How Event Industry Leaders Are Making the Most of Shelter-In-Place
Depending on what U.S. state we live in, many of us are still sitting out the pandemic in the safety of our homes. While this is an unnatural predicament for our social species, it’s nice to know that we’re not alone in all this uncertainty.
We talked to five trade show industry leaders to see how they’re coping with the “new normal,” including Leonard Hoops, CEO of Visit Indy; Megan Tanel, senior vice president, construction sector for AEM; Aaron Bludworth, president and CEO of Fern Exposition & Event Services; Cathy Breden, executive vice president and COO of IAEE and CEO of the CEIR Foundation; and Rip Rippetoe, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center.
Here’s what they’re doing to stay busy and make the most of this challenging period in human history.
What does your day-to-day life look like now and how are you maintaining work/life balance with your family under the same roof?
My job is still seven days a week, so my work life is not that different — just that my meetings are now happening on Zoom, Microsoft Office 365 and other video platforms. In the mornings I go through my typical routine and try to make it as normal as possible; the only difference is that I wear my Friday casual clothes now.
We have a condo with a master bedroom and office space where I’m able to shut the door and sequester myself, while my wife, our 8-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son take up the rest of the space for homeschool. I’ll come out every so often to go to the fridge or grab some water, but the challenge is that my daughter will want to take a break from her schoolwork and play with me. My wife has to remind them that you don’t bother Daddy while he’s working.
I do not have an office at home, as I prefer to work in the AEM office – when there’s not a pandemic, of course. I have four kids who also are all at home doing their school work, so we rotate rooms. I start in the dining room and then head to the kitchen, where there’s a bar-height counter to stand and work at times. I find time to work out each morning as well as help with dinner. I went from traveling about 50 percent of the time to 0 percent of the time, and we went from kids having activities every night and every day of the weekend to nothing. So now we are enjoying family dinners, movie nights and reconnecting. In my world, there never was a work/life balance – it’s all just life.
I’ve been safely going to the office most days; in fact, I’ve been in the office more consistently than any previous time in the 12 years I’ve lived in Cincinnati. That said, I’m home way more than typical and I think my family has almost adjusted to me being there. Turns out, I don’t like 9-to-5 very much, after nearly three decades of having a live events schedule. I do enjoy seeing my kids more and having dinner at home every night. When we get back to it, as grateful as we will all be, there will be a void from the enjoyable aspects of this togetherness. I hope to make some permanent changes coming out of this.
I’ve always been the type who works better in an office. I would get up and be in the office by 7 a.m., unless I had a 6:30 a.m. exercise class. The first week at home, my husband and I worked from our dining room table. He’s in sales and has a very loud voice when he’s on phone calls. After the third time of asking him to please lower his voice, I dropped “please” from the ask and went to more “meaningful” words that got results. Knowing I needed to figure out something different, the next day I went to several local stores trying to find a computer desk to put in a bedroom so I could close the door.
I still get up every morning and get ready for work. I’m fortunate that my wife and I had a consulting business together a few years ago and worked together in our home office. We respect each other’s space and still have a good rapport from a work perspective. I try not to work into the evening. We go for walks and Zoom with our kids and grandkids. We go pick up food occasionally from our favorite restaurants. We are watching new television series and learning more about gardening. The big difference is that I am on the phone or a web meeting 7-8 hours a day instead of being face-to-face or walking the venue.
How are you making the most of your non-work time at home?
I wish I was like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” and could come out of this as a concert pianist, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. My son and daughter both love playing games on their iPads, so when I wrap up for the day I’ll play with each of them, and I’ve gotten pretty good at some of those games. On weekends, when the weather is nice, we’ll take a long family stroll. My son has cerebral palsy and he has an adaptive bike, and my daughter loves to roller skate, so we’ll go to the Central Canal in downtown Indianapolis and enjoy the day.
I miss my coworkers and the travel, at times. I miss having face-to-face conversations with those I work with, but I’m enjoying the extra time my [association] members have to talk and connect. They make every call, as they’re not traveling either and are more apt to talk by phone than email, which is great. Hopefully, after [these weeks] of quarantining, I will finally understand elementary school math.
Most of my time has been spent adjusting the business to the circumstances as they develop and trying to reach out to people inside and outside of Fern. My focus has been on communicating, mostly one-on-one, but also broadly through social media posts to try and lift people in these dark times. We all react to tough times differently and I think it’s important that we reach out to each other broadly to encourage, provide hope and sometimes just allow each other to unload or shoot the bull a little.
I’m also a photographer and I’ve been participating in quite a few Zoom sessions with other photographers, sharing and discussing our work. I’ve learned some new skills through this process. I typically shoot people and street scenes, but during this time I’ve been shooting more nature and scenes around the house. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing, mostly business, but some personal and political writing, as well. I should probably get on to some projects around the house that I’ve still justified procrastinating thus far.
I’ve been learning quite a bit over the past few weeks. With technology and meeting tools like Zoom, it’s like being in the office. I’m using Google Hangout for impromptu conversations with staff and talk to them more regularly; and Zoom happy hours with colleagues, friends and family have been fun. I’m finding I’m even more productive at home with fewer interruptions, but I still don’t stand enough throughout the day and have a hard time giving myself permission to go outside, sit for a few minutes and have lunch. I have no problem going to a pilates class at 6:30 a.m., but other than taking walks, exercising from home is not happening.
I normally travel a lot, but being alone with my husband 24/7 is not as stressful as I thought it would be. I’ve also learned that the cat likes my husband more; he chooses to be right next to him all day. Also, having wine every evening to lower my anxiety level is not good for me, but I already knew that.
I’ve been reading a lot about mindset and emotional EQ. I really enjoy listening to Simon Sinek and I’m also reading a book called “The Anticipatory Organization.” Additionally, I have spent time participating on industry webinars and presenting content on them as well.
I like to meditate and have done some study on different forms of meditation. I also enjoy a good walk at least every other day. I also am an Associate Pastor of a small church in Pacific Beach, California, where I spend time working with small groups and helping with online worship experiences. I find peace through serving.
What is your best advice for dealing with the current situation?
Whenever I get into stressful times, I meditate for 30 seconds to 10 minutes, depending on what kind of time I’ve got, and it helps me quickly reset. My advice would be to not let yourself get caught in the bubble that you’re in. If all you know is that you have a sick family member or you keep reading articles about doom and gloom, you can get caught in that bubble. Step back and understand that you have to use your logical mind [instead of] your emotional mind [to deal with the current reality]. This won’t last forever.
Everyone needs to find their own way of doing this “thing.” My only [advice]is to not stress about kids in the background or dogs barking when you’re working or on a call or Webex. This is not supposed to be perfect; it’s just life right now. We all can use a bit more understanding and patience. A dog barking or a baby crying will remind us all that we’re human, not robots. Keep on living this new reality, and be sure to shut down and go about the rest of your life!
Give your all to the things you can control and don’t let those things you can’t control drag you down. You can become overwhelmed by circumstances outside of your control if you aren’t careful. Work hard, keep thinking, be hopeful and stay mentally well by not internalizing those things with no remedy.
Stay away from the after-work cocktail; it only numbs you. Find something you’ve always wanted to do and try it. Try finding moments of gratitude. For me, it is that my sons are healthy so far, as are my husband and I.
Find that place around or inside where you live that brings you peace. Learn simple meditation techniques and practice those. Spend time calling friends and family and be in conversation. Allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to admit when you are down and ask a friend to just be present, even if in a virtual sense.