There was a time when the lines between the “business world” and the “personal world” were clearly defined and separated. There may have been some crossover in the sense that socializing is a part of doing business (this applies with an even greater impact to the meetings industry). But for the most part, the social issues and lifestyle trends that were happening outside of the face-to-face marketplace stayed out of sight at our business events and trade shows.

Now, that time has passed and we are entering a new age of change in the way we conduct business — one in which the doors between these worlds are opening. How much this reality affects other industries varies, but it certainly plays a significant role in how today’s exhibitions and events are organized — or at least, it should. It’s not always easy to adapt to change, especially if you’ve become comfortable with one standard of operating. But embracing the changes in our industry leads to more business growth, personal connection and, ultimately, increased success for your event.

Diversity inspires change

The biggest change we have seen is in the diversity among our attendees. Today’s attendees represent monumentally vast ranges in age, ethnicity and social background. The challenge for the event organizer is to create an experience that resonates across the entire spectrum. For Expo! Expo!, IAEE’s annual meeting and exhibition, this translates into creating an inclusive environment that meets the diverse needs of the professionals who attend our shows.

Your business associates and clients no longer need to check their diversity at the door. It is an integral part of who they are, and a part you need to connect with if you want to do business with them.

One of IAEE’s strategies is to lead with our head and our hearts. Research tells us that today’s attendees want to feel a connection with their business associates, so we’ve developed a more mindful approach to how we structure our educational offerings. We have paid attention to the feedback from our focus groups, such as women’s initiatives, young professionals, the LGBTQ community and industry veterans.

The result is an exciting array of education and networking opportunities that blow away the older business model — which had become, quite frankly, stale for many attendees. Each year, we explore new concepts for Expo! Expo!’s over 100 learning sessions that include innovative ideas such as mega-rooms, campfire-style chats, learning “pit stops,” new product theatres and “vibe” lounges to make a three-day work education extravaganza much more palatable to every attendee.

However, some things do stand the test of time, so we haven’t done away with all traditional concepts. We still have the learning tracks that delve into important topics such as the science and technology of a show, global insights, attendee marketing, show design and strategy, exhibitor sales and sponsorship, and leadership and management. The idea is to fuse concepts that satisfy the practical needs of attendees with impactful presentations that make them want to attend the event year after year.

Enjoyment inspires connection

Your attendees need to enjoy being at your show. This is another significant change at hand: people want to have fun. True, they are attending your show as a business trip and not a vacation. They’re getting paid to work, not to play. However, the new perception is that work can — and should — involve enjoyment, and research shows that attendees have come to expect both from events.

It may feel like a lot to consider and work around, but the success of face-to-face commerce is based on the personal connections made between buyers and sellers. Nowadays, the “outside world” plays a vital role in how people view themselves. Your business associates and clients no longer need to check their diversity at the door. It is an integral part of who they are, and a part you need to connect with if you want to do business with them.