Why is Change so Painful?

Photo: FreeImages.com/ Catalin Pop

It seems last month’s post on Reinventing the Trade Show Floor touched a few nerves. First, there were a handful of unsubscribes from my monthly ezine. Then there were some heated comments in social media.

It’s always amazing how pointing out the obvious can get people so fired up. You’ve got to wonder where the root of all that defensive ire is coming from. Sometimes I think it’s because facing change is painful.

Oh sure, there are valid points among the foot stomping:

  • “Exhibitors don’t want things on the show floor that take attendees away from booths.” – True, but aren’t these show floor attractions also drawing people into the show and encouraging them to wander among the booths? It’s not the show organizer’s job to get people into any individual booth, but simply to create an environment where attendees can discover what exhibitors have to offer. Then it’s up to each exhibitor to create an irresistible in-booth experience and draw them in.
  • “Technology is getting in the way.” – This is the wrong perspective. Actually, technology should be enabling even more creative ways to interact and attract attendees. But of course again that assumes exhibitors know how to make the most of it.

Of course the ideas being successfully implemented at certain shows may not be right for others. Just because one show has found success with product theaters doesn’t mean that another might not end up keeping attendees too busy to walk the floor. It’s all a delicate balance that involves some degree of experimentation, and also a risk of failure.

If you go back to the examples in the previous post, you’ll see that most of them involved sponsorship opportunities for exhibitors to participate in all of these add-on special features. How is that bad? (Other than the fact that exhibitors must take action and make the investment … but then isn’t that why they’re exhibiting – to get a bigger ROI?)

But the key to accomplishing all of these things is for exhibitors to be better educated and prepared to deliver can’t-miss, knock-your-socks-off experiences. (But that’s a topic for another day …)

A far-too-common thread in all of this is the fact that the trade show industry is not exactly the most cutting-edge, always-trying-something-new kind of community. In fact, often during weekly ExpoChats, an innovative comment thread often evolves into questions like “why aren’t more shows doing x?” or “has anyone tried strategy y?” So with that in mind, here are a few tips to help you navigate the sea of change … which is inevitably coming, like it or not:

  • Let go of the “way things used to be.” Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. Give new ideas or approaches time to catch hold. What may seem like a bad idea now might turn out to be the greatest thing since the invention of the light bulb. (Which, by the way, was not without its share of critics in the beginning.)
  • Acknowledge that change happens whether we like it or not. Accept it and learn from it.
  • Look for the good parts. If you can’t instantly get on board with the change, at least try to understand the underlying factors that are driving that change. If the overall idea scares you, break it down to find the aspects that you can embrace.
  • Focus on the one thing you can control. While you may not be able to stop or even slow down unwanted change, you can always control how you react.
  • Take a deep breath. Before you go off ranting, raving and protesting, take a time out. Talk it over with a friend (calmly) to gain some fresh perspective. Often a great way to do this is with a walk-and-talk. Exercising your body while you work through something troubling helps purge the stress in both your body and your mind.
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Marlys Arnold

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community. To request an “Extra Shot of Exhibit Success” go to www.ExhibitMarketersCafe.com.

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