Trade Show to Hell

by Translation Guy on June 14, 2010

This week was MD&M East at the Javits Center here in NYC, so I stopped by for some face time with a few of my medical device clients, got to handle some of the incredible sci-fi contraptions that we translate about, and then walked the floor, doing the meet and greet, prospecting among the booths (I am way too cheap to rent a booth), which naturally got me thinking about haunted houses.

Richard Wiseman is one of a number of researchers who have investigated what makes haunted places feel haunted. If you don’t believe in ghosts, why are you more likely to get a chill down your spine in one place than another? Magnetism, infrasound, psychological factors, whatever, some places are just more shivery than others, and that’s why we call them haunted. I’ve noticed the same unexplained phenomena on trade show floors since the downturn. Parental Advisory:  Scary Trade Show stories may not be appropriate for younger viewers.

Not that I’ve ever seen some rep handing out spooky business cards, no haunted furniture, no dust-covered skeletons. Something far creepier. Bad coffee. Bright fluorescent lights far overhead shining soullessly across the bald heads filling archipelagos of curtains and signage, each booth a little brand island populated by sales guys and sales engineers and sales associates tempting passersby with eye candy, and bowls of candy like little eyes, and the little eyes of the sales guys, squinting and sizing, and it’s so, so, what? Not a haunting, not even a flaunting like it was back in the good old days, and a lot more girthlings than guantlings. It’s most of all daunting, if the rhyming device employed in this sentence is to be carried through to its bitter end.

Dauntingly, everyone wants to be somewhere else. The engineers want to be engineering over their spreadsheets, the salesmen want to be pinging back at their desks, and all would rather die a thousand virtual deaths at the hands of their sons on Xbox than drink overpriced cocktails in some Times Square hotel bar. Yet all are bound to their booths by the powerful enchantments of management wizards.

Am I mirroring? Yes. This is a blog, so call it a fun-house mirror. Like most everyone else, I hate working the floor. But I lurch from booth to booth draped in the heavy, ghostly chains of commerce, because I am too cheap to rent a booth. Nothing looks more pathetic to me than a translation services booth.

Despite my good intentions, I didn’t have the heart to research beforehand, so I picked prospects based on signage. I began my intro with one likely suspect, and suddenly a witch jumped out of a curtained corner. “I do all the translation here! German, French, Greek. I do it all!”

“Gee, I guess I should hire you to work for me,” I said, which is my exit line when talking to an amateur who thinks they know what we are doing, but doesn’t.

But I couldn’t leave the field without receiving a parting shot. “But that could change…perhaps you have other ways you wish to use your time…”

I laughed.  “No. It will never change. I won’t bullshit you. We will never use your service! All these other guys say, ‘OK, I’ll take your card, I’ll give it to the right guy,’ or whatever, even though they are just going to toss it in the trash as soon as you round the corner. But I won’t do that.”

“Thanks. I guess that concludes my pitch. So how’s the show working out for you this year?”

“It’s terrible!!”

“I’ve been picking up on that. When the sales guy tells you he’s doing ‘OK’ in that certain tone, you can tell he’s not making his numbers.”

“See? Bullshit! I told you I wouldn’t bullshit you!”

I felt for her, for pitiful me too, for all my sales brothers and sisters caught up in this daunting venture. So as my demeanor changed, they began to bare their blackened sales souls to me. “My feet hurt.” “I want to get out of this booth, but I can’t leave.” “This show is costing me too much money.” “I hate the Yankees!” That last disclosure was a bit too much for even my newfound empathy, so it was time to go.

On the bright side, I did get a free Wiffle ball and bat from the New England Business Development Council, which they assured me had no connection to the Red Sox.

See you at the show next year!


  1. Xman says:

    Booths? Haunted houses? WHAT?!?

    • Ken says:

      Xman–It’s a metaphor.

  2. Autumn says:

    Of course! There is a spiritual world and the material world. I believe in the Holy Ghost. 😀

  3. Doug Hoyns says:

    I’ve had alot of experiences with spirits, right before my grandma passed away we started hearing church bells on a monitor that we kept next to her bed and then we started seeing my grandpa who passed away 19 years before in the clock above her bed. So I know how ya feel.

    P.S. Ghost Adventures is way better then Ghost Hunters!!

  4. Francine says:

    “Scary Trade Show stories may not be appropriate for younger viewers.” – love it!

  5. Johnnie says:

    It’s hard to escape the fact that trade shows suck. Sure, lots of people look forward to shows like CEDIA (Consumer Electronics) and geeks love anything Microsoft or Sony decides to hype up, and for good reason. Trade shows, especially those that feature top-notch semiars, can be really fascinating for interns, especially if you get to hobknob with some guys that have been in the business for awhile and can give you some good insight. It’s a perfect opportunity to see the newest and best products, and to actually get a moment to get some hands-on time with really pricey equipment.

    But when you’ve gone to trade shows for a while, they become some of the most grating, irritating places on earth. This year marks the third year that I’ve been going to trade shows and I, as an intern, attend about eight a year.

    And nothing like dealing with the Teamsters Union–those lazy jackasses that run the trade shows. Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure there’s plenty of people that work hard for the Teamsters–they just don’t work at trade shows. No, what you get at the McCormick Place in Chicago, for example, is a bunch of knuckle-dragging, waste-of-sperm neanderthal degenerates who know somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody, so they shouldn’t (and don’t) demean themselves to even lift a pinky to help (which is what they are hired for) and get utterly offended when you ask them to do so–or they mutter something and say “I’m on break.”

  6. Lauran E. says:

    I am not trying to be profane or disrespectful—just literal. When our clients first come to us, we hear them say: “Our current strategies for trade shows cost too much or generate too little return.”

  7. I’ve learned very little at trade shows, but I can say that high heels and alligators have no place at a trade show. Trade shows are held on concrete floors. Concrete floors literally suck the energy from your body, so choose footwear that will give you cushioning.

  8. Roy says:

    Trade shows in general suck now. Nobody goes to industry shows. Even consumer-focused shows are in severe decline.

    Why spend the money on travelling when you can get all the info you need online?

    I’ll be happy when trade shows finally die.

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