Trade Show TalesBlog

Word on the Street — December 21st thru December 25th

December 27th, 2009 3 COMMENTS
Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Sorry to Ask, But What Is It That You Do? 

It’s the number one question I find myself answering or explaining, especially this time of year.

During the holiday season, family functions with extended family and holiday parties with friends and “friends of friends” tend to rule the calendar. All of which are fun and provide great opportunities to touch base with those who you may only see once or twice a year. These gatherings always leave me chuckling a little, because inevitably I find myself answering a variation of the same question . . . “Uhmm, sorry to ask, but what is it  that you do? I know you’ve told me before but . . . .”

Over the years, I have learned that the question can only be answered if you know the perspective of the person asking the question. For example, with third cousin Carl, a trainer of champion show toy poodles, the response is something like, “I work for a company that manufactures the exhibits that the 4H Club uses at the state fair. You know the little fold out thingy that you set behind them. Done . . . he understands.

Or, when Aunt Sally’s sister-in-law (from her husband’s side) Francine, a computer programmer asks, the response is “You know what CES and Macworld are, right? We build those sorts of exhibits.” Done . . . she understands.

But the one thing that never changes and always surprises me a bit is the overwhelming number of times I hear in return, “Oh! I never knew there was a industry like that.” Like the shows just happen on their own. Or as if every company builds their own exhibit.

The truth is that while we, as an industry of Exhibit Designers and Producers, are a small group by comparison, we service virtually ever segment of the economy. But try explaining that to Uncle Ned! Who once again blessed us with his “Special Fruitcake” . . . the fruitcake that NEVER gets eaten, not even OPENED to be exact. Why you ask? Let’s just say that Ned dabbled extensively in psychedelics in his past. So as a family, we’ve never really gotten to the point where we trust what might be in his “Special Fruitcake.” 🙂

How do you explain to relatives, friends, and strangers what you do for a living?

Have a safe and restful weekend!

–Kevin Carty



3 Responses to “Word on the Street — December 21st thru December 25th”

  1. Erik Frost says:

    Kevin, your words ring true. I always pause before answering this question because it’s quite rare that the questioner will “get” my reply. I find that non-exhibit industry folks tend to be somewhat familiar of the two extremes: Folding panel systems (and sometimes folding cardboard…) used at 4H and science fairs, etc., and the extravagant custom structures they may see at the local auto show. It’s the fast middle ground that goes unseen/unknown. It’s always a challenge to explain, isn’t it?

    Often I am tempted to borrow my father’s reply when, as a child, I asked him what it was that he did at work: “I’m the guy who screws the caps onto tubes of toothpaste.” (Dad was a mechanical engineer for a high-tech firm in Portland.)

    Erik Frost
    Goro Design Group, Inc.

  2. Erik Frost says:

    “Fast” = “Vast”.

    “It’s the fast middle ground that goes unseen/unknown.”

  3. I laugh for two reasons.

    First, before entering this industry, I too thought trade show exhibits showed up on the show floor in some mystical manner known only to a small group of tradeshow Druids.

    Secondly, when going to a non industry gathering, I laugh to myself because I know I’m going to be asked “The Question”. After many futile attempts of explanation and glassy eyed stares in response I’ve refined my answer…” I’m a designer and I design rockets.” Problem solved, recipient of explanation smiles and knods. OK, so I don’t really design rockets but sometimes it sure feels like I do.

    Mike Swartout

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