Did you hear that? It was the applause given to me by 40 zoom attendees at the recent presentation I gave to Rotary on the mental health of firefighters. Of course, you heard nothing, and I did not expect anything as this is the new normal, or is it?
I just finished counting up the conferences cancelled since 1 February, the number came to 43 and these are just the ones that came to my attention through Asia Pacific Fire and the other four magazines in the MDM stable. I’m sure if I went in search, I could find many more conferences and associated exhibitions in our sector that have been cancelled.
We are overcoming the problem with webinars, zoom meetings, podcasts and many other variations. There are those that are of the opinion that this is the way of the future, sitting in your office by yourself listening to people lecture you on different subjects.
I throw my hands up in the air in frustration when I hear this. The conference is not about the old education methods of chalk and talk from the master to the student, it’s about full immersion learning. Yes there is a place for electronic communication, but the key elements of a conference and associated exhibition are lost with no face-to-face discussion, and I don’t mean just at question time; it’s over a tea and cake at the refreshment break where ideas are informally thrashed out; it’s a discussion over a red wine at the conference dinner as well as the formal breakouts during the conference.
The exhibition halls where vendors get to show their wares to potential customers are all silent, no webinars for them. Exhibitors do not have the ability to adjust and present across various platforms; hardware suppliers need the face-to-face benefits within an exhibition Hall.
Although I am concerned about the conference delivery methods, researchers and educators at least have a partial solution to getting their message out there. Exhibitors do not have the same options, and these are the people I worry about the most. In this business buyers like to become fully immersed in the products they are buying. You will not see gloves being purchased off the shelf after one quick inspection; buyers will compare products and trial them over many months. This means physical interaction with the product. New technology will not be taken up at face value, agencies need to ensure the claims being made by vendors stack up, and this cannot be done with a 40-minute lecture; again it’s the hands-on interaction that sells products.
So what should agencies do about assisting vendors as we come out of our COVID-19 hiding holes? First and most important is to re-establish contact with those you have lost touch with and take the time to learn about their new products and innovations. Next is to welcome new exhibitors to the sector and thoroughly assess their products. Last is don’t hurry from booth to booth but strategically choose who you want to see and make appointments. At every exhibition tyre-kickers generate interest, but if you are the person with the cheque book, you need to be professional and efficient.
To the agencies ready to purchase products for this upcoming fire season, remember we have all had it tough during this past year, confronting COVID and the mega fires of 2020. As we hopefully come into a new round of fire conferences, take into consideration that many vendors will have challenges scaling up again, getting in raw materials, re-employing staff and setting up supply chains.
Conferences and exhibitions play a vital role in the product ecosystem in our sector; just remember we are all in this together.
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