationally renowned author, reporter, and Pulitzer Prize writer Thomas L. 

Friedman describes the fundamental movements that are reshaping the world today. Friedman focuses on three large-scale forces – technology, globalization and climate change and explains how to get the most out of them and moderate their impacts.  He goes on to explain his own declaration of independence from the acceleration in the “change in the pace of change” and how he recognized the need for a pause button on the merry-go-round in order to understand and take advantage of the inflection points that are changing the world in which we live.  

Much of this macro view of the world can be directly applied to the event industry.  Technology, globalization and climate change are three important influences on the events that we manage, with technology delivering some of the greatest obvious impact on show floors and conference agendas.  Friedman points to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 as a catalyst for change to the technology platforms that continue to reshape the work environment.  This is applicable for events – many of the innovations that are influencing the art of face to face marketing can be directly tied to introduction of mobile devices and the resulting shift of how communities connect with each other in person.

Trade shows and conferences have weathered the threat of virtual for years.  Promoted with great noise ten years ago when they came upon the scene, virtual events have inflicted very little damage.  However, are we ignoring some of the less obvious changes that are nibbling away at audience attendance.  The reluctance of the millennial generation to attend, the ease of remote business practices, the shift of corporate marketing strategies to online communities; all of these cultural changes have redesign the way companies approach customers.  Has the event industry become the proverbial “frog in the boiling pot” indifferent to the changes that are slowly drawing away the lifeblood of our existence – the people and corporations so vital to a face to face marketplace?

Friedman proposes that it is no longer a question of inside the box versus outside the box thinking, but rather no box thinking.  Not confining to a single disciplinary silo approach to solving problems.  

After ten years of statistically insignificant industry growth, have we kept telling ourselves that our industry is fine – happy that we have not seen any of the declines that hit us back in 2005 – 2006?  Yet are we even measuring our successes correctly?  Continued growth of large shows could be more of a result of consolidation of the industry as smaller shows close their doors and the overall pie shrinks.

As corporations shift strategic spend for festivals away from traditional shows and seek more regional experiences, the industry mantra to promote experiential events has lost its meaning.  Have we lulled ourselves to feel that all is good and stay the course is the best plan of action. The water keeps heating up.  When is the last time a show organizer expressed their sincere appreciation for an attendee or exhibitor registering for the next conference?  How many corporate planners appreciate the cost and effort that their constituents go through to arrive at the conference?  Do we too often forget that families are back at home?

The frog boils.  I would enjoy the next time I walk onto a show floor to just hear, “Thank You for being here.”