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Event Horizon: My First Trade Show

“A region in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer.”

Event Horizon is a column by latest CN recruit Stuart Wood (pictured), taking a look at the events industry from a newcomer’s perspective. In this first instalment, he embarks upon a long, hot journey to Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse for Confex Future Focus, and returns with some tales from his first ever trade show.

 

A trade show is a strange thing. On the one hand, its primary purpose is very serious: to provide a space for organisers, venues and services within an industry to show off to potential clients. It also serves as a social hub for those within the industry, offering a chance to network and forge important business relationships.

But trade shows are also quite silly. The necessity of standing out from a large crowd invites exhibitors to employ all manner of inventive and eye-catching marketing techniques, designed to break the ice and get people talking about their brand.

In the corporate carnival of a trade show, you’ll find important conversations taking place in the corners of café bars, with professionals in suits hunched over cups of coffee and notepads. But you’ll also find seven-foot tall walking robots, cardboard cut-outs of The Rock, and plate spinning.

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Titan the robot, pictured outside the venue entrance

 

The future, in retrospect

Those were just a few of the sights on show at Confex Future Focus, the sister event to Confex International – both of which are hosted by CN‘s parent company Mash Media. The event took place last week from 4-5 July, and put an emphasis on groundbreaking technology and ideas that will push the events industry forward. It also served as my introduction to the industry, having joined Mash as a junior reporter just a week prior.

There were seminars throughout both days spread across two stages, which provided lots of interesting ideas and food for thought. The roundtable discussion about the agency model of tomorrow and Nick Tinker and Cari Kirby’s talk about gamification were both very interesting. Kate Thornton’s charismatic keynote speech, during which she recounted the story of accidentally flashing her bum at Cherie Blair during an awards ceremony, was another highlight.

Sitting in the keynote theatre, I was initially somewhat distracted by the life-size cut out of The Rock that was stood directly next to my seat (courtesy of Odeon Events, promoting the use of their cinemas as live events spaces). But the talks were a great way for me to get some insight from industry veterans, and what they see coming in the future of the events industry.

"It reminded me more than a little bit of Blade Runner"

On the show floor itself, there was plenty of futuristic tech being shown off. Codemodeon and The Creative Engagement Group were both exhibiting virtual reality demos, and I got my first chance to try on a VR headset at their booths.

It really is hard to capture the experience of virtual reality without being inside it, and videos I’ve seen didn’t quite do justice to trying it out for myself. I’m not ashamed to say I was waving my arms around in the air like an idiot, trying to touch tables that weren’t really there, while the lady giving the demonstration patiently explained how to use it.

Also very impressive was the 3D projection technology being showed off by Musion. This is the same technology that powered the 2Pac hologram which performed at Coachella, projecting a 2D image into 3D space in a way that seriously messes with the mind. It reminded me more than a little bit of the moving billboards from Blade Runner.

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The keynote theatre

 

While these technologies are by themselves very interesting, I still felt I didn’t see them being used to their full potential. Virtual reality and 3D projection are certainly eye-catching, but they need to be seamlessly integrated into the event they are showing at to avoid becoming just an expensive sideshow.

I can’t help but think of business conferences being held entirely in VR, with each attendee sharing the same virtual space. Perhaps the next Coca-Cola Annual General Meeting could be held on Mars, or in the base of a volcano. That would certainly break the ice, if nothing else.

The sun sets, the party starts

The first day of the event began to wrap up at around 4pm, but I soon learned that the real networking at trade shows happens after dark. The Mash booth was serving free beer until we were kicked out by venue staff, at which point the party moved to the top floor of the Hotel Football, next door to Old Trafford. Here, another free bar offered everyone the chance to chat and socialise.

The events industry is all about bringing people together, so its no surprise that those involved in it know how to work hard and play hard, too. It was great to get a chance to meet some of the people behind the agencies, organisations and exhibitions at Confex, although some might have drunk a few too many free beers to remember speaking to me (I won’t name and shame anyone, don’t worry).

Kate Thornton with event director Simon Farnfield
Kate Thornton with event director Simon Farnfield

 

I was very impressed by everyone’s ability to bounce back the next morning and resume the serious business of the trade show, though there were certainly some tired looking faces walking among the floor.

Also very impressive was the organisational talents of the operations team at Mash who put the show together, and stayed after its conclusion to assist with the breakdown of stalls and stages. The whole event ran very smoothly, and we’ll hope to see you at the next Confex Future Focus, which will take place on the 3 – 4 July 2019 at the same venue – Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse.

For anyone I didn’t get the chance to meet at the event, come and say hi at the next one! I’ll be the tall, bald guy on the Mash Media stand.