Memoirs of a booth-bunny-for-a-day

Now that I have your attention, let me be the first to admit that I’m not really equipped to be a trade show “booth babe.” I don’t have big blonde hair, no part of my body sports silicone and I haven’t worn spandex since the ’80s.

Those exceptions aside, I did recently dabble in the booth-staff arts during a stint at ComputerWorld Canada’s set-up at Comdex Toronto. And let me tell you, the biggest tech trade show in Canada definitely provides an entertaining place to people-watch, and, interestingly, for those people to see each other.

Comdex, and trade shows in general, have taught me a few things. First, sales/marketing types (usually men) think it’s okay to stare at your chest the whole time they are pitching to you, because that’s where your show badge happens to be. (Beware, especially, of those who reach out and try to “swipe” you.)

It also seems to me that the squishiness of the carpets surrounding a booth is directly proportionate to how much money that particular company has, or wants you to think it has. And with all the variations in carpet elevation, a trade show floor can take on the characteristics of a relief map. It’s very easy to trip if you aren’t careful. (But it’s pretty hard to hurt yourself if you do fall down. Squishy carpets break falls. Never mind how I know that.) I’ve also noticed that people will stand in line for anything, as long as it’s free. In fact, tech trade shows are a lot like Halloween for geeks.

On the Comdex floor, there’s a women over there with flashing pink antennae on her head. Hmm, wonder if she realizes? That guy in the silver cape and Zorro mask looks like he belongs in some erotic space movie. There goes a whole group of people in Bermuda shorts with plastic flowers around their necks. And hey, where’d that guy get that cool inflatable penguin?

Trade shows, regardless of which city they are in, usually have a comforting dose of silliness and familiarity. And I think there is a good reason for that.

This industry, for many, can be isolating. Despite the fact that IT is no longer just about lone programmers coding away in some back room, a lot of the players work long hours and don’t get to socialize a whole lot. And, let’s face it – technology can be pretty dry sometimes. Shows like Comdex offer something invaluable – a sense of community and of fun.

But Comdex this year, as with other years, was not without its critics. There were many major tech players – IBM, Apple, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard to name a few – that were conspicuously absent from the exhibitor’s list. Detractors wonder how Comdex can pretend be a serious tech show without such heavy hitters in attendance. I believe, however, those people are missing the point. The majority of the attendees don’t go to the show to rub elbows with big name companies or to secure million-dollar contracts. Most go to spend worthwhile time with their peers in the industry – to meet, to network and to share ideas.

That’s the main reason I will go again next year. Only next year, maybe I’ll wear my badge on my forehead.