I attended several "live events" this month -- trade shows, conferences, a fan fest, and a speed networking event. I'm happy to report that name tags, eye contact and business cards are alive and well, despite the rapid and never-ending expansion of digital media.
I've met and broken bread with knitters (and the people who own knitting stores), foodies, summer camp owners and their staffs, country club moguls and service providers and even people who are fans of hot sauce and spicy beverages made with peppers.
As Seth Godin says in his book Tribes, "For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate."
Sometimes these tribes get together to sample and see new products and to buy and sell. The tribe leaders are simply people who recognize that a community exists and organize an industry or consumer group to convene to celebrate, connect and do business.
Although no one entity tracks the number of expos worldwide, estimates all seem to be in the neighborhood of at least 50,000. That's a lot of free samples and smiling!
Ironically, very little has changed about the live event model since the beginning of time. People set up tables, much the way they did in medieval marketplaces. They give trial offers of their products to visitors, and they negotiate deals with prospective buyers.
But what differs from event to event is the "culture" of the community. For example, the knitters all brought their crafts along to the event and shared tips with one another. The camp people tended to congregate together with their "bunks" and displayed lots of spirit. Country club folk were hospitable and well-dressed. The foodies are all about tasting and sharing their tastes. The pepper people (chiliheads, as they are called) were by far the most fascinating tribe. They are both competitive (who can eat the hottest peppers) and collaborative (the companies that exhibit had a palpable sense of camaraderie and mutual respect).
Tom Hewell is the co-creator of a new spice called Lucifer. The company sold more than 50 cases (or 600 individual bottles) of their product in just two days at the N.Y.C. Hot Sauce Expo. New to the world of events, Hewell says, "The hot sauce community is a fraternal one. Those who have come before us lead the way and help the beginners. We wouldn't be anywhere without the help and guidance of industry veterans."
Events can also be a good indication of which industries are on the upswing. For example, the top trade shows in Canada include many centered around food and agriculture.
Some form of music, entertainment or feasting usually accompanies the community-building and commerce of events. SXSW, which began as a music event in 1987 has grown from 700 to 47,000 attendees and the conference has grown to include film and high-tech companies and attracts visitors from around the world. Partying with ones colleagues is something that clearly never goes out of style.
Technology has enhanced the face-to-face experience at events. Some have their own apps, enabling visitors to pre-plan their schedules, arrange meetings, and keep in touch with people/companies they meet. Tablet-based credit card processing is prevalent, saving companies the hassle of counting cash.
We've come a long way from trading spices and swapping a goat for coins. But tribes are still converging, celebrating and conducting business in the marketplace. The show business remains big business.