The frantic search to remember whether I had any business cards was an unexpected – but timely – reminder that the post-pandemic future might be coming soon. For the first time in 18 months, I handed over a physical business card this week.
A bit like buses
Face-to-face events were like buses for me this week (as the cliché goes) – “wait 18 months for one and two come along at once”. The first – ISE, a security show at Olympia, was entertaining for several reasons. There seemed to be a huge appetite for people to attend and network with colleagues, enhanced by the venue itself, which always seems full however many people are in it. Staffing a booth for a client on the first morning there was a visible buzz in the hall with thousands of people looking to establish new connections or renew old ones – all without face masks.
Later the same week – and after a journey of trains, tubes and a cable car – I arrived at Excel (formerly known as the Nightingale Hospital) for the Business Travel Show. Whether it was the venue (I always find Excel a particularly soulless venue for an event) or the industry, the discernible buzz was missing, replaced with a more formal and restrained ambiance. Let’s face it, the travel industry is only now starting to emerge from its 18 month shutdown and it will probably be another year before it regains the confidence associated with the Olympia event.
Is it the end for events?
Many people predicted the pandemic was the death of the events industry. If I am being honest, I thought it would be almost impossible for conferences and exhibitions to ever recover. Two key corporate priorities are currently being more environmentally conscious and demonstrating a duty of care to employees. For these reasons combined, I expect it to be a long time before large corporates are happy to let their employees fly or attend events unless absolutely necessary. The associated cost savings are, of course, just a secondary benefit.
Since spending time at events this week however, I am now convinced the industry will bounce back – likely faster than expected. It is easy to forget the base human need to meet and interact with others. The adrenaline high provided by simply attending an event, meeting people and networking shocked me. I am not sure it is normal to enjoy the International Security Expo that much but it suggests to me that rumours of the events industry’s demise are hugely exaggerated.