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Think Different

What will events look like when they return?

On the wall of our home office — currently in use by my wife; I’ve got the corner of the dining room table set up as Residential Systems HQ — we’ve got a framed pic of the Jim Henson “Think Different” ad from Apple. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a black-and-white picture of Henson and Kermit the Frog, with the words “Think Different” written in black in the upper left corner. It is simple, and simply perfect.

I am well aware it was created in the late ’90s as part of a marketing campaign to get people to take Apple Computers seriously (which I already did), but that doesn’t make me love it any less. Henson knew puppeteering could do more than delight children, and he used it to teach kids, entertain adults, and tell stories in ways never thought possible. He was repeatedly told that puppets would never be ready for prime time, but he thought differently.

The phrase extends to our cover story, when, called to design a giant video image without a projector, Patrick Coleman opted to borrow from the digital signage world and install a spectacular video wall in his client’s home. In thinking different, he solved a direct problem and created a unique showpiece that has versatile capabilities.

Those are both great examples, but what really got me looking to my “Think Different” portrait for inspiration was the CEDIA Expo Virtual event that just took place.

What does the future hold for tradeshows? I asked this of Brian Pagel, executive vice president at Emerald Expositions, for our CEDIA Expo Companion 2020 eBook, and he answered, “While we have all come to the realization that we can work remotely and leverage tools like Zoom to get our jobs done, I think we have also realized the importance of those face-to-face experiences that you simply can’t replicate virtually.”

I agree, but can’t help but wonder what those face-to-face events will look like. This was the topic of a recent AVIXA TIDE Generator podcast called “Can we use technology to make events more human?” In it, host (and close friend) Kirsten Nelson spoke to Adekambi Laleye, key accounts for and SafeTeams, and David Title, a partner at Bravo Media, about how we can enhance the best parts of events — how we can, as Laleye put it, “not reach for normal, but reach for better” (Nelson succinctly paraphrased it as “creating a better normal”).

Both panelists agreed that in the post-pandemic world event creators will have to work hard to make people feel safe using both existing technology, such as QR codes for scanning, and new innovations, such as contact tracing. For exhibitors, the investment will have to mean more than just collecting badge swipes.

As for attendees, the panel believes that people will be more strategic about what events they attend in the future, leaning toward those that provide more of a personal experience. Again, technology plays a large part, with examples being VR and immersive AV.

It may too early to start planning our next in-person experiences, but it’s never too soon to think differently about what they should be.