View from a conference exhibitor's booth

20160511_134455I love conferences where non-profit professionals get together, especially ones where the organizations are from similar backgrounds and missions. This week I am in New Orleans as an exhibitor at Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s (BGCA) National Conference. I thought it would be fun to write a few blog posts from my vantage point as a conference exhibitor (e.g. things I see, hear, etc). Then in next week’s post, I want to share an AH-HA moment I had from a conversation I had with another exhibitor. (Note: if you are reading this post and at the same conference, please swing by the booth and say hello).
Observation #1: The buzz & energy is palpable
From my booth, you can feel the buzz, especially when people pour into the exhibitors area after a big inspirational general session. For example, yesterday afternoon the big buzz was about “Year of the Teen.” People who washed into my booth were talking about it. I was able to overhear people passing my booth engaged in discussions about teenagers. It was the “topic du jour.
Why was this the case? Simply said, it was because BGCA used their bully pulpit to share their case for support on this important issue with their local affiliates. Here is the session description:

Keynote speaker Dr. Shawn Ginwright will discuss the need to place healing and hope at the center of educational and political strategies, and share how ‘teacher-activists’ in community organizations and stressed schools are using healing strategies to help youth become powerful civic actors.

I get goosebumps just reading the session description. AWESOME!
Observation #2: Hope, optimism & change are in the air
People wash into your booth when you exhibit at conferences. It is simply how it works and why exhibitors pay to exhibit. Organizations have needs for products and services, and exhibitors hope to fill those needs. What I most love about this “speed dating dance” is hearing people’s stories.
Here are just a few quick hits from yesterday:

  • One organization just acquired an old church. Now they are wrestling with whether or not they need a capital campaign consultant to help them raise the necessary funding to renovate the facility. As they tell their story, the words almost sizzle with energy when they talk about the possibilities and all of the new things they will be able to do.
  • Another organization is writing a grant for a community gardening program they operate. Their kids are engaged in healthy eating, sustainable gardening, entrepreneurial activities involving sales of vegetables, etc. They now plan on acquiring a bus in order to distribute their produce to food desert areas that lack access to healthy foods. As I listen to the fundraising professional describe the business opportunity for me (e.g. to help them develop a business and marketing plan), I could hardly get a word into the conversation. This person was working on two hours of sleep. She was racing a grant deadline and was super charged up and passionate about this program.
  • An old friend stopped by to say hello. I’m not sure how long he has been his organization’s CEO, but I’m confident it has been at least two or three decades. Our conversation was all about the planned giving activities he has been involved in throughout the years. He doesn’t want to retire until he sees some of the fruits of that labor. To say there was anticipation and excitement threaded throughout that conversation would be an understatement.

I could go on and on . . . I just love the energy.
Obervsation #3: Old friends and fellowship
People passing by my exhibitor booth are engaged in conversations, but it looks different from most typical conversations I see back home. What I’m seeing looks deep, thoughtful and engaging. I suspect it is because many of these non-profit professionals are old friends who haven’t seen each other for a while (perhaps since last years conference).
Friends and colleagues are:

  • sharing successes and failures
  • talking about the future
  • getting caught up on personal things (e.g. family)

I love that I just used the word “family” in my last bullet point because that is what I see from the vantage point of my exhibitors booth. It is one big family reunion, which is simple #AwesomeSauce!

If you have never exhibited at a conference, you may not know that there is a fun dynamic at play among exhibitors. There is a “we’re all in this crazy sales game together” feeling. There is also a family reunion atmosphere for some of those who only see each other at these conferences and have developed friendships throughout the years.
Sometimes when attendees are in session, exhibitors start visiting each other’s booths to visit and sharing information. Next Tuesday, I will share with you a story about an exhibitor who washed into my booth and how that interaction resulted in an amazing AH-HA moment for me as it relates to the intersection of programming and resource development.
Do you have any fun conference stories that you want to share? Please use the comment box and tell us about it. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC