Exhibiting in the new normal

Exhibiting in the new normal

During the past year or more, so many events have had to be either cancelled or postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic, that many of us seriously wondered if life as we knew it would ever return to normal. And now we seem to be crossing the threshold into a new normal!

One of the things that many of us have missed, or so it is believed, is that of visiting our favourite exhibitions. Exhibitions enable us to update ourselves on the latest trends of our favourite pastimes or technologies or may be both.

Over the years, churches, schools and others have appreciated visiting all manner of exhibitions, generally on an annual or bi annual basis. Not so many weeks ago, many of us were looking forward to the exhibitions we missed during the months of lockdown, only to discover that some were not being staged this year either!

In times past, our regular contributor, Revd Eric Thorn, has been an organiser of selected exhibitions as well as being an exhibitor himself. So, as our favourite exhibitions prepare for a welcome return, for this issue of MEN (Maintenance and Equipment News for Churches and Schools) Eric shares his potted bird’s eye view of thoughts for exhibition visitors. Please remember to bear in mind that these are Eric’s personal thoughts and therefore may not resemble your own perceptions.

An exhibition, in the most general sense, is an organised presentation and display of a selection of items. In practice, exhibitions usually occur within a cultural or educational setting such as a museum, art gallery, park, library, exhibition hall, or World’s fairs. Exhibitions can include many things such as art in both major museums and smaller galleries, interpretive exhibitions, natural history museums and history museums, and varieties such as more commercially focused exhibitions and trade fairs. Schools, colleges, churches and other organisations have overcome the lack of personal visits by joining the ever expanding online movement of virtual reality outings around many important venues.

Exhibition events come in all manner of categories and sizes. The smallest are generally considered to be associated with dedicated conferences and seminars. For example, the various teachers’ trade unions are known to have annual conferences. For the duration of these conferences, an associated exhibition made up of organisations with an academic message to proclaim takes place in the same venues.

Despite the foregoing, even smaller exhibitions are those which often accompany minor events such as full or half day seminars. The stands are much less significant than any that might be expected at a full scale commercial event. More often than not they comprise of just one or two trestle tables, so that they are seemingly offering an informative display rather than an exhibition.

In what now seems to me to be a bygone age, the small-scale fairs that I used to organise in the 1970s and 1980s were primarily those with an educational or/and publishing theme. These were localised events including educational and Christian resources exhibitions staged on behalf of various organisations. For instance, one of my favourite memories was that of a two-day resources exhibition that I organised on behalf of the St Andrew’s Bookshop group in the Great Missenden area.

These often took place in large church halls or community centres. I have no idea of whether such minor events continue. In reality, it is possible that some or all of these have now been overshadowed by their Goliath counterparts!

Various of the well-known grander commercial exhibition and convention clusters including London Docklands ExCel Centre, the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre, Harrogate Convention Centre, to name but three, were taken over by the National Health Service (NHS) during the infamous Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. They became temporary field hospitals named after the legendary founder of contemporary nursing, Florence Nightingale. These provisional hospitals have now closed. Even as I write, some (if not all) of these are being revamped for their original intended purposes.

Variety on the menu

Over the years, commercial exhibitions have developed into a global business. Try as I might, I cannot bring to mind any subject that is not, or has not been, escalated into a theme for the exhibition treatment of putting things on public display. Which is fair enough, considering that just one definition of a public display is the act of exhibiting, showing, or presenting to view, a public display such as of the work of artists or artisans, the products of farms or factories, the skills of performers, or objects of general interest.

The variety on the menu of exhibition topics can be consulted on www.exhibitions.co.uk. Almost certainly something for everybody!
For those who wish to peruse worldwide events, please visit www.exhibitionworld.co.uk.

Prepare for benefits

Various people known to me have often queried what they might gain from attending an exhibition. And if my family and friends debate whether or not exhibition visits are a waste of their valuable time, my thinking is that they probably represent the tip of an iceberg of potential event visitors. With an ever growing portfolio of exhibitions covering a multitude of themes, those who budget big bucks for shell space, booths, graphics and more must, presumably, have great faith that their visitors will come up trumps as potential customers.

Event logosAll prospective visitors are recommended to do some homework in advance of their planned exhibition awayday. Prepare for benefits to be gained, rather than dismissing it as a possible waste of time!

Go live on the Internet to check out your chosen exhibition’s website. Plough through the list of confirmed exhibitors, making a note of those you consider to be worthwhile paying a visit to. Having completed that, go through your list marking those you consider to be the most important to visit first just in case your valued time should become an issue later on in your trip.

Think about what you might like to ask of your selected businesses and jot your queries down on your list to ensure that you do not omit any important aspect.

If an exhibition handbook providing a bird’s eye view of all participating exhibitors is available in advance this will also prove to be a helping hand towards planning for a beneficial visit.

For example, a teacher attending an educational display might be on the lookout for exciting new resources for use in the classroom. A priest inspecting a religious event might well appreciate calling on stands specialising in, say, Holy Communion elements or clerical robing items. A chef reviewing what is available at a catering equipment expo could be in the market for the latest Induction hobs together with suitable pots and pans.


For those who wish to have information on a plethora of events, not just exhibitions, Eventbrite is an event management and ticketing website based in San Francisco, USA. Their cyber service allows users to browse, create, and promote local events. The facility charges a fee to event organisers in exchange for online ticketing services unless the event is free to attendees. It is believed that during the past year most of the events scheduled have been online events brought about, or even specially created, as a direct result of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Eventbrite operates in well over twenty-five (25) countries worldwide. Their United Kingdom website is www.eventbrite.co.uk where individuals can sign up for emails to be advised of new events on subjects of their choosing. For example, I have signed up to receive details of upcoming events covering my favourite charitable objectives.

For those who organise events, Eventbrite can be a promotional blessing. Those events which are free, such as charity fundraising events, can be added to the Eventbrite calendar. Services include various resources and tools including online guidance as to how to proceed. Their electronic ticketing service is most useful for providing a guide as to how many people could be attending events. Commercially staged events are chargeable, as this is how the Eventbrite company acquires their income.

To use Eventbrite services, it is necessary to join up and sign in using your email address. Having signed in, just follow the simple on-screen instructions. I found the entire process straightforward enough for even me to follow without getting frustrated. Full marks to Eventbrite for being surfing friendly!

Healthy exhibits

Healthy living is something that seems to have become very much to the fore during the Covid pandemic lockdown period. I make that comment based on the fact that I noted many promotions for online exercise programmes, healthy eating food recipes and, not surprisingly, sales blurbs.

The current trend for commercial promotions of healthy living and eating topics has been witnessed at both specific major consumer exhibitions including, for instance, the national Allergy and Free From Show (www.allergyshow.co.uk) and the Safety and Health Expo (www.safety-health-expo.co.uk) as well as some more nominal localised shows of healthy exhibits.

Many local NHS (National Health Service) Trusts have instituted healthy fun days in their territories, either within their own premises or in suitable public buildings such as Village Halls, private clubs, church or other community hubs. These initiatives generally include a display or small exhibition area with stalls promoting everything considered healthy from help to stop smoking or drinking too much, to regular exercise and eating a sensible diet.

Associated displays and demonstrations often include diabetes tests, blood pressure measurements and first aid demonstrations.

All of these programmes that I have attended have included a demonstration and basis training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This is an important life saving medical procedure that is administered to someone who is in cardiac arrest. It helps to pump blood around the patient’s body. Increasingly, these training exercises are including the use of defibrillators, for when a person has a cardiac arrest a defibrillator can be used to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.

DefibrillatorDefibrillators are simple and safe to use and will not shock unless it is appropriate. They are often available to the public in busy locations such as shopping centres, sports grounds, airports, bus and train stations across the United Kingdom.

Over the past four or five years I have observed a number of churches putting on a healthy fun day or two, involving the local NHS Trust. On the menu, a similar feast to that offered at the National Health Service events mentioned above. These initiatives are commendable and demonstrate clearly just one way in which local civic organisations can partner with their municipal health services in providing valuable community support.

Try as I might, I cannot recall ever hearing of an academic venue hosting such a healthy living event, although I suspect that some could be well placed to do so. Perhaps some of our educational readers might like to consider such an event for the future? Please let me know if you do.

Useful Information

Whether you are considering visiting an exhibition, or putting one on, or both, lots of useful information is available from various sources. I always recommend doing an online search, using whatever topic I am interested in as my key search word. Although most of my acquaintances use Google as their preferred search engine, I personally opt for the Microsoft search engine, Microsoft Bing, on www.bing.com.

Academic campuses, churches and other places of worship, and interested individuals may like to take a peek at these websites that I have found useful:

First aid – CPR – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

St John Ambulance (www.sja.org.uk)

Sample Event Planning Checklist for Excel (bstemplates.com)

How to get the best out of an exhibition (motivegraphics.co.uk)

11 Reasons Why People Should Go To Exhibitions (expressexhibitiondisplays.co.uk)

Designing an exhibition: These 5 tips should be your mantra (www.museumnext.com)

Various exhibitions that unfortunately had to be cancelled or postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic were morphed into virtual events online. It is possible that virtual events will continue, but visiting in person is definitely the best way whenever this is possible!

Eric A. Thorn
Email: EricAThorn@msn.com