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Leading through Disruption

Read IAEE President and CEO David DuBois’ thoughts on how to lead through disruption to find the most effective path to the road for recovery.

Originally published by Trade Show Executive

For the first time since I began writing this column, I wish I wasn’t, because it is done with a heavy heart for my colleagues and friends, and our industry. I know I am well-accompanied in experiencing unwanted “firsts” due to COVID-19, as the entire world faces this particular health crisis for the first time. I also know I am not alone among industry executives tasked with navigating this treacherous pandemic on behalf of their organization.

Industry leaders are having to make painstaking decisions regarding their companies’ futures that feel very unfair to everyone involved. We are having to learn tough lessons quickly, yet these lessons possess valuable information that is incumbent upon us to note for future reference so we may exercise our best leadership through disruptions such as this.

While it will take considerable time to fully assess the toll this pandemic is taking on our industry, we do know that worldwide exhibitions and events have been devastated. We have watched the snowball effect to our industry since January, and it quickly became clear that we needed to operate from a facts-based foundation.

The fluidity of the situation has made this extremely challenging, however the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) quickly stepped in to collect data from show organizers that were having to cancel or postpone their events. By mid-March, CEIR was able to release a preliminary evaluation of the potential economic impact the pandemic will have on our industry. This process allows executive leaders to make the best possible decisions given the facts at hand, in addition to giving us the best possible advantage in dealing with such extreme uncertainty.

Another step in keeping within the realm of fact-based decision making is to team with industry partners. For example, IAEE was quick to exchange information with fellow organizations such as the U.S. Travel Association, Destinations International and the Events Industry Council. Collaboration is the strongest tool we have to minimize damage, and information sharing among the industry’s various representations benefits all members across the spectrum of our industry.

Executive leaders must also help their members/stakeholders brace for impact by identifying key resources. To address this, IAEE has released many webinars presenting a wide array of personal and business strategies. Our COVID-19 Resources microsite provides updates that are impacting our industry, as well as helpful links for members to access useful information from a single source.

This includes legislative action that affects our industry, which stresses the importance of advocacy and why industry leaders must maintain an advocacy regimen as part of their regular agendas. IAEE organized important legislative calls to action for members to make sure their voices were heard regarding Congressional decisions that affect them. These efforts will continue as part of our ongoing engagement in legislative initiatives within the Exhibitions Mean Business Campaign, in addition to lending our support to global partners as they continue to advocate for government economic impact funding and stimulation packages.

Despite certain unknowns, it is important that industry leaders start mapping their recovery efforts early on. Once again, collaboration is paramount in this process. Executives must work with key partners to find the most effective path to the road for recovery and apply due diligence in balancing optimism with realism.

Which leads me to the most important lesson of all: communication is key. One of my biggest takeaways from leading through this disruption has been the profound reinforcement of the knowledge that no man is an island. For industry leaders, that “man” encompasses our members, boards and staff. Our stakeholders count on us to keep them informed and act on their behalf. There is no such thing as too much information and guidance in situations like the one we are facing.

I feel confident that our industry will weather this storm, and I know I am well-accompanied in this outlook. Face-to-face interaction is the basis of the majority of business transactions. Trade shows reside within the heart and soul of business, and we will do our part in breathing life back into the economy around the world when circumstances allow. In the meantime, we must do what our industry has always done best and work together to support each other through this difficult learning experience.

David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA
President & CEO

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