Stop Avoiding the Drama

I just finished moderating an ExpoChat on the exhibition industry face-to-face events in anticipation of next week’s Expo! Expo! The conversation was lively and engaged, with not a whole lot of complaining.

Everyone seemed to think attending these kinds of events are important and worthwhile—from exhibitors to suppliers to organizers and media. The tweetchat discussion included events sponsored by associations and industry publications.

For Expo! Expo!, besides seeing tons of colleagues and friends, I’m looking forward to attending some of the non-traditional educational sessions—to see how they work out and learn new things. Also looking forward to checking out and playing with new technology.

One thing that the ExpoChat got me thinking about was how too many times we focus on having our events run smoothly and avoid all drama. Including the drama that comes from talking about the elephants in the room or discussing controversial subjects in public. (“Commissions,” anyone?)

What if we started crowd-sourcing topics instead of just making decisions by committee? What kinds of cool new ideas and speakers would be the result? There are successful precedents like SXSW that have broad categories but do crowd-source most of their content. 


An event that delivers only the status quo gives people nothing to talk about. Don’t you want the word to get out on what was missed to those who were not at your event? Make them feel that missing the event was a mistake—and, at the same time, encourage them to be there the next time for another “must not miss” moment (or two).

Here are some of the questions covered during the chat. I think they are worth sharing and discussing with your teams. If the answer to any of these questions is “because we’ve always done it”—change what you are doing immediately!

• What sessions are attendees most looking forward to? If your attendees aren’t psyched about any of the sessions you are offering and talking them up on social media—why not?  

• What other industry events do you attend, and why? It’s always good to look at the competition. Do you go to their educational sessions or just stick to the showfloor?

• Are there other expo industry events you should attend that you’ve never been to? Different people and offerings provide a completely different learning experience!

• Do you think keynotes and motivational speakers are lame? In other words—why do you have these people and pay them the big bucks? Is it necessary? What do these people bring to the table in terms of truly impacting your attendees? Frankly, hearing about some guy’s dangerous misadventures on a mountain he decided to climb for fun is not my idea of a good use of time.

• Do you personally attend those keynotes/motivational speakers? Or do you sleep in or do other things as a convention attendee? Yes or no, and why? Hmmm….could be why they aren’t the highlight of your events either.

• Do template e-mails work as exhibitor promotion? Do attendees pay attention to them or just delete? Why or why not? Have you asked your exhibitors what their conversion rate is these days? Some people think these “branded” e-mails are so 10 years ago.

• What kind of promotion may work better for your exhibitors? There are a lot of other options and some really cool technological tools out there these days. Are you being proactive helping your exhibitors be successful?

• Is it really necessary to have PowerPoint templates? Or PowerPoints at all? If the people at your event don’t know where they are by now, having a branded template is the least of your issues. Personally, as a frequent speaker, I hate using required templates. They are a pain in the you-know-what to work with. If you still insist on using templates, have speakers use one branded title slide and one for the end slide. That way, when they post the presentation on Slideshare, you get some viral exposure.

• Lastly, are panel discussions learning experiences or talking heads? If the latter, what would work better? Increasingly we are seeing that people expect various experiences at events. Passively attending educational session after educational session is not engaging or experiential. Think about your own experiences at conferences. How can your organization shake things up?

I urge you to try at least three new things with the educational component at your next event. IAEE is! Be brave. At least it won’t be boring—and may in fact, be memorable.

To those who are in Houston next week, please be sure to stop me and say hi!

Stephanie S. Selesnick is president of International Trade Information, a longtime global exhibition industry specialist helping U.S show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and a well-known speaker and trainer. Follow her on Twitter at @stephselesnick.

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Stephanie S. Selesnick is president of International Trade Information, a longtime global exhibition industry specialist helping U.S show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and a well-known speaker and trainer. Follow her on Twitter @stephselesnick.  ... View all articles by Stephanie Selesnick →