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360 Live Media is an event strategy and digital marketing agency in Washington, D.C. serving association, professional society, and not-for-profit conferences.
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360 The Meetings And Trade Show Industrial Complex

The Meetings and Trade Show Industrial Complex—The Box

It’s a fact: Most conferences, annual meetings, trade shows and professional events are designed, developed and delivered in a formulaic, predictable and conventional fashion. In fact, many are ironically called a Convention. They are a reflection of in-the-box thinking. When you really think about it, a box is the perfect metaphor.


Everything at a typical convention is a box: The hotel bed you sleep in, the packaging for your cereal, the bus or taxi you take to the convention center. Yep, a box. Then you walk into the big-box trade show, with smaller boxes of exhibit booths, and you sit in a concrete box to hear a speaker standing on their soap box telling you about their out-of-the-box thinking. You use the box in your pocket to take a picture of the box diagram on the box screen at the front of the room. You then check the boxes on a questionnaire before you offer your business card, a paper box, to the attendee next to you (wonder if he’s wearing boxers?).


How did we get here, to the land of the box? Today’s professional events are boxes because the economies of scale, efficiencies and the predictability of the box have worked for so long. It all fits…built for stacking, mass consumption, efficient movement, logistics, lower cost and low maintenance. The average convention center is a mind-numbing, soul-sucking and humanity-deprived cavernous box, replete with thin carpet, few windows, subarctic temperatures, uncomfortable chairs and bad, expensive food.


It’s not the fault of the meetings and trade show industrial complex; every one of these convention centers and the companies that work in the industry have built this infrastructure for a good reason, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.


So what’s the answer? First, let’s ask the right question: what are we trying to accomplish?


I’ll tell you: It’s to bring human beings together to achieve what Abraham Maslow tells us is one of our fundamental human needs—the need for belonging. Belonging and community are two of the most important elements of life. Face-to-face gatherings of human beings must be evaluated through these filters: does it connect us, bind us and make us feel a greater sense of belonging? I posit that live events should liberate the human spirit, influence hearts and minds, and impact behavior. A high bar, but why strive for less?


We are not bound by the box—the box can work to our advantage. Think of the box you just watched your favorite movie on, or the performance at the box on Broadway, or the inspirational message delivered by MLK at the base of the box on the Mall.


Ask yourself, why? Why are you having your 148th, or 25th or 77th annual meeting? Is it the money, the education, the trade show, the networking? It’s not. Your event should unite, inspire, advance and celebrate your audience. Not easy to do in the box, but it can be done. Knowing the true purpose of your event—the why, the raison d’être—changes everything.


There is a renaissance coming, a new era of live professional events that will deliver meaning, influence, greater learning, relationship-based commerce and a new level of thinking and feeling that will move your audience to step out of the box and thank you for a deeper sense of belonging. What are you waiting for? Today is a great day to look at your events through a new lens. Start by asking, why not?

Don Neal Headshot

A marketing thought leader, speaker, teacher, and advisor, Don Neal brings his Madison Avenue experience to help organizations see their opportunities in a new light. He is passionate about helping organizations accelerate the trajectory of their success.

Don Neal
Founder & CEO
360 Live Media

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