Getting Back to Where the Magic Happens

Written by Mike Whitaker

August 5, 2021

We missed each other. As the industry began to shift back to in-person gatherings and events started moving from virtual to live this spring, most of us realized very quickly how much we’d missed the networking, idea sharing, and fellowship that are only possible when we’re face to face. In the frenzy of a pandemic, most of us were quite impressed with how much connectivity we could achieve through platforms like Zoom, Teams and Skype, just to name a few. However, it was hard to quantify what we lost in the absence of the in-person industry gathering we’d always taken for granted.

Effective leadership has never been easy. However, as we learned over the past year and a half, isolated leadership is so much harder. Most of us experienced it for the first time as the months and months of travel concerns and health guidance prevented the industry from gathering. So, we leaned into technology and kept plowing forward.

In my near decade with Nationwide Marketing Group, our bi-annual trade show and member convention – PrimeTime – has become near and dear to me. Those two weeks of the year in the spring and summer are hands down my favorite time of the year. Behind the scenes, the planning and execution of a show the sheer size of PrimeTime begins just a few days after we wrap up a show. Six or so months later, it manifests into four powerful days as the independent channel comes together.

My favorite day is always the day after the show ends. I’ve always allowed myself that day to reflect and just soak up all that just happened. But, after virtual shows in August and March, those “day after” feelings were quite different. They were almost hollow, empty. Sure, the same feelings of exhaustion were there, but the fulfillment and joy just were missing. It was shortly after the March show, during a conversation with a dealer and close friend that I realized why. He summed it up perfectly, saying, “I miss the magic that happens in between the meetings. I miss the hallways.”

You see, virtual events can cover all the basics you find on an event agenda. We can cover the industry and the economics, we can execute a massive educational program, we still have all the show specials and great deals, but we don’t have the magic of the hallways. At a live show, that’s where it’s at. That’s where the idea a speaker shared becomes a plan we can execute. That’s where we share and discover our common challenges. That’s where we brainstorm. The hallways are where we problem solve. They’re where we reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Not to go overly Biblical, but they’re where the iron sharpens iron.

Great leaders feed off each other. Great leaders can’t help but make each other better when they come together. It’s hard to argue that one mind alone can accomplish as much as a few great minds coming together. At many industry events, that concept increases exponentially. In some cases, we find literally thousands of great minds, together in one location. Those events are where large-scale retail problems are solved, best practices spread like wildfire, and the participants gain unfair advantages in their marketplaces. At the same time, leaders standing alone, just like iron, tend to rust. No self-respecting pirate would carry a rusted sword, just as no organization can really thrive with a rusted leader.

If we’re bring honest with ourselves, we’ve all picked up a little rust over the past 18 months. It’s time to shake that rust off. For all the conversations around the efficiencies of virtual events, the time and cost savings of less or no travel, and the temptation to stay knee-deep in your business as the fall unfolds, before you make your plans, reflect on what you’re really missing out on when you miss these gatherings. Ask yourself if you can afford to miss the most powerful part of the various industry events – the magic of the hallways.

This article was first published in the August 2021 issue of Retail Observer.


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