November might generally be an uneventful month, but not for the events industry. For us, it’s time to do business and reunite in person at one of the biggest and most exciting trade shows in our industry: IMEX! This week, Nick, Thuy, and Will review their experience at IMEX America 2021, held for the very first time at Mandalay Bay.
Everyone was looking forward to going to IMEX America 2021, especially since the iconic trade show was canceled last year due to COVID. The Brew Crew talks about their highlights, lowlights, COVID compliance, the stepping challenge, and much more. It’s a quintessential Event Brew episode, so don’t miss it out!
IMEX America 2021 & COVID Compliance
First, they addressed the COVID-compliance at IMEX America 2021. “It felt like an unofficial kickoff to the way to do business and large scale events internationally in the United States. It was based on the CLEAR Pass app. The app was used as your passport to get into the show – to show off that you are a vaccinated individual,” says Nick.
This was the second time Will used the CLEAR Pass and just like the first time, it all went smoothly. However, he wonders what was the purpose of the wristbands at IMEX 2021. “You had to get your CLEAR Pass checked by someone, and then they give you a green wristband. But what’s the point in us all having these wristbands if you have to be vaccinated to get in?”
Thuy explains. “I attended the pre-show staff meeting and they had a plan for several scenarios. The green wristbands had something to do with that. Because even though everyone attending had to be vaccinated, the onsite staff wanted to make sure that, you couldn’t cross certain checkpoints without those things. I thought they did a great job. It was very brave to mandate vaccinations because they are a global conference and trade show.”
“This is potentially going to influence thousands of events that will do the same thing. That is probably a really good thing because their system was easy to use,” Nick adds.
And what did the Brew Crew like best about IMEX America 2021? Will says that “the theme of this year was getting to hug each other, not do business”. Similar to what Nick said about MPI WEC 2021! “It didn’t feel like anyone was there to have serious meetings. It was more about running into each other, trying to catch up with everybody. I had seen people I haven’t seen physically for two years.”
That was Will’s highlight. What about a lowlight? “We told all of our team members to come to IMEX America 2021, but not many made it.”
Speaking of team members, Nick chimes in. “I would say a highlight for me is the fact that a lot of our team did go,” he says. “We had around 18 people there, which was great. I’ve worked with them remotely, and then you get to spend some time with them face-to-face and it’s really great. I had people from abroad who were able to make it over to the States. A few team members were in Las Vegas for the first time, which was fun to be around.”
What Year Is It Again?
Nick’s lowlight doesn’t have anything to do with IMEX America 2021 itself, but rather some of the conversations he overheard. “A lot of people were talking about how they’re excited to go back to the way things were. To me, that is the most like wincing, eye-rolling kind of thing to say.”
Thuy asks Nick to elaborate. “There was a fair amount of people who had told me that their clients specifically were looking for events that were the same as they used to be,” Nick explains. “Because they feel like they had the perfect formula. And now they’re finally able to do go back to the way that they used to design events, which is such a waste.”
“Because it’s easier to do so. Humans want to shy away from any negative emotion,” says Thuy.
“Even IMEX 2021 felt like 2019,” adds Will. “If someone popped me down there and didn’t tell me what year it was, I would probably have told you that I was at IMEX 2019.”
BuzzHub & Virtual Attendance At IMEX America 2021
“One of the things that would make you think that you’re in 2021 would be the virtual portion of the event. However, there wasn’t an option for that at IMEX 2021,” continues Nick and opens a new topic of conversation. According to their estimates, 90% attended in-person, while 10% joined the trade show virtually.
“There was the BuzzHub, but we weren’t encouraged to download the app, run the chat, or build our schedule. Most attendees just showed up like in previous years,” says Will.
“Does that count as a hybrid event?” wonders Thuy. “Because they were definitely focused on in-person. Additionally, they gave their digital audience the choice of BuzzHub.”
“I feel like there were two separate events, happening at the same time. That’s why I feel like it’s not really hybrid,” replies Will.
“For me, it’s about inclusivity. What do you do to get as close to 50/50 as possible to be as inclusive of the experiences that people want to have? How can you treat types of attendees as if they’re valuable, not as if they’re an afterthought?”
Nick Beat Thuy At IMEX’s Stepping Challenge!
“I just have to mention that Nick beat me at the stepping challenge,” says Thuy. “You took seventh and I took eighth. I was laughing so hard when that happened. Do you know the length of the IMEX trade show floor is five football fields?”
“That sounds right,” replies Nick. “I interviewed Rachael Riggs from Maritz who was in charge of the wellbeing aspects of IMEX America 2021. You could post once per day on each one of the social media platforms to give you a thousand steps. And I asked Rachael how that equates to steps. It seems antithetical. She said that they have created five pillars of well-being. One of them is social wellbeing. That clarity helped a lot.”
Trade Shows & Event Design
Nick thinks that the way trade shows are designed hasn’t changed all that much in the last 100 years. “I don’t think that people who run trade shows design their events. Which is a terrible thing to say, but hear me out. What percentage of time do you spend at a trade show in trade show booths?”
“What I’m getting at is the fact that the booths themselves are a large percentage of time when it comes to the experience itself,” continues Nick. “But I don’t see a lot of trade shows that get into it with the trade show booths and talk about their design in a way to make it cohesive and to create an intentional experience. It’s a very disjointed experience. It’s no different from an intentional design experience than how flea markets operate.”
Here’s what Nick thinks would make for a truly next-level experience from a design standpoint. “Every time an exhibitor would come in and say they’re interested in buying a booth from you, you would have a discussion about design to make it a cohesive experience so it fit the organizing principle of your entire event. You would have some kind of guidance. But imagine if this wasn’t a trade show but rather a big event space. And in that big event space, 90% of the square footage was filled up with other people, DJs, florists, et cetera. But no designer was saying what to do with flowers, what music should they play. You would say that this is not a designed experience.”
In-Person Events Are Tiring!
“We need to address that everyone gets mentally exhausted during any year of IMEX America. But this year, even more so because people forgot what it felt like to be social,” says Thuy. “I felt the atmosphere changed Wednesday and Thursday. You could see it in their eyes that they were just tired.”
While she was excited to be back to IMEX America in 2021, she also remembered some not-so-pleasant things about going to in-person conferences. “I didn’t miss those non-genuine connections, sales pitches, talking about the same old things. Now, I want to reserve my energy. I have less tolerance than I used to.”
“Yes, me too,” agrees Nick. “I’ll walk straight out of presentations, more than I ever used to. And I don’t think the quality of content has gone down. I just think that my thirst for content has gone down because of how easy it is to find it.”
IMEX: Biggest, Best & Most Influential
“IMEX is one of those events that can make a huge difference,” says Nick. “They’re the best and biggest show. It’s where the most commerce happens. There’s probably the most amount of change-makers and high-level people that are at that event where there’s a lot of booths and salespeople.
“They could accelerate certain change by years in one move,” he adds. “The type of change that would probably happen anyway, but it will happen over grueling periods of time like hybrid events. We’ve been saying that hybrid is the future for years, and then last year, everyone’s knocking at the door asking to talk about it again.”
People are willing to hear you after the fact, but Nick wants to get ahead of the game. “And IMEX would be one of the best events to inspire people to do that.”
In conclusion, the Brew Crew absolutely loved seeing each other at IMEX America 2021 and are already excited for what the next year will bring. A hybrid solution, perhaps? We’ll have to wait and see!