LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The upper echelon of executive independent trade show organizers doesn’t often have the opportunity to meet, exchange ideas, and share experiences and strategies for overcoming the challenges they face — and those challenges got bigger during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were so many important topics to hash out at this year’s Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) Summer Conference, held Aug. 24-26 in Louisville, Ky. Among these were game-changing innovations, industry advocacy, marketing, operations, revenue and business/management, navigating health and safety issues, hotel and venue contracts … the agenda was packed with must-attend sessions.
So what really resonated with attendees at this year’s SISO Summer Conference?
- Making face-to-face connections. Having the opportunity to be in the same room, sharing with colleagues and competitors who truly understand exactly what the past 18 months have been like, was the key highlight for most.
“Nothing compares to being in a room with colleagues across the industry,” Hervé Sedky, President and Chief Executive Officer, Emerald, said. “I truly felt the openness and sharing this time more than ever — a lot of ‘we are all in this together’ — and the ability to learn from each other was inspiring. From sharing best practices, experiences and working together for advocacy — it was truly empowering and energizing.”
Mary Larkin, President of Diversified Communications USA and the newly elected Secretary/Treasurer and Executive Committee member of SISO, also pegged getting back together in person as a major highlight of the conference. “I was happy to see people I had not seen since the 2019 event,” she said.
- Sharing best practices, lessons learned and innovation. During an Innovation Showcase, five SISO members from Emerald, Clarion Events, Inc., JDC Events, Tarsus Group and 365 Media shared how they innovated and pivoted during the pandemic. This session was among several attendees said they appreciated for providing both a plethora of ideas and practical, ready-to-implement solutions.
- Data fueled Insights for Health and Safety. A presentation by Epistemix CEO John Cordier was a standout for many who were seeking to understand and track the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, as well as forecast — and navigate — what is on the horizon. Cordier “provided powerful data for planning covering what we’ve experienced the past 18 months and forecasting the future,” said Sedky. Particularly useful for forecasting were the real-time, city-by-city datasets Cordier showed, including specific criteria adjustments and varying outcomes based on vaccination density and uptake, mask/no mask policies and social distancing criteria. One key takeaway from the session: The data shows that even amidst the uncertainty caused by the rise of the delta variant, attending an in-person event such as a trade show is actually safer than daily activities like going to the grocery store.
- Advocacy: Today and for Tomorrow. Another top highlight for many was the closing general session featuring a panel that included Emerald’s Herve Sedky, Diversified Communications’ Mary Larkin, Tommy Goodwin with the Exhibition and Conference Alliance (ECA) and SISO’s David Audrain. The session explored what the ECA and SISO have be doing to keep the recovery and advancement of the face-to-face business events industry on the radar screen, and to help government officials understand the important role these events have on economies and job creation as economies in the U.S. and around the world struggle to recover from the worst of COVID-19.
- The SISO Women’s Leadership Forum and the Small Business Roundtable. This year’s SISO Women’s Leadership Forum tackled some of today’s stickiest topics, including a panel on diversity and inclusion, a session on navigating the “new normal” and a keynote by TEDx speaker Megan Bloomer, who specializes in helping women and underrepresented folks master the unwritten rules of corporate America so they can shatter the ceilings that are holding them back from achieving their career goals.
The Small Business Roundtable, led by nGage Events’ Phil McKay, also was a must-attend for small-business trade show leaders who were eager to share strategies they used over this most challenging time to keep keeping their businesses up and running. Especially key this year were the new models and approaches these uniquely challenged businesses have found to generate revenue, as COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible to conduct business as usual.
Attendees also enjoyed the local flavors of the SISO host city, from the SISO Women’s Leadership Forum event at the Bluegrass Brewing Co. to a reception and dinner at the Kentucky Derby Museum. But while the locales and food and beverages were a plus, attendees walked away feeling like they had gained much by engaging with each other, and sharing both pain points and success strategies.
Sedky said the experience of open sharing and collaboration at this year’s SISO Summer Conference made attendees feel they were “able to finally climb out of an abyss — and also able to begin to see the beginnings of the end to this difficult situation.” In short, he said, he walked away feeling excited to share and implement some of the strategies; enlightened about the advocacy efforts underway and how the industry must all pull together; and reinforced by knowing that many of the challenges they are experiencing are felt across other organizations.
“The overall content on the main program was useful and relevant information for our industry, especially as we return to events,” Larkin said. “I feel like it was the best conference yet.”
Reach Mary Larkin at (207) 842-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Hervé Sedky at (203) 840-5584 or Herve.Sedky@EmeraldX.com