Why exhibit?

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Today, the exhibition genre has to compete with, or accommodate, a plethora of print and digital information and presentation of products and services. In theory an on-line presentation of, for example, automobiles can be comprehensive and objective from the comfort of your own environment. Hyundai, for one, heavily promoted its Click to Buy™ car purchase plan. But how many of us would be prepared to proceed without a test drive?


Research at Oklahoma State University suggests that sight processes some 83% of what we perceive, 11% is via our hearing, 3.5% our sense of smell, 1.5% touch and 0.5% taste. This would appear to support the notion behind Hyundai’s website, a policy of show them and they will buy.

The relatively low percentage for hearing is quite disappointing and is why teachers and presenters, no matter how talented, should use visual aids.

The high percentage for sight is not quite so surprising when you consider that reading is a sight-based activity too. We are bombarded by visual stimuli but routinely learn not to pay any attention to much of what we see. Our interests, self-interests and moods tend to determine what we notice and that which we ignore.

Perception is subjective

Our perceptions, often semi-automatic, are in fact each unique to us. No-one else experiences an event entirely from our point of view, either in terms of our physical visual location or how our mind responds to it internally. How we receive these perceptions is modified by our assembled set of past experience and comprehension. It matters too whether it managed to capture our full attention. Just a quick look at eye-witness reports of an incident or accident underlines this as being the case, they are at odds and that’s before any witness motivations and prejudices are taken in to account.

Our perceptions are not only unique to us, there are those who suggest that our thoughts are all that we can logically believe and trust in. This is the philosophic notion of solipsism, that we can only truly know and believe in our own existence (from solus [alone] and ipse [self]).

However. in fact we don’t see with our eyes, we see with our mind. This is where the Hyundai notion should fail. Assessing a new car is about the look and smell of the internal details, the noise of the door closing, the feel of the seat, the touch of the steering and brakes, the sound of the engine… This plethora of sensations during a test drive coalesces into a decision – not to forget the price and trade-out deal! No on-line picture or video can replicate that. Perhaps virtual reality may try, but that will still require you to visit a suitable device, and will you trust it without a physical drive?

Feel it, touch it…

That is a long-winded, but effective, way of demonstrating that the experience of a live exhibition is preferable to a catalogue – print or digital. At an exhibition we can view competitive products and services, initially without being identified so that we are not subsequently harassed. The exhibitors should have stage-managed their presentation so that we can experience their product or service in action, with everything on hand for us to make a judgement. We can assess the relative skills and approach of competitive suppliers. We can collect printed material for reference, we might access their website before and after this face-to-face encounter. We experience them holistically, in the round, personally. This multi-sensory encounter is processed by our mind.

Volume 1 will look at almost one hundred events held across the century between 1760-1860 to seek to understand something of their objectives, processes and outcomes. These were held a quarter of a millennium ago and yet their issues and approaches reveal that the challenges to those pioneering event managers were much the same as those today.

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