This video depicts the journey through the Lotte Pavilion, including two presentations that take place in an overgrown garden and a hot air balloon.
All the World’s a Stage...Especially at a World Expo
Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., is the director of education and visitor experience for the Rubin Museum of Art, and the publications officer for the International Museum Theatre Alliance. Stafne is also a veteran EXHIBITOR Show attendee, and a World Expo aficionado. Having both attended Expo 2012 in Yeosu, South Korea, EXHIBITOR editor Travis Stanton spoke with Stafne about the power of live presentation, the most memorable presentations from Expo 2012, and the less formal “presentations” that underscored the value of staff training.
You’re something of a World’s Fair fanatic, right? How did you initially become interested in Expos?
Years ago, I worked for the New York Hall of Science. That’s where my intense relationship with World's Fairs originated. The Hall of Science was built for the 1964-1965 World's Fair in New York, the second to happen in Flushing Meadows Corona Park which also was the setting for the 1939 World's Fair. When I first started out at the New York Hall of Science, now a hands-on science center, I didn't really understand what the fairs were all about. But after being repeatedly begged to take people on tours of the Great Hall (one of the structures originally built for the fair) on numerous weekends, I started to learn more about them from die-hard World’s Fair fans. I was also lucky to show a movie called Peace to Understanding: The 1964-65 World’s Fair by BBQ Productions, a documentary about the themes of the 64-65 fair and a snapshot of the interesting attractions like Disney’s It’s a Small World that were developed for the expo. Fast forward many years later, and I've now attended three World Expos: Zaragoza, Spain, in 2008; Shanghai, China, in 2010; and Yeosu, South Korea, in 2012. Aside from being great vacation destinations, I've come to love the spectacle and wonder of the corporate and theme Pavilions, and the charm and curiosity of the international pavilions.
Did you notice any discernible trends while visiting the Expo 2012 pavilions in Yeosu?
I noticed more experiences being led by performers, both as cultural ambassadors of their countries’ rich dance or music heritage, or as fully integrated players within a narrative experience of an exhibition. Those performers added a definite human quality to the extravagant pyrotechnics, dancing robots, and giant projection-mapped experiences abundant throughout the fair.
As I understand it, that challenge of performing live alongside wow-inducing elements is something you have some personal experience with.
Yes. I had my own battle with multimedia many years ago as a science theatre actor when I was asked to perform in an iMax-scaled planetarium show, Where in the Universe is Carmen Sandiego at the Orlando Science Center. The show took place on a small platform in front of a screen measuring 8,000 square feet in the Dr. Phillips CineDome. Giant screen, tiny Marcos. I led the audience through a 30-minute romp around the Universe. Carmen was one of the hardest theatre experiences I’ve ever performed because of the difficulty of capturing anyone's attention when a giant Saturn was flying over my head.
So which of the live presentations at Expo 2012 were most successful, in your opinion?
Very few of the media productions and performances at World Expos are in multiple languages, and I have to admit that I was often a bit lost in translation while viewing video and multimedia presentations in Yeosu. It was easier to understand live presentations because I could at least read body language. Having said that, I think one of the most successful live presentations was in the Lotte Pavilion. When visitors walked into the exhibition hall, they were transported into a large garden with whimsical Cirque-du-Soliel-esque characters greeting and teasing everyone. After waiting for 90 minutes in the sweltering sun, this warm, personal, and silly experience actually made me immediately smile. Everyone was encouraged to sit down on the ground and the performers enacted a short pre-show performance. I have no clue what the show was about, other than it was silly, but it put me in the right mood to progress to the next experience which was a digital balloon ride complete with 360-degree surround screens and ride-show attendants dressed in steam-punk attire.
I loved the Lotte Pavilion as well. In fact, its hot-air balloon presentation received the Honorable Mention in our Expo 2012 Awards competition for Best Presentation. What other presentations impressed you?
The main feature of the Marine Industry & Technology Pavilion was an interactive show where you were introduced to a very hip researcher who could have doubled for one of Korea’s emerging K-Pop superstars. He performed on a large set that was configured with many projection and video screens and interactive media. At the climax of the performance, he popped up next to an amazing display of a car that had an exquisitely elaborate projection-mapped media presentation. The projection mapping on the car-shaped screen was unbelievably futuristic, but by placing a live human next to the display of media, the audience was allowed to further suspend their disbelief. The human added to the media in a way that brought the fancy bells and whistles into lived experience.
I completely agree. Aside from the high-tech bells and whistles of projection mapping, did you find any other successful, low-tech presentations?
Cultural performances were sprinkled throughout the entire expo. Some were elaborately staged in specific performance venues as major public programs, and others were embedded into specific exhibitions. The Thailand Pavilion added a wonderful performance stage to the exterior of the pavilion, and included cultural performances of Thai dance that contributed to the interior narrative. This was a much-needed experience, as lines for this particular pavilion were long. It also increased exposure to Thailand for those just passing by and added value to people waiting in line. The China Pavilion also integrated dance into its larger narrative. After the audience watched a beautiful animated movie about dolphins, the screens lifted to reveal two ballet dancers who performed a moving duet between a young girl and a representational dolphin. The performance helped visitors to connect on a human level. And the language of dance communicated to a broad, multi-lingual audience.
Speaking of long lines, some pavilions effectively used another form of live presentation, albeit a more informal one: well-trained staffers, who engaged attendees while they waited.
What made those ridiculous waits bearable were talented and friendly pavilion staff members who were genuinely interested in providing excellent exhibition experiences. For many of these young staff members, this was no easy task. Many of the pavilions herded thousands of people in and out every hour, and by my visit in August, Korea was in the middle of a relentless heat wave. So how did staff stay so friendly? I believe it was because many staff members were well prepared, trained by the best in customer service, and genuinely were proud of their product — which was, in most cases, their home country. You can never underestimate the importance of a well-trained, informed staff.
That was definitely true at Expo 2012, but also true at every trade show I’ve ever attended. I think exhibitors and event managers often forget that no matter how great their exhibit or pavilion is, the people interacting with attendees become the brand personified, and can absolutely impact the experience for better or worse. Do you have any examples of exceptional staffers from Expo 2012?
A very tall interpreter in the Lituania Pavilion went out of his way — at the end of the day — to explain the importance of amber to Lithuania. I know that this was a great experience because out of the 98 country pavilions I visited, I somehow remember that Lithuania is home to one of the largest insects frozen in amber. That’s not something I would have learned, nor retained, without the personal interactions I had with that staffer. I had another such experience in the Singapore Pavilion. I’ve never thought of visiting Singapore, but after chatting with one of the cultural representatives in the Singapore Pavilion who was so excited about her own country, it’s now on my radar for future international travel. All throughout the expo, young staff members who were often away from their country for the first or second time genuinely transmitted national pride to thousands of visitors. This sincere expression made me more curious about possible traveling, and made me contemplate when I “phone it in” on an exhibition floor or am actually excited about the content that I’m working with.
In your mind, what’s the key to making sure your informal performers (i.e. your staffers) make a positive, memorable impression rather than a negative one?
Training, knowledge, and sincerity of staff made a huge difference in my experience at Expo 2012. It’s a good reminder of how important staff can be to the exhibition experience. Being an American at the Expo prompted many Asian staff members to flex their English skills. Without fail, I would ask the more gregarious staffers if they had ever been to the United States, and I was surprised at how many Koreans had traveled abroad to work at Disney. I was born in Orlando, Florida, so foreign-exchange workers or students were a common occurrence.
|Marcos Stafne, Ph.D,. has served as the director of education and visitor experience for the Rubin Museum of Art and previously worked at the Orlando Science Center, Orange County Historical Center, and as the director of public programs and traveling exhibitions at NYSCI. Marcos holds a Ph.D. in Urban Education from the CUNY Graduate Center, and is the publications officer for the International Museum Theatre Alliance.
The staff members trained in Disney’s hallmark visitor service definitely had a handle on how to be friendly in hot, stressful situations. While some people feel that Disney employees might be a little sugary sweet, when you’re tired, cranky, and away from home, the extra smiles and friendly conversation made such a difference to my daily experience.
So what can exhibit and event marketers learn from both the formal live presentations and the less formal but more personal “presentations” by staffers and ambassadors?
Presentations add a much needed human face to an event like a World Expo. But in any context, live performances help to entertain, lighten the mood, engage, and broadly reach visitors. Presentations can help to convey difficult concepts and even overcome language barriers. When people enter an exhibition or a pavilion, we want them to be curious and excited, to learn something, and to feel comfortable in our space. Impressive media can definitely inspire and build intrigue, but human mediated experiences can leave lasting memories and increase positive visitor interaction.