Expos and trade shows share one defining characteristic: They are temporary.
ast month, senior writer Charles Pappas and I traveled to Yeosu, South Korea, for Expo 2012, the latest in a string of world’s fairs dating back to London’s 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations. Each of the epic, international events along that 161-year timeline shares a close connection with our industry. After all, they are the forefathers, siblings, and second cousins of the modern-day trade show.

But the kinship between expos and exhibits runs deeper than that. On Aug. 13, the international village that has sprung up on South Korea’s southern coast will be dismantled. Per regulations enforced by the Bureau of International Exhibitions (BIE), the vast majority of the structures on site must be razed or removed.

In the fall of 2010, when I first saw pictures of Shanghai’s Expo 2010 site being demolished, I felt like someone had just dismantled Disney World. The surreal façades had become unsightly mounds of building materials, and the infectious energy inherent in such an event had dissipated. It was now just a piece of prime real estate along China’s Huangpu River.

And so it is with trade shows. We erect small cities inside convention centers all over the world, turning their typically unremarkable interiors into sprawling seas of experiential exhibits. Our makeshift marketplaces bustle with business, and an undeniable energy seems thick in the air.

Through architecture and the art of marketing, empty expanses are transformed into places that lure thousands of like-minded individuals in a given industry sector. They travel, en masse, by planes, trains, and automobiles — all to avoid the unimaginable fate of missing out. But when the show’s done, the temporary metropolis is taken down, booth by booth, and the population of attendees relocates to all corners of the globe. If you’ve ever stuck around to see what a show floor looks like when the final exhibit has been crated and sent home, you know what I’m talking about.

I guess that’s what I love about this industry. Every time exhibitors set out to oversee an install, they open a window of opportunity. And that window’s not just for them to do business, but also for attendees to learn and network, for local businesses to function and profit, and for a community (which wouldn’t exist without these events) to temporarily take root and flourish, if only for a few days.

Social media, webinars, virtual events, and more all attempt to prop those windows open indefinitely. But the truth is that it can’t be done. The energy can’t be sustained ad infinitum. Expos and trade shows share one defining characteristic: They are temporary. Our windows aren’t open forever — and it’s the fact that trade shows are finite that makes them magical and attracts attendees.

In a sense, exhibitors are the Walt Disneys of the business world, whether they’re driving the design of a mind-blowing booth, creating an immersive hands-on demo, or even erecting a tiny 10-by-10-foot exhibit. And it’s those Disneys among us, and the magic they create, that will inevitably ensure the future of our industry.

According to a Hindu proverb, “A man who misses his opportunity, and monkey who misses his branch, cannot be saved.” So next time you open a window of opportunity, I hope you take advantage of every second and make the most of your chance to create marketing magic. Before you know it, the show will end, that window will close, and (if you’re not careful) you’ll be left with a sinking feeling that you could have done better. But if you truly capitalize on that temporary opportunity, you’re far more likely to leave feeling the way I did when I left Yeosu: You’ll know that you experienced something special that can’t be recreated. That is, of course, until the next show rolls around.

To see EXHIBITOR’s exclusive coverage of Expo 2012, visit
Travis Stanton, editor;

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