Event Industry Advocates Share Stories, Highlight Powerful Turnout for Virtual Exhibitions Day 

June 5, 2020

Even a pandemic couldn’t stop the exhibitions and events industry from gathering to observe the seventh annual Exhibitions Day, held virtually for the first time on June 3. Instead of a 100-person delegation of event colleagues traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators and policy influencers, the online day of action drew in more than 1,600 participants.

Produced by IAEE and the Exhibitions Mean Business campaign, the one-day event is designed to mobilize industry professionals to raise awareness with elected officials of the $101 billion industry’s impact on local, national and global economies.

According to Exhibitions Mean Business officials, the exhibitions industry — which contributes more than $101 billion to the national GDP annually, supporting 3.2 million jobs and produces 32,000 exhibitions throughout the world — is key to reconnecting communities and rebuilding global economies post-COVID-19. 

Besides teaching participants how to become industry advocates and communicate with legislators, Exhibitions Day’s virtual programming included “breakout rooms” that allowed participants to collaborate with their peers in taking action, as well as themed “rooms” featuring fun activities such as virtual bourbon tastings; live music; yoga, meditation and wellness classes; and sharing positive industry news.

The event also lit up Twitter as event professionals far and wide shared social posts about their favorite exhibitions and what they enjoy most about working in the industry. According to IAEE officials, the #ExhibitionsDay hashtag drew 2.3 million impressions and reached almost 632,000 people.

TSNN checked in with some of the event’s speakers and hosts to see what they thought of this year’s virtual event. 

What was your biggest takeaway from the event this year? 

Amy Durkin, director of association events, National Catholic Educational Association: I am fortunate to work in an amazing industry. It is filled with dedicated, inspiring, and talented people. We will get through this together.   

Roger Rickard, founder and president, Voices in Advocacy: It was the number of people who stepped up to be effective advocates using the virtual platform to get the message to elected officials on the value, size and impact of exhibitions, meetings and events. The attendees were engaged and eager to take action to defend and protect their industry.

Mark Bogdansky, vice president, meetings and events, Auto Care Association: I always look forward to seeing how many people rally around our industry in D.C. each year, but this year, seeing over 1,600 register for this program blew my mind. We talk about the industry having a huge economic impact and how many people we employ, but seeing that many people want to get involved was so refreshing and rewarding. 

Susan McCart, president, HFI Event Services: I found our first virtual Exhibitions Day to be a refreshing and positive experience. So many industry colleagues are eager to help spread the word about our industry’s need to get back on our feet, but they didn’t know where to begin. During the breakout sessions, once I mentioned some of the issues from past Exhibition Day experiences, their brains [kicked] into gear and ideas started to flow.

Chris Griffin, president, CREW XP: It was a breath of fresh air to see such a sizable turnout from the live events community. Every person I encountered in the virtual meeting rooms was passionate about contributing to our industry’s recovery. I felt a genuine commitment from all participants.

It made me realize how much I love an industry that has given me so much. I will do whatever I can to fight for it. 

How was it different, for better or for worse, being virtual in 2020?  

Durkin: It was different — which isn’t bad, just different. It made me realize how much I love an industry that has given me so much. I will do whatever I can to fight for it. 

Rickard: The better part was the record number of people participating. We are building an army of advocates for the industry. Of course, the worst part was that this year had to be 100-percent virtual instead of face-to-face. It would be nice to see this level of involvement from this point going forward.  

Bogdansky: We got a lot more people involved than are able to get to D.C., so that was better. It was a little disappointing that we couldn’t be on the Hill, and I missed seeing everyone in person and meeting with Congresspeople and staffers. But there’s always next year, and now that we have so many new people who know how easy it is to be an advocate, I can’t wait to see how many of us will be in D.C. in 2021.

McCart: To me, it’s always preferable to meet face-to-face, but in reality, it would be hard to organize 1,000+ to converge on Congress for a day. One of the greatest takeaways is that IAEE has successfully enlisted an army of industry professionals who are willing to help tell our Congressional leaders that we’ve been severely impacted by this pandemic and we need their help to get back on our feet. We are a major engine in the U.S. economy, and if trade shows and exhibitions can resume, we can help get commerce moving again.

Griffin: With past in-person Exhibition Days on The Hill, it was about showing up and letting our elected representatives meet and see their constituents. Even with 15-minute meetings, that’s a powerful reminder that there are real people and businesses behind our $101 billion industry. With this year’s virtual event, I loved the fact that all participants got to learn some important how-tos of advocacy, and then complete hands-on advocacy tasks [such as] sending emails, posting tweets, posting messages on LinkedIn and Facebook, and sending messages directly to Congressional leaders. I think [actually] doing these things helped all attendees get past any intimidation of how to do [them], and this will make for more active advocates moving forward.

What (if anything) from this celebratory day inspired you to make a change and/or implement something new going forward?  

 Durkin: I co-hosted the Good News Network room with Rachel Wimberly. When I was putting together the slide deck, I was worried that my presentation wasn’t serious — that I needed to find actual good news and make people laugh. I put together my presentation, but mostly spoke from my heart. A few friends (new and old), have already reached out to me to say how much they enjoyed the good news. If my presentation brought a smile to the face of even one person, then I am happy.

Rickard: I see this event becoming a hybrid, with some people in D.C. walking the halls and meeting face-to-face with members of Congress and their staff, while others from across the country do their part virtually. Our success will only grow with the support of people whose lives are affected by the success or failure of live events.

Bogdansky: We learned how important it’s going to be to keep some virtual component to Exhibitions Day, even when we are back to meeting in person on Capitol Hill. We always [thought] there were people who wanted to be involved but couldn’t make it out for the day, but now we know there are people who want to be involved! The key is figuring out how to engage with them [virtually] while still having meaningful meetings on the Hill. We have a year to figure that out. 

Griffin: Seeing the passion and commitment of so many professionals in our industry...shows the power of what a few dedicated people can do to move important issues and our recovery ­forward!

Missed this year’s Exhibitions Day? Learn more about how you can be an advocate for the industry here. To access a social media toolkit, webinars and videos on issues affecting the exhibitions industry, legislative asks, advocacy tools and more, go here. To view video clips from the event, visit the CNTV website here.

What did you like most about this year’s virtual Exhibitions Day? Please comment below or engage with us on our Twitter and Facebook pages!

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