Text:/ Graeme Hague
Here’s how exhibitions, conferences and conventions usually play out: On the morning of Day 1 everyone arrives full of beans, super-keen to make stuff happen, excited about what’s on offer at the show. You meet old friends at the registration desk, swap notes on all the seminar speakers that are a ‘must-see’, and agree on the best display stands — especially the ones with excellent coffee machines out front and secret bathtubs filled with beer out the back. Plans are made to join mates for dinner that evening. Discreet deals are cut about obtaining tickets to invite-only events where there’s more free booze and snacks.
Day 2, as everybody is shuffling into the show with somewhat less enthusiasm, rumours abound that certain speakers are ‘boring as bat shit’ — an odd comparison, but often used — and not worth seeing. The freebie bags of giveaways are filled with rubbish, or the good ones were snapped up in the first few hours — greedy bastards. The spectacular display stands aren’t quite so spectacular after all, or it’s the ‘same old crap’ the company has been peddling around the country for years, but all the blokes agree the stand babes on the (insert your company of choice) exhibition are a bit of alright. Good news, everyone’s talking about a pub down the road that does awesome fish and chips with $8 pints of beer. At least we can lock that into the calendar.
Day 3, the morning crowds are thin and hungover. Presenters are listlessly addressing empty auditoriums. Many of the exhibitors are surreptitiously packing away gear early. The stand babes are complaining about their feet killing them. The organisers are muttering about cutting the whole thing back to two days next year, and whinging about the costs and attendances.
No surprise, it’s always been hard to keep the attention of your average conference attendee. On the show floor, the exhibitors need to establish that fine line between visitors who really might buy something — and rate some serious one-on-one time — and tyre-kickers who only want to score a bag of freebies. Inside, the seminar speakers resort to all kinds of technical tricks to keep everyone awake. Years ago, at our venue, one guy insisted on abseiling onto stage from the auditorium lighting catwalks. (Yes, you know who you are…). We quietly considered wringing his neck and instead chucking him onto stage from the weight-loading grid 10 metres above. He got his way and the audience was gobsmacked… for all of about three minutes. Well worth it.
At least we’ve all moved decades on from clattering slide projectors in the middle of the auditorium, including the obligatory upside-down slide, and Powerpoint demonstrations that refuse to work — or desperately need redesigning at the last minute.
Otherwise, is anything else really going to change in these new-fangled, hi-tech exhibition halls?
It’s a bit odd that modern conference centres place so much emphasis on providing connections, networks, high-speed internet access and wire-melting wi-fi systems —everything needed to be in touch with everybody else — when most of the real deals will still be finalised at the pub, on the back of a soggy beer-coaster over fish and chips, and eight dollar pints.
After all, conventions and conferences are supposed to be all about people actually meeting people. The only real ‘network’ the organisers should care about is a comfortable place to access high-speed coffee, beer and sandwiches that were prepared with last week’s bread. And by ‘comfortable’ I don’t mean plastic chairs and Formica tables that need a napkin stuffed under one leg to stop it rocking.
All right, I know it’s mostly the exhibitors who demand all the high-tech gumpf. They want to wow the punters with hi-def colour and movement, and blow our minds with jaw-dropping AV. I reckon they’ve got the wrong end of the 4K Ultra HD stick. We don’t want to see anything on a zillion monitors hanging from the ceiling.
People go to exhibitions to see the real thing. We want to smear our sticky fingers on the actual touchscreen, pick up the genuine microphone, put on the latest headphones, and mumble “Check 1, 2…” and pretend that amongst all the hullabaloo we can hear anything. We want to poke at buttons, slide faders and toggle jog-wheels. And mumble vague promises to the sales dude about maybe wanting to buy one of these things possibly… one day.
Then go down the pub and discuss everything properly.
So my idea of a modernised exhibition centre would forget about wi-fi and internet, and focus on getting rid of the crap cafeteria, bad coffee and stale sandwiches. Replace them with enormous areas filled with comfy chairs, cheap booze, and food we’re not allowed to eat at home.
But let’s not be too hasty about losing the girls in high-heels. I reckon that I was in with a real chance last year. Honest.