Let the Show’s Light Shine

“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. ”—Jackson Pollock

Friends ask me, “What do you do?”

When I have tried to come up with a reason for doing what I do, I have gone to my other vocation, writing and translating. There I found the quote above from American painter Jackson Pollock, and what we do in the events industry became clear to me.

I have produced events in industries as diverse as leather goods and luggage, agriculture, construction and medical and dental devices. What brings the event business together across all of those industries is a variation on Pollock’s quote: “The event has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

When I have failed as a show director is when I have stifled the industry’s true life and tried to impose my sense of the business on a show. When I have been most successful is when I have created a point of encounter where the life of the industry could come through.

So how do we actually do this? The first thing that we as show directors need to keep in mind is that the priorities of the industry we serve are not ours. Most exhibitors do not care about our rules or our best practices.

What they want is for the life of their industry to come out in a controlled environment. If we deliver that, we are essential to their work and, if we do not, we are going to fail.

After launching trade shows that failed, I learned listening in a structured way is essential to success. This means listening to diverse voices in an industry and then knowing when to step back and let the life of the sector come out.

It is this essential improvisation that makes our industry so interesting. Unlike insurance, the law or engineering, we are called upon to be more artists than rote learners. Some professionals in our industry would dispute that, but the best managers I have worked with, the real innovators, have this sense.

One of the key steps to this understanding, to letting the industry shine through, is to make sure that you are listening to the sector as an artist would look at a canvas, rather than as a business person looks at a market. This means that you cannot boil down the events you are doing to squares of cement or signage.

If you look at the most innovative events—International CES, CONEXPO/CON-AGG or HIMSS, for instance—they get this and they incorporate the art of the show into what they are doing.

This incorporation then leads the industry they are serving to desire affinity with that show. I would urge show directors to look at their businesses this way.

Listen to your exhibitors and attendees, make sure they view the show always with an eye to letting the life of the industry shine through, and make sure that you are really listening rather than trying to force your desires on the industry—that is the road to failure.

If you create that artistic masterpiece that is a great show, you will not regret it. In the end, you will succeed by listening.

Ray L. Bianchi is senior director of expositions and events for the American Farm Bureau’s IDEAg Group.  

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