Event Design

Show and Tell at xplore

What makes a meeting? Showing and Telling.

IMG_2586“Show, don’t tell” is one of the central tenets of good writing, but good meetings and conferences do a little bit of each, as The Expo Group demonstrated at its xplore mini seminar for meeting professionals last week. Expo Group’s genius touch with xplore was to tie a half-day conference program at the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, to an actual show it was producing — the GEOINT 2015 Symposium, presented by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), just across the street at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The program started with an elegantly simple sit-down lunch — delicious, but not too filling, the better to keep us sharp for the content ahead — followed by a typically mind-opening presentation by Velvet Chainsaw’s Jeff Hurt on “Strengthening Our Strategic Thinking.” Jeff’s three tips to become a more strategic thinker:

1. The brainpower of none: “The brain solves problems best by taking a break from the matter.” In other words, you make connections and see possibilities when you slow down or step away from a problem, allowing your brain to idle.

2. The brainpower of one: “Instead of multitasking, perform tasks sequentially.” This is because, while multitasking sounds terrific, in practice it leads to “shallower, less focused thinking,” Jeff said, and a “dramatic, negative decrease on mental processing.”

3. The brainpower of two: “Focus on two elephant tasks per day. When hunting elephants, don’t get distracted by rabbits.” Elephant tasks are what they sound like — bigger, more complicated jobs that will have the most impact and require the most attention.

Jeff was followed by Stacey Correcha-Price and Amy Fisher, both from National Trade Productions, an Expo Group client and partner, who offered a meat-and-potatoes discussion of “Using Strategic Sales Tactics to Increase Sponsorships and Booth Spaces.” And then it was time for some serious showing, as Nicole O’Leary, Expo Group’s creative director, set the stage for our tour of GEOINT.

IMG_2587A few months before this year’s show, USGIF asked Expo Group — its contractor — to help achieve three goals: better brand GEOINT to USGIF; keep attendees, most of whom are D.C.-area residents, from wandering out of the show; and better service USGIF members in attendance. That led Expo Group to tear up its existing design for GEOINT 2015 and start from scratch — and the results of that process are what O’Leary was going to show us. “My goal,” she said, “is for you to walk the floor and see something and not just say, ‘That’s really cool’ — but really understand how we got there.”

IMG_2585O’Leary led us over to Walter E. Washington, through the front doors, and into the main lobby, so we would experience GEOINT exactly the same way as attendees. Right away we noticed something; or rather, a lack of something. The open spaces weren’t cluttered with signage and other USGIF collateral, but instead were adorned with just a few large, well-designed, well-placed elements — including a huge banner filling the soaring expanse of the center on the way to the show floor, and a towering monolith with highlights from the conference schedule just outside the main registration area. Talking about the show’s clean, bold aesthetic, O’Leary said: “We focused on editing, and editing, and editing some more.”

Two levels down, O’Leary led us to one of the standout pieces of GEOINT’s design. Expo Group took USGIF’s own booth area, which in the past was situated within the exhibit hall, and made it the entrance to the show floor — a long, wide boulevard that attendees had to walk along. “Charting a path, which is [GEOINT’s] theme,” O’Leary said. “You’re walking through that experience on the way to the exhibit hall.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.