With chronicling and sharing the many decision points for NRF’s Big Show in 2021 with our audiences, it only seemed appropriate to attend and celebrate the successes of the live event personally. It felt even more critical as Omicron surprised the events world again shortly before many attendees and exhibitors made final plans to attend.  

Below is my personal experience as an attendee from a fellow events professional. My goal is to share the viewpoint we rarely get to have as event organizers.  

nrf big show 2022

Advance Event Communications 

Communicating to attendees what to expect and how to prepare for a large-scale event is important. With many attendees and exhibitors/sponsors potentially attending a live event for the first time, it is even more critical. NRF was not only transparent and concise with their communications, but they also regularly communicated updates and requirements on how to attend (safely). For example, complying with local, state, and national guidelines, Big Show was both mask and vaccine required. You can find their policies and updates here. Given the industry NRF serves (retail), it is no surprise that the majority of their audience was accustomed to understanding and complying with these guidelines. 

Event Arrival  

Upon arriving at the newly renovated Javits Center, it was humbling to think back to the images of the center staged for a COVID field hospital versus trade show booths. I checked in to receive my vaccination wristband using the Clear Health Pass app. Not only was it easy and efficient, but the staff was also friendly and focused on getting everyone in the facility quickly. From there, I headed to grab my badge at the touchless check-in. Once my identity was confirmed, I gazed upon all the fantastic companies and technology. 

The Show Flow 

As I have shared many times in webinars, speaking engagements, and other writings, other than masks and vaccination wrist bands, you would be hard-pressed to see the difference between a show floor in 2019 and 2022. While you could argue that fewer attendees (like most current events) are different, I witnessed authentic engagement from attendees and exhibitors—deep conversations. Genuine excitement to be back together.  

With my market research background and my inability to not ask questions, I spoke to a few exhibitors asking the simple question, “how’s it going?” A few themes emerged from my conversation. 

  • Thankfulness for the opportunity to be in-person and reconnect with clients and prospects.  
  • The “right” buyers on the show floor with less distraction.  
  • The random or serendipitous conversations and connections on and off the show floor at various moments.  
  • Feeling that being at the show was not just a commitment to NRF, but as a retail industry and every one of their customers.  

Education Sessions 

Even with distancing and the need to increase seating (a common theme among many of our clients), sessions were filled with learners enjoying each live session. Panels could easily interact with each other and the audience. And once again, like an awkward market researcher, I sat in a session upfront and turned around to observe. Instead of little squares, some with just photos and others checking emailing while watching the session – you could see the connection and understanding between the speaker and attendee. Side conversations. Post-session conversations as they walked to their next agenda item. While we have mastered virtual event education, seeing live attendees consume education in this format.  

The Buzz and Hum 

Nobody was on mute. There were sounds of conversations and demonstrations. Music. Laughter. Applause. You forget how these ambient sounds create a palpable energy. It motivated you to explore areas organically and have spontaneous conversations – things you can’t replicate in the virtual world. It is the experience. 

Final Thoughts 

Having worked with the NRF team and attended this event many years, it was exhilarating to see it stage once again. The entire team deserves kudos for their hard work, perseverance, and dedication to deliver to the retail industry. They rose to the occasion when the retail industry needed the leadership of NRF and opened their doors to meet in person.