What a difference a pandemic makes.

It’s that time of year in which companies in all industries would be gearing up for trade show season. But this year’s festivities have been rudely interrupted by COVID-19, which means many shows are being cancelled or postponed. Others, however, are being held virtually.

As a complete aside, I love the philosophical implications of that term. Virtual. Does that mean this year’s shows, which will be attended online by people quarantining in place, will be less real than their predecessors? How do we know their predecessors were real, not just figments of marketing imaginations? I can remember numerous occasions, after standing all day in some exhibition hall, with my feet aching, my ankles swollen, and my back feeling as if I’d contracted adult-onset scoliosis, saying: “This is unreal!” Could I have been correct? And are people likely to spend all day, let alone consecutive days, online to be blitzed with marketing messages and sales pitches? Call me crazy. But I have my doubts.

Where Was I?

Oh, yeah. Trade show season. The fact that some events will be held virtually constitutes the quintessential good news/bad news situation. The good news is exhibitors won’t have to trot out the tried, true, and trifling traditions they, their marketing departments, and their sales teams have been practicing faithfully for years:

  1. Sweating bullets over the budget.
  2. Getting a bigger booth space than they need.
  3. Trying to beat the exorbitant union installation and dismantling fees.
  4. Not making any appointments ahead of time.
  5. Sitting in the booth during the show without making eye contact or conversation.
  6. Heading back to their hotel rooms after exhibit hours to order room service and watch movies or …
  7. Showing up at every free hospitality suite, cocktail hour, and dinner party they can find.
  8. Going back to the office when it’s over and saying it was a lousy show.
  9. Having to justify the room-service and movie-rental charges on their expense accounts because they could have gone to every free hospitality suite, cocktail hour, and dinner party instead.
  10. Trying to figure out how to justify the budget for next year’s show.

The Flipside

The bad news, of course, is we’ll all have to get used to a new tradition, even if it’s only for a year. If we’re on Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, or some other virtual platform (wait — is the platform real?), we might have to actually talk to people. We might have to be unfamiliar things like engaging and interesting. We might need good stories to tell, professionally and personally. Worst of all, we won’t have anything like booths, hotel rooms, free hospitality suites, cocktail hours, and dinner parties in which to hide.

Who would ever have imagined the new normal would be virtual reality?

Grandpa O’Brien was right: “Strange things are happening.”