A scroll around the virtual block
Adobe Stock / kentoh

A scroll around the virtual block

With the right attitude, we can all interact and learn from afar. Guy Cipriano describes how the 2021 Golf Industry Show forces us to rethink the future of industry events.

February 5, 2021

I planned on staying away from the 2021 Golf Industry Show. We have a surplus of projects and deadlines. Thankfully, projects and deadlines never stop in publishing. Busy sure beats the alternative.

We also received the green light earlier in the week to commence an internship program. We needed to immediately begin developing a meaningful 12-week experience for whomever we hire. The USGA and R&A then gave us a social media gift by announcing the next steps in their Distance Insights Report, so, foolishly, I turned Twitter dialogue into a self-created distraction.

Something had to be squeezed from the schedule. For two days, I marched the around office telling our team, “Who really needs to visit a trade show on a computer?”

I went to bed on Wednesday night, looked in the mirror Thursday morning and realized I wasn’t displaying the growth mindset we strive to inject into every decision Golf Course Industry makes. In short, I was being the grumpy, middle-aged dude I often bemoan. I tossed some weights around and did some quick cardio before rushing to the office to register for the trade-show portion of the first virtual Golf Industry Show. I left the office that evening enthralled.

Like the members and customers they serve, the GCSAA and industry companies adapted to 2020-21 circumstances in a creative and inspiring way. The result? An event that will seriously make many rethink the future of education, networking and purchasing.

Without boarding a plane, paying $200 a night for quality lodging, eating junk food and losing sleep, I spent five hours scrolling a trade show floor. I watched product videos ranging from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. I chatted with existing industry contacts. I even made a few new contacts.   

Admittedly, I’m not a video person. I prefer the versatility of podcasts, the depth of published words and chaos found on Twitter. Golf tournaments and college football and basketball games comprise 98 percent of the video content I stream. But a scroll around the virtual block proved videos of the right length — 30 seconds to 2 minutes, according to a quick survey of my Twitter followers — spark and satisfy curiosity. Quality content can be just as effective in learning about products and services as prolonged conversations. PDFs, imagery, audio, social media and video can all be integrated into a virtual trade show booth, leading to purpose-filled conversations between end-users and vendors.     

We’re standing on the first fairway of virtual engagement. The possibilities are limitless … if you enter this realm with an open mind. 

As I scrolled the list of Golf Industry Show participants, I noticed hundreds of assistant superintendents, equipment technicians and students, many of whom were likely first-time attendees. During an in-person GIS, I might spot, at most, a few dozen assistants, with nearly all of them representing mega-budget clubs. Lower costs make virtual events more inclusive for the next generation of turf leaders, a group we all need to connect with to make retiring in this wonderful industry a possibility.

A mobile device and keyboard are the preferred communication mechanisms for younger generations. Who are we to judge them? Interacting with somebody wearing a suit old enough to be your father can be, well, intimidating. There’s nothing intimidating about clicking on a booth and typing a few words while wearing comfortable clothes.  

Still, I went to bed following my first virtual trade show experience feeling a bit conflicted. I learned a ton. But was any of it real? Can you learn as much on a screen as you can from staring into somebody’s eyes? Will chats yield productive follow-up conversations? Do companies, especially smaller ones, have enough resources to create fresh booth content?

Commerce will dictate the future of large-scale events. It always does. The world has changed more in the past year than at any point in our lives. We can either adapt or reflect on the days of packed show floors. Reflect too long, and you’ll be stuck at the back of the virtual pack.

We can keep real relationships and maximize emerging platforms. You just need to look in that mirror and embrace something different.

And you can do it without missing deadlines. 

Guy Cipriano is Golf Course Industry’s editor-in-chief.