Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge
and the dissemination of truth."

John F. Kennedy

Meet our Thoughtleaders:
An Interview with
Stephanie Selesnick
by Gordon Nary


Return to Stephanie's Webpage
Thoughtleaders Main Page

Gordon:     What made you consider the Exhibition profession as a career?

Stephanie: Itís in my blood. I grew up in the trade show industry. My mom, Denyse C. Selesnick, was a magazine publisher and started producing exhibitions in the 1970ís. She organized her first exhibition in the US in 1972 and in Mexico City in 1977 Ė before there were any proper convention centers there. I loved watching a whole city come together and exist for three days then disappear. It was a real adrenaline rush.  

At UCI where I went to college, I was very involved in event and concert production. I continued to be a floor manager at Momís shows. After college, although I worked in live concert production for a number of years, I continued working at Momís expos. I joined ITI full time in 1993 and have not looked back.  

Gordon:      Did you have any mentors when you first started your Exhibition career?

Stephanie:
 My mom, Denyse was certainly a mentor. Others included her business partner, Ana P. Druk, Gary Shapiro (CES), Edward Liu (CEMS Singapore and China) and Neil Grossman (Diversified) who passed away way too early. I was/am very lucky!

I also got very involved in IAEE, receiving my CEM designation in 1996 and began attending the SISO Executive Conference a year later. Between the two organizations, I learned a lot Ė not only from the classes but also (especially) the people. 

Gordon:      How has the Exhibition business changed since your joined the profession?

Stephanie: The use of technology and seeing more women in power. When I began, my mom was one of the very, very few women who owned or ran their own companies. She even got in trouble at an NAEM (now IAEE) annual meeting for wearing an ERA (equal rights amendment) pin. Now, while there is still a glass ceiling Ė itís gotten better. Itís interesting to see the mix at SISO Ė the CEO Summit is still male dominated, but the Executive Leadership Conference is at least 60% women. 

Technology Ė I remember Mom getting so excited about receiving telexes (for the younger readers, google it!) then faxes (wow!) and getting our first computer. It was an Mac Classic. Iím still an Apple fan. However, I think sometimes though, weíre too dependent on it. What happens if you have a system crash or technology goes down during a show? Many people are so dependent that they canít get past the crisis and solve the problem old school style.  

Also, what happened to having a phone conversation? My rule of thumb: if an email conversation goes back and forth more than five times, pick up the phone, hash out whatever it is, then send a confirming email. Way easier and you may glean information you wouldnít have just by using email or IMing.  

Gordon:      Why the international focus in your work?

Stephanie:   I got to work the aforementioned first show Mexico. This was pre-NAFTA and there were no convention centers in Mexico City at the time. I fell in love with the travel, people and cultures. My international love affair continues through today and has only expanded, having attended the UFI Congresses in Abu Dhabi and BogotŠ, Colombia in the last 3 years. If we can make friends and do business with people from around the world, it becomes a much smaller and equally enjoyable place. There are so many amazing people in our industry Ė worldwide.  

Gordon:     What are some of the cultural challenges in international exhibiting?

Stephanie: No one else on the planet produces shows the way we do in the U.S. Drayage is handled by freight forwarders. IAEEís display guidelines don't exist and neither does pipe and drape (except Canada). Itís all about cubic space.  

Other differences include how confrontation is handled. Many other cultures won't directly tell you something is wrong until itís a huge problem that needs to be solved. Itís not that they are telling untruths, but that they donít want to bother you with small issues (that later blow up). You have to be better at asking questions and a lot more hands on with your partners and employees.  

Lastly, the concept of Face comes into play Ė especially in Latin America and Asia. You have to leave people a graceful way out of a bad situation if you are going to work with them in the future. 

Gordon:    As a co-founder of the weekly #expochat on twitter, how do social media and exhibitions most effectively interact?

Stephanie: Most of the time show organizers suck at the whole 24/7, 365 day a year thing. We have to engage our communities year-round and participate on whatever platforms they are. Social media is such an awesome tool for discovery and research Ė as well as PR and marketing. Most organizers forget about the first and only concentrate on the latter. 

What I love about #expochat is we get in depth on different topics with people from all over the exhibition business Ė from exhibitors to suppliers to organizers to consultants to press Ė all expressing their own opinions. People are not afraid of being controversial and some very cool solutions have been proposed to common issues we all face. Join us every Wednesday at 12 noon pacific, 3pm ET. You may also check out past chats by going to www.expochat.org.  

Gordon:   You are in demand as a public speaker. Please list some of the recent events at which you presented.

Stephanie: Recently I spoke to two classes at UNLV, SourceDirect at ASD speaking about successfully doing business with the Chinese and was also on a panel discussing sourcing products from Mexico, and IAEEís annual meeting in Los Angeles last December presenting a ďcampfireĒ session on attracting international exhibitors and visitors to your US show, and on a panel that did a deep dive on attracting international attendees with Jo-Anne Kelleway from InfoSalons (the largest global registration company), Denise Capello from the RAI Amsterdam and moderated by Claudia Mauer, MDG. I was just asked to speak with Communication students at College of Southern Nevada later this month. 

Gordon:   You have been a guest lecturer at UNLV during the past few years. What are some of the courses that you have taught?

Stephanie: It is so fun to engage with the future of our industry! My specialty at UNLV for both grads and undergrads has been social media and events, conventions and exhibitions. I try to make it relevant and entertaining for them. Unfortunately, Dr. Curtis Love is retiring this semester and Iím not sure whatís going to happen to the exhibition curriculum.   

Gordon:  What are some of the most common questions that your students ask you about a career in the Exhibition profession?

Stephanie: How can I get into it? What can I make? How fast can I advance? Most donít realize that thereís a lot of miles (literally) that have to be walked to gain the experience and confidence to make rapid decisions on show site Ė or how many moving parts there really are to a successful trade show. But their enthusiasm is infectious Ė and refreshing.

© 2015 by Gordon Nary