Skip to content

Under Pressure: Managing Mental Health at Trade Events

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we talk frankly about the exciting and the overwhelming aspects of working at trade events and exhibitions. A lot is expected of us working these events - and we've got to deliver - but everyone has a threshold, and things sometimes don't go to plan. 

In some ways trade shows are the ultimate immersive experiences. Sound, colour, light, dazzling imagery and interactive content designed to engage and captivate you and draw you into an alternative reality.

A reality designed to distract you from your normal, everyday experience to make you sense and feel something new and different.

2K (4)

That all sounds rather exciting, doesn’t it? The problem is that we, as human beings, don't always want to be excited, challenged or distracted.

Sometimes we’re not in the right headspace to be overwhelmed by an alternative reality. Sometimes, mentally, we just want to move away from the noise, the colours and the attention seeking delegates who work in such experiences.

Enigma has been supporting clients at global trade shows for 30 years and it’s fair to say that we’ve seen it all: so as this week is Mental Health Awareness week, we thought it was important to acknowledge that not everybody attending a trade show is all smiles and happiness. Some of our friends, colleagues and partners have shared with us their experiences and we think it's important to reflect on that.


Pressure, pressure everywhere (but not a space to think)

The very nature of a trade show is competitive. The cost of the installation, the cost of the staff attending and the pressure to drive sales leads is sometimes challenging for all the delegates.

At almost every event we’ve attended, the organisers office, the press office, the VIP suite, and the keynote lecture theatre have been the epitome of stress and angst. Timings go astray, VIPs don’t turn up and press conferences are cancelled at the last minute. Commercial reality trumps PR requirements and many plans are cancelled, much to the annoyance of organisers and delegates alike.

Untitled design (1)-4

So, this week, please bear in mind that when you enter a huge exhibition arena and head straight to your number one priority destination for that long-planned meeting with a C suite executive that’s been in the diary for months, that maybe, just maybe, it may not happen.

It's not your fault, it's not the executive’s fault and almost certainly not the fault of the person who must break the bad news to you. That person has possibly had to break the same disappointing news to dozens of people. How you choose to express your annoyance is down to you.

Kindness wins

One of the Enigma team once witnessed what happened when a press conference was cancelled at very short notice. Hundreds of very disgruntled and annoyed execs and journalists demanded to know why. The team managing the press conference had been given no information except that it was cancelled - and this was apparently not good enough.

Eventually, a member of that team was sitting on a chair, with their head in their hands not knowing what to do. The furore finally died down and the pressure to explain what had happened passed.

The person sitting on the chair was gone, not to be seen again until the next day, but still looking frail and ashen faced. Fortunately, thanks to the kindness of their other colleagues the smiles and laughter returned eventually.


Peace of mind

So what is the takeaway from our story? We think it’s vital to remember that a team is doing their best in very difficult circumstances, and they are good, professional people - but every person has a breaking point.

You don’t know what is going on with that person at that moment, and sometimes the scale of a negative reaction can be disproportionate to the true size of the problem. And sometimes, reactions to an individual’s perceived failure can extend well beyond the trade show floor.

People can’t read minds, so if things don’t turn out the way we expected them to, think of the people who are trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Weigh up the overall impact of the situation versus your reaction to it.

No matter the scale of the event, people deserve understanding. And possibly most importantly, don’t let one disappointment derail you from having a truly excellent exhibition experience. 

READ NEXT: The Uplifting Power of Great Experiential Design

Enigma creates award-winning custom builds for events, trade shows, 3D exhibitions, museums, interiors and more, bringing effective design solutions to physical and digital spaces. If you'd like to find out more about our work and how we can help with your exhibition needs, book a free consultation here.