1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Empty gestures

Do you walk the talk?

I suppose it sounds like a platitude now, but when I was an idealistic young man, the advice to walk the talk really made me stop and think. Was I honoring the beliefs I publicly expressed, or just spouting things that I thought people wanted to hear? Being self-aware and intentional about what we say and do can be harder than it sounds. But after a long and varied career, I remain convinced that authenticity is essential for success, both for individuals and for brands.

Two recent events brought this notion top of mind.

One event was October’s IMEX America — the Worldwide Exhibition for Incentive Travel, Meetings, and Events. Many of the participating organizations have pledged to honor net-zero goals, and I was gratified to see the extent to which they are stepping up to the demands of sustainability. Historically, trade shows and conferences generated a lot of waste that wound up in landfills, but at this year’s IMEX, 92 percent of that waste was diverted. (This and other encouraging facts are posted on the IMEX website.)

The other thing that got me thinking about the “see/say” challenge was a BizBash article that referenced the book by Jacqueline Farrington, The Non-Obvious Guide to Better Presentations. In this case, the admonition to walk the talk was literal; it explores the many ways presenters unconsciously allow their body language to undermine their core message. Random gestures and aimless wandering around on stage can detract from the conviction or credibility we hope to convey.

Thinking about all the ways we risk creating incongruity got me thinking again about Freeman’s role as a leader in the events industry. We were deliberate about designing Freeman’s presence at IMEX in a way that walked the talk. We contributed to our sustainability commitment by bringing a new exhibit — one we will proudly repurpose for many years. It features a modular design (our own lightweight Flex panels), recycled wood, reusable vinyl flooring that features renewable soy-based padding, and many other ecofriendly materials. Significantly, the design incorporates QR codes that attendees can scan to learn about sustainable exhibit materials and apply these practices to their own booths. And because our stated purpose is to connect people in meaningful ways, we also hosted events designed to give people a space to mingle, share ideas, and just have fun.

But there is always more to be done and other events to consider. Are we, as an industry, still sending mixed signals? What message does our “event body language” telegraph to event participants? When registration is over complicated, when we herd attendees into long lines just to check their backpacks, when we fail to provide restful white space in a bustling convention center, and when we expect patrons to conform to an agenda that serves our needs over their own, what are we saying about our brands?

AI technology is redefining every aspect of the trade show and conventions industry. We know how to use it to refine our marketing data and generate more qualified leads. I trust we will also use it to find better ways to walk the talk in terms of anticipating attendees’ needs and honoring their core values. Do our presenters and programs reflect diverse thinking? Do people with special needs find our events accessible? Will the silent gestures we use alienate an already marginalized group?

These are the kinds of things I worry about. And it brings to mind another old adage: actions speak louder than words. Authenticity. Consistency. Acting with intent. That’s what people see. That’s what they remember.

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