I had a chance to speak with the 2020 NGL Grant recipients earlier this month. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, it’s UFI’s program to promote the next generation of leadership in the exhibition industry. It rewards young professionals who show clear initiatives in driving change and innovation in their area of activity. Spread over 18 months, the recipients traditionally have presented a session at the UFI Global Congress and are then assigned volunteer mentors (high level exhibition executives) for the next year. It’s a great program.

I found the recipients to be articulate, smart and passionate about exhibitions and the future of our industry. Good news in troubled times!

This year’s recipients are:

Matthew Funge, Managing Director & Founder, Your Stand Builder (UK)

Erika Karlsson, Project Manager, ELMIA (Sweden)

Christina Rabl, Project Manager ISPO, Messe München (Germany)

Vijay Sharma, Head: Partnerships & Business Development, Koelnmesse (Singapore)

Alexis Zamudio, Events Manager, former FINNOVISTA (Mexico)

First question up was why apply? The application process is quite rigorous and includes obtaining permission from the recipient’s company to participate.

Erika: Working in ELMIA’s IT department, it was a chance to learn more about the exhibition industry and see where the role of digitalization fits in and how it can help drive innovation.

Christina: It was a great way to get to meet and get to know international peers, learn about the exhibition industry outside of Germany and work on ideas for the future of the industry.

Alexis: Agreed with Christina about the international learning opportunities, the chance to work with peers on the idea of innovation in the exhibition industry and lastly, help traditional trade shows improve their communication with attendees and exhibitors.

Vijay: A true international spirit, he was born in India, graduated university in the United Kingdom and now lives in Singapore. His passion is in the creative space bridging the gaps between the physical and digital worlds. Being assigned an industry mentor was an added incentive to apply.

Matthew: As a former exhibit manager for an international healthcare company, he was tasked with running their exhibit program. Like many others, he realized the exhibiting process is unnecessarily cumbersome, ultimately becoming a tech entrepreneur focused on digitalizing and streaming the processes to make exhibiting easier. His company connects exhibitors with stand builders on a global scale.

The NGL Grant Session is being presented the Monday of the upcoming UFI Congress (November 16th). Its topic is about Future Proofing the Business Between Physical and Digital. In other words, how do we bridge the gap? Hybrid Shows and using technology.

Vijay noted than when his company ran their first hybrid event in Thailand recently, the opportunity afforded small, local exhibitors from the country to connect with a global audience. It put them on the same playing field as multinational competitors – something that can’t be done in quite the same way in a physical expo.

Christina, who is passionate about tech solutions, agreed that the future of exhibitions is going to be hybrid. The challenge (besides making money on these events) and struggle is finding a balance because people still want to meet face-to-face but can’t necessarily physically get there.

Erika added that pre-COVID-19, there were many organizers without a solid digital strategy.  With the ongoing digital transformation, the challenge for some is that they have to be convinced to broaden the scope of their exhibitions and truly embrace technological offerings.

Alexis talked about the challenges of engaging visitors for hybrid offerings. As the new model it presents a separate set of marketing challenges to visitors. Personalization, deep digital outreach (not solely depending on sending a million emails) and changing how we communicate with our audiences going forward will be integral to future success.

Lastly Matthew weighed in how platforms and tech tools can help in different stages of the hybrid process, as well as assist with the return of physical events. He believes tech can and will help strike a balance, although some of tools and platforms have yet to be invented.

Vijay added that we have to go where our customers are. This is a great time of opportunity for the exhibition business but while we’re headed into the brave new digital future, it’s also the time to go back-to-basics: building and staying connected to our communities.

Matthew summed up our conversation that by making it as easy as possible for exhibitors to be in our shows, and attendees to visit (whether in person or digitally), we have to continue to reduce barriers and restore confidence in safely returning to physical events.

Make sure to catch the NGL Grant Recipients session in whatever time zone suits best. For bios and more: http://ufievent.org/uficongress/speakers-bios . To register for the UFI Global Congress: https://www.ufi.org/ufievent/87th-ufi-global-congress/