My First Live Trade Show…By Jeff Cross | April 27, 2021 << Back to Articles
It can be a little challenging for someone who has been in forced exile for more than a year to venture back out into the world. With a bit of trepidation and planning… venture I did.
I recently enjoyed The Experience Conference & Exhibition, a trade show specifically for the specialty cleaning and disaster restoration industries, in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. The first trip I’ve taken besides short jaunts in my Jeep around Ohio. I felt like a novice traveler as I entered the airport here in Columbus, Ohio, although I’ve logged hundreds of flights over the years and can tell you where Starbucks is located in every airport across the country.
Along with you, when the pandemic began, I watched virtually every industry event be canceled or postponed (and then canceled)—trade shows, training sessions, workshops, meetings—everything that kept my frequent flyer miles and hotel points in six digits came to an end seemingly overnight. Some were turned into virtual events, but it just was not the same as face-to-face.
A long year passed. I learned that Larry Cooper, who owns The Experience, was going forward with his spring show, the East Coast version, in April. Really? Was it actually going to happen? As the infection numbers fluctuated and even increased in some areas, despite the vaccine rollout and mask mandates, I wondered if I would be tracking down a refund for yet another air ticket and hotel reservation.
This trade show and conference was scheduled for South Carolina, where things were a tad more liberal regarding masks, restrictions, and all the other pandemic stuff we are now accustomed to. I live in Ohio, and as the writing of this, we still must mask up to do just about anything. In South Carolina, the restrictions weren’t nearly as strict. Would the number of cases spike? Would Larry have to deal with yet another canceled event?
Obviously, those concerns did not come to fruition. The show went on as planned with more than 1,000 cleaning and restoration professionals in attendance. Here are the details from my personal perspective.
The first and pleasant surprise was plenty of parking spaces at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport parking garage. I usually spend valuable minutes hunting for a spot to safely store my Jeep. This time, there were plenty of choices.
The check-in process was seamless. I have the TSA Pre-Check option, so my time through security was pretty quick. When the TSA agent asked me to pull down my mask, my knee-jerk reaction was, “What??!” For months, all I’ve heard is how we are supposed to keep all the holes on the front of our face covered. But I guess the agents do need to actually match up your face to your identification. I quickly learned something and complied.
I basically had to wear a face covering, or mask, from 1 p.m. Sunday until I returned home Wednesday night. Except for when I was in my hotel room or walking outside, which I think was all of 10 minutes. Until this trip, I only wore a mask a few minutes at a time, such as when I make a hurried, masked sprint through the grocery store because, gasp-gasp-gasp, I can’t breathe very well. It’s probably all in my head.
During the trade show and the sessions, the six-foot rule just didn’t matter. I’m not trying to scare anyone here, but how do you keep everyone six feet apart at a networking event? Each building I was in required face masks, and that worked fine most of the time. But stay six feet apart? Didn’t happen.
The Experience management personnel warned everyone coming to the event in advance, that there would be warnings given if you didn’t have a mask on unless you were actively drinking, eating, or presenting in front of an audience. I had a 30-minute presentation and I think I accepted that invitation just to be able to take off my mask for a half hour. But seriously, it seemed everyone followed direction. I saw that some attendees had their mask beneath their noses a few times, others had to be warned, but when I inquired at the end of the show, I was told that no one was kicked out because of non-mask-compliance. I’m proud of everyone who was there and stayed out of trouble.
An interesting side point here is the sensitivity issue. During the first day, it was like some people didn’t quite know how to approach others. You chose a colored wrist band, signifying a variety of responses ranging from “Stay the heck away!” to “I’m willing to do an elbow bump.” No matter the wrist band, folks would approach each other and not really know what to do. “Should I put my hand out?” or “Can I hug?” or “Maybe a fist bump would be OK” to “I don’t want to get my head chewed off here.” The emotions or trepidations ranged greatly. When friends and colleagues gather, they are going to get close and touch. But I definitely didn’t see much hugging. A lot of fist and elbow bumps were in evidence. I was guilty of half of them.
While we were all protecting ourselves by pretending to stay six feet apart and always wearing masks, one thing was evident around us at all times—the constant cleaning and sanitizing. The cleaning crew at the convention center undoubtedly earned enough overtime to start their own contracting business if they have the entrepreneurial spirit. After each session, for example, the crew (maybe two people per huge conference room) would feverishly work their way through the room and, using cleaning products and wipes, wipe down every hard surface there was. Even if only 25 people were in a room with 200 chairs, they still cleaned 200 chairs. The cleaning crew was diligent and had a positive attitude, telling me they knew the importance of their assignment.
I have to say, the world as we know it is probably cleaner than it has ever been. Ever. At least inside buildings.
There were other examples of constant cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and safe practices. To sum it up, except for the continual breaking of the six-foot social distancing rule—and you can’t blame anyone for that—things went well.
Not much to report here as it was remarkably similar to the trip down, except on my way home, some really cool airport restaurants were closed. Not sure if permanently or just waiting out some of the restrictions.
Like my trip to South Carolina, the ride on the airplane was uneventful. Still, we were constantly reminded like kindergartners to keep our masks on. It’s weird that as an adult, we must be reminded all the time to wash our hands and sing a little jingle so we do it long enough, and now the same about keeping our face holes covered up.
My Jeep was in its comfortable spot, waiting for me, and I was able to tear off my mask and vow never to wear it again, at least until the next trip to the grocery store.
The future of trade shows (at least in 2021)
My personal (professional?) opinion is my first venture to an industry event was a success. I am vaccinated, but with or without getting poked by a Pfizer needle, I felt pretty safe. But I was glad I made this trip as one of the vaccinated.
I believe that as more are vaccinated, and we learn a bit more, and get a little more experience with events, crowds, and engaging others that have been sorely lacking for more than a year now, we will see trade shows and workshops full of eager industry professionals. Yes, virtual meetings and events will go on, but many of us are hungry for the real deal—in-person events.
There are several industry events and trade shows on my calendar that I plan to attend this year, all culminating in the biggest and best industry event of the year, ISSA Show North America 2021. It’s going to be November 15-18 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. You can get all the details at issashow.com. And for more on how Las Vegas is reopening, check out my recent Straight Talk! interview with Lindsay Roberts, Informa Markets group director, on her recent visit below.
Maybe by the time of ISSA Show North America, we won’t have to wear masks 24/7. But whatever the rule or mandate, I’ll be there, and I hope to see you there.
Maybe, by then, we will understand what six feet really means. But probably not.
About the Author.
Jeff Cross is the ISSA Media Director. He can be reached at [email protected].