For MDs in the SME sector, this month often plays host to one of the most important decisions of the year: to trade-show or not to trade-show. Sales staff are normally in favour, since shows produce easy leads as well as some company-funded hedonism. The techies are almost always against, some still receiving regular physiotherapy from the last batch of shows.
My first show was at the monstrous RAI centre in Holland. As junior engineer, I had been elected to drive a long-wheelbase Transit van from England. I had never driven on the wrong side of the road on purpose, and the idea of manoeuvring a truck through the bike-ridden streets of Amsterdam was a little intimidating.
Baldrick, christened so for his many 'cunning' navigational plans, such as routing from Newcastle to London via Glasgow, was my SatNav at that time. He had a tiny screen and, as I discovered on this trip, was a raving xenophobe, refusing to acknowledge any form of road network outside the UK.
When I finally arrived, our pitch was about four years' walk through a labyrinth of show halls. I had strict orders from the boss. Firstly, to make sure everything was on the stand by the end of the day and, secondly, to leave neither van nor stand unattended. With most of Narnia between the pitch and the van, this was going to be a struggle. A straight-talking Dutchman suggested I drive through the building to the stand. It was a bizarre experience, but it worked, and the only casualty was a pair of automatic sliding doors that closed when I was halfway through.
As per normal, I set up the stand from a practical viewpoint, making sure the various cables were long enough and I could access the servers running our display screens. It took hours. That evening our marketing department, a middle-aged woman with an artistic eye (and temperament), rolled up and demanded everything be moved round.
I worked through the night so that once the sales team turned up, full of bravado and hair product, the stand was perfect. For the next three days punters and salesmen pulled cables, knocked screens, kicked server boxes, fused our electrics with a kettle and generally caused trouble. After the show ended, the salesmen went out, got very drunk and missed their flight home, so I had some help packing up the stand from my favourite sort of salesmen, quiet hung-over ones.
At this moment I am descending gradually into Heathrow, giving me approximately five minutes to decide whether or not to commit to a number of shows in 2012 with a trainee engineer snoring from the week's efforts just over the aisle. I think the next phase of his training should involve Amsterdam and a Transit van. Perhaps we can toughen him up a little!
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