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fixing snafus
illustration: Regan Dunnick
A Matter of Perspective
My manager explained that there was "a huge problem" and suggested I get to the booth immediately. I wasn't sure what the trouble was, but his tone told me to hightail it toward the exhibit and ask questions later.
Plan A
Life is all about perspective. After all, one person's beautiful red sports car is another person's hideous "midlife-crisis-mobile." This point was made clear to me during the Microscopy and Microanalysis show in Indianapolis a few years ago.

My company, Bruker AXS Inc., provides various electron-microscope analyzers. We planned to host myriad demos in our booth, using everything from iPads and kiosks to monitors and huge scanning electron microscopes. At this particular show we also were debuting an island exhibit. As is often the case, the new-build process was lengthy and required many approvals across the board. But everyone had signed off on the design weeks before we arrived in Indianapolis.

The show opened on Monday, so I arrived on site on Friday and found that setup was proceeding smoothly. On Saturday, however, install was a fire storm from start to finish. While almost all the structures were up, Old Man Murphy wreaked havoc with our technical program. First, our microscopes, which were central to the demos, weren't cooperating. As soon as one of our scientists fixed that snafu, the iPads, which were linked to the monitors via wireless connections, lost connectivity. That patch proved a bit more challenging, and it took me and my audiovisual crew most of Saturday to work out all the kinks.

Nevertheless, when I stood back to survey our handiwork at the end of the day, everything was in order. The exhibit looked just like our renderings, and we were ready for business. So I gave myself a mental pat on the back and headed to my hotel to enjoy some well-earned shuteye.

After a good night's rest, I met some colleagues for a leisurely breakfast, as I didn't have anything scheduled for the day except to greet several arriving company VIPs and provide an informal tour of the booth. But as I returned to my hotel room, I received an urgent text from a scientist already at the booth. It simply read: "There is big trouble." No sooner had I read the message than my phone rang. It was my manager, who was on the show floor with the VIPs – who to my chagrin had arrived early. As succinct as a street sign, my manager explained that there was "a huge problem" and suggested I get to the booth immediately. I wasn't sure what this terrible trouble was, but the tone of his voice told me to hightail it toward the exhibit and ask questions later.

As I sped toward the convention center, my mind raced. I envisioned anything and everything that exhibit managers fear the most: fire, flood, graphic gouges, or a complete electrical fry. What could have happened to the beautiful new booth I left in perfect condition on the show floor no more than 16 hours ago?

Plan B
I finally made it to the hall and flew down the aisle toward our booth. As it came into view, I scanned it left to right and top to bottom, desperately searching for this "huge" problem. But from my perspective, there was nothing wrong with the exhibit. It looked exactly as it had the night before. No deluge. No brimstone. No electrical fry down. I almost had the nerve to be disappointed.

But as I surveyed the scene, my manager and the VIPs approached me and laid out their laundry list of problems with the design that they had previously approved. One person thought the hanging sign was suspended too far off the ground. Another took issue with the location of a kiosk. And someone else wasn't happy with the placement of the reception desk I'd repositioned during setup. Plus, everybody was miffed about a modular arch whose suspended banner had a visible ripple. Granted, I had to agree with them on the ripple, which I'd somehow missed amid the technological turmoil of the previous day. But for the most part, this huge problem was a matter of perspective.

Even though I didn't share that perspective, it was my job to make things right, despite the fact that I'd cut my labor crew the night before and my lead had probably already made the four-hour drive back to his house in Chicago. As my head swam with details about electrical placement, labor crews, and rigging equipment (oh my), I assured the VIPs that I'd take care of everything and hastily hustled them out of the booth.

Once they were gone, I made a panicked call to my crew lead and told him I needed him at the show ASAP. Thankfully, for some reason he'd spent the night in Indianapolis instead of driving home, so he said he'd be right over. Problem was, I'd have to pay him and his crew the four-hour minimum and double time, since it was Sunday. With little choice, I acquiesced to reality. The lead showed up about 20 minutes later, as did roughly four doubly expensive workers. First, they tackled the one ill-placed kiosk. The structure had a heavy metal plate at the bottom, so simply scooting it to a new spot wasn't an option. Rather, they turned it one direction, then slightly lifted and rotated it in another direction. In effect, they "walked" the kiosk to its new location by brute force.

Next, they set about moving the reception counter, to which electrical had already been run. After emptying the desk, they threaded the cord under the carpet to the unit's new locale and moved it into the VIPs' desired position. In the meantime, they brought in a hoist to reach the suspended sign and lowered it as much as its attached motor would allow.

Finally, the crew turned their attention to the rippled arch. Given the significant size of the element and the somewhat flimsy material used in its construction, removing the blemish would be nearly impossible. Instead, we decided to shorten the structure, thereby eliminating the ripple-causing "give" in the material. And since its newly shortened length made it look rather odd in its previous location, we maneuvered it over the kiosk, where it drew added attention to the display.

The labor crew was just putting the finishing touches on the stand as my manager and the VIPs sauntered in. My stomach clenched, and I held my breath as they eyeballed the many requested changes. Thankfully, they collectively pronounced the new design "approved" (again) and ambled away as carefree as they'd arrived. Meanwhile, my crew and I exhaled a huge sigh of relief.

Clearly, despite your best-laid plans, something or someone can always add a touch of mayhem to a seemingly perfect design. When that happens, you just have to change your attitude – along with your perspective – and go with the flow.

— Kodi Morton, senior events specialist, Bruker AXS Inc., Madison, WI

Send your Plan B exhibiting experiences to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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