When I was five, my family and I went on a holiday with some friends to a small rural town in France. It was a little community complex – comprised of three cottages, an old barn and a swimming pool – frequented predominately by unattended Gallic chickens, who would idly wander about the place with poetic nonchalance. Not quite like modern holiday complexes today, but hey, this was the late 80s. And it had a swimming pool. A pool! My best friend and I could hardly believe our eyes.
Within seconds of arrival, my buddy was sans clothes and diving head first into the pool, swanning and splashing about with reckless abandon, a regular David Hasselhoff. His mother turns to me and says, “Patrick, darling, can you swim?” Get her! Can I swim? I am swim, I tell her in no uncertain terms. How hard can it be? And in I dive.
Anchored to the bottom of the pool, surely moments from death’s door, a clothed angel sweeps down and pulls me away from the light. I am flung onto the grass, spluttering and disorientated. The angel is speaking in contrived calm tones. “I thought you said you could swim?” the angel implores (my friend’s mum). “I can,” I swiftly retort, “…with armbands.”
Which brings me to my first major exhibition, and it was an unforgettable experience in many ways – chiefly in the things that I discovered you can only really learn ‘by doing’. Now I must confess, like the swimming pool, I may have slightly and foolishly underestimated just how testing the task ahead of me was going to be…
Don’t get me wrong, I was foretold by the old-hands and seasoned pros at AD about how all-encompassing and frantic exhibitions are. Hardened and fortified by countless weeks at Ipex, drupa, Interpack, FESPA etc, my stalwart colleagues were fantastically forthcoming with their beaten trade show bibles and manuals, filled to the brim with aged, mustard yellow pages emphasising the do’s and don’ts of exhibitions.
However, it turns out you can only prepare so much. Exhibitions are a world of their own, and a very personal experience. Below are a few notes I jotted down:
- Similar to music festivals, extended length trade events are encased in their own little bubble. When an entire industry congregates in one place to talk business, it creates a frenetic atmosphere that takes over all your senses. This means that you run on pure adrenalin for the bulk of the event and afterwards you will feel flat, blue and empty. So ensure you take up something equally as energy consuming during the post-show blues, like squash or zorbing
- Wear and alternate shoes that have been worn-in prior to the event. This may sound simple and obvious, but show floors are populated with visitors and exhibitors rubbing their feet, rueing the damage caused by their brand new shiny shoes. And it’s one of the rare times no-one actually looks at your feet. Crocs have been spotted
- Stick to one form of communication at any given time. If you’re on the phone, don’t try and send an email. If you’re on the radio, don’t send a tweet. You will go mad
- Create a routine. You will be working solidly for 15-18 hours, so it’s best to become institutionalised. From the type of cereal you have at the hotel, to the route you take to your morning meeting, DO NOT DEVIATE. Deviation leads to thoughts. Thoughts lead to insanity and you don’t want this (please see previous bullet point)