For the last year-and-a-half, in-person tradeshows have been replaced by web meetings and virtual events. While this has provided the continuity of connecting with colleagues and keeping up with new developments, roadway safety industry leaders are eager to return to meeting face-to-face.
Neil Boudreau, Assistant Administrator for Traffic and Safety at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, attended The American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) virtual Convention & Traffic Expo in early 2021. For him, it’s vitally important to share experiences with other government and local officials, engineers and vendors, so he appreciated the opportunity to interact, even if it wasn’t in person.
“I was happy I could still attend the Expo virtually,” he says, “and there were definite advantages to that method.” For example, the virtual sessions were spread out, allowing him to attend more of them, and he liked the ability to ask questions over virtual chat during the session without interrupting the speakers. However, he missed the person-to-person interaction of a live event. “With a virtual event, it’s easier to get distracted. In a live event, I can shut off the interruptions and focus solely on the Expo.”
Seth Chalmers, Director of Traffic Engineering at Dibble Engineering, presented at the 2021 ATSSA virtual event. He’s accustomed to giving fairly informal live presentations, but for the virtual conference, he needed to tape his session. “We worked with a video company, and we had to do reshoots if we made a mistake,” he says. “That took more time and we had to deal with some degree of latency. After the pre-recorded presentation, however, we did do a real-time, moderated Q&A session.”
The Return to Live Events
ATSSA’s 2022 Convention & Traffic Expo, to be held February 11–15, 2022 in Tampa, marks a return to the in-person event. The theme of the conference is “Reunite for Roadway Safety.”
“Tradeshows are a key factor for networking and sparking innovation in any industry,” said ATSSA’s Cynthia Stubits, Director of Meetings and Conventions. “We learned a lot in 2021 and plan to apply those lessons going forward.”
Boudreau couldn’t be happier. He notes, “For me, it’s great to walk around and engage with vendors, suppliers and manufacturers. I peruse the entire floor then go back and spend time with those exhibitors who have caught my eye. I attend all the technical sessions, but I also go to those that are outside my specific area, like guardrail, because it exposes me to things I don’t do every day. And that helps the agency.”
Chalmers will be presenting again at the live 2022 Expo; his topic will be traffic signal specification standards and approved product lists.
“Having that person-to-person contact makes the presentation more fun to give,” he says. “You can’t read people’s body language through a screen. When I present, I try to make it enjoyable — crack jokes and make it fun — which doesn’t really work in a lecture format. In a live event, your audience can also contribute to the conversation about the topic through their specialized knowledge.”
The Benefits of Collaboration
That collaboration with other attendees is something that Boudreau and Chalmers are both looking forward to in 2022. “I love going to ATSSA’s conferences, have been attending since 1995,” says Chalmers. “I’ve made friendships with people in the industry who I’ve now known for decades.”
Boudreau adds, “You’re able to have impromptu meetings with other attendees when you’re walking between sessions, at lunch, and on the exhibit floor with vendors. I go with the mission of bringing back any information I can that will help keep people safe or protect workers onsite.”
Stubits offers, “We have some exciting presentations planned in two general sessions that will highlight and discuss trends and advancements in roadway safety. Our thought-provoking education sessions, New Products Rollout and the popular Circle of Innovation, will bring together industry professionals and public agency officials to facilitate discussions on new technologies and methods.”
The New Products Rollout allows vendors to showcase their latest products and innovations. It’s well-attended by DOT representatives who come to see the latest developments that might prove useful to their departments.
The Circle of Innovation has a special place in Boudreau’s heart. “I’m one of the founders,” he says. “We thought about how to introduce more innovation to the industry by figuring out our needs and communicating them to suppliers. The manufacturers don’t know what we want unless we tell them. Circle of Innovation is an open forum for state and local folks to discuss that. Here, instead of the vendors making presentations, we talk and they listen.”
“Having an opportunity to speak to the people who develop the technology is really inspiring,” adds Chalmers. “It helps us solve problems and motivates me to be an even greater advocate for safety.”
Safely Sparking Innovation
Stubits says, “People are eager for interaction. There will be endless networking opportunities with an element of fun. One big event this year will be our Chairman’s Big Game Watch Party, the kind of gathering that we’ve all missed in the past year-and-a-half.”
Of course, safety measures will be paramount. “We’re following COVID protocols to ensure everyone’s safety,” she notes. “Consistent with Florida’s Public Health Advisory, we remind attendees that face coverings aren’t a substitute for social distancing, hand washing and staying home when you’re ill. We ask that everyone planning to attend the Annual Convention & Traffic Expo evaluate their health before traveling. Please stay home if you’re sick or have been exposed to others with a confirmed contagious virus.” Participants are asked to check Florida’s COVID-19 response site for the latest information before traveling.
Boudreau’s advice to Expo attendees? “Get involved and participate, walk around and talk to folks. Because I stay engaged, I have unlimited resources backing me up that I can ask about my issues. That helps me to do my job better and makes me more valuable to my agency. Over the years, it’s paid off. Even if the information I gather is not in my own discipline, I’m a conduit to innovation.”