The Directors’ Dialogue

On the art of creating a virtual booksellers trade show

2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least. But if there is a silver lining to be found it is perhaps that so many bookstores have risen to that challenge, finding new and creative ways to stay in business and serve their communities.

Organizations like SIBA and NAIBA have also had to become creative and innovative in order to serve their member bookstores. Creativity and innovation are the driving forces behind New Voices New Rooms: the joint SIBA/NAIBA virtual show.

Eileen Dengler, the Executive Director of NAIBA, and Linda-Marie Barrett, the Executive Director of SIBA, joined forces to harness the resources of both their organizations to produce a virtual event that would go above and beyond in meeting the needs of their member stores. They recently sat down together (on video, of course, from their own respective offices) to talk about New Voices New Rooms, its challenges and some of the hopes they have for the event.

(l) Eileen Dengler, NAIBA Executive Director, (r) Linda-Marie Barrett, SIBA Executive Director

What are your roles at New Voices New Rooms?

Eileen: Linda-Marie and I are working (virtually) shoulder-to-shoulder to create the programming, fill the exhibit hall, and dream up fun events for all who wish to be part of this great bookselling community.

Linda-Marie: We want to create programming that’s compelling and meaningful for everyone involved: booksellers, authors, publishers, and vendors. We intend to curate each event carefully to make some virtual magic. Just you wait and see 🙂

What are some of your goals for this event?

Eileen: I want this virtual event to reach the booksellers and publishers who felt an in-person meeting was either hard to attend because of time or money constraints, or who didn’t know about this community of booksellers and publishers. A community that champions and cheers each other, and lends a helping hand and sage advice so everyone succeeds.

Linda-Marie: To that end, we are crafting events that offer booksellers things they expect and need from a tradeshow and things they might not have thought of or expect from a virtual show: A fun and productive experience that inspires. Insider info about books and gifts that they can use to handsell with great success. Education they can take action on immediately. Connections with publishers and vendors that enhance their businesses. Opportunities to engage with each other and network. Meaningful communication is a high priority for New Voices New Rooms.

What have been some of the challenges to creating this event?

How can we make this easy, safe, responsive, engaging, and worthwhile?

Linda-Marie Barrett, SIBA

Linda-Marie: Running a virtual trade show is new to SIBA and NAIBA, though we’ve both been running online events for years. We’re learning new things every day, and challenging ourselves to consider every angle of our programming from an attendee’s perspective. How can we make this easy, safe, responsive, engaging, and worthwhile? We have a great team in place that’s tech-savvy, very experienced with running a trade show, and focused on doing this expertly.

Eileen: The technical side of hosting a virtual event has been a challenge. It is not as simple as sending out a zoom invite and sitting in front of your screen at the appointed time. It is complicated, time consuming, and intricate, and we are fortunate to have the skills from the great staff at SIBA and NAIBA to guide us, research options, and create a platform that is user focused and friendly.

What are you most excited about?

Eileen: Through this virtual conference, the doors are going to open wide to so many more booksellers and publishers, and these new connections, friendships, and business relationships are so exciting for me.

Linda-Marie: One of the upsides to a virtual show is that geographic barriers are less important, and we will be able offer presentations from writers who would probably not be able to come to an in person event. So we’ll see more presenters from other countries, or who are usually in such high demand their schedule is very limited. And perhaps people who normally wouldn’t be attending a show. I’d love to see more editors at the shows. And because virtual means you get these little windows into people’s living rooms, offices, and lives, you get to “meet” writers in their own environment, so to speak. Imagine talking to a cookbook author in their own kitchen! (I really like to cook).

What do you hope booksellers will take away from New Voices New Rooms?

Eileen: These new voices in new rooms will give us all more ideas, contacts, and a stronger sense of belonging in our community.

Linda-Marie: Community is vital! It’s always been a goal of these shows to give our booksellers skills to help them make their businesses successful, and access to new books and products that they will want to sell. Those goals haven’t changed, but this year I think there is an added one: to bring our bookstores through the pandemic and begin feeling excited about the future. It seems like a long way away right now – everything is so volatile and uncertain. But we also need books and literature more than ever. That hasn’t changed, it has become more important. And I think our bookstores know it and want to be there for their communities.

Do you see New Voices New Rooms as a model for future events?

I think we are all learning and appreciating new ways of doing business and getting together.

Eileen Dengler, NAIBA

Linda-Marie: I do. It has been really rewarding working with Eileen and Kit at NAIBA and seeing their perspective on things, and I think it is a natural partnership. We seem to give each other lots and lots of great ideas! So we intentionally built New Voices New Rooms with the potential for future programs in mind. The “infrastructure” of the event is stable and ready to be used for more things if we decide we want to.

Eileen: I think we are all learning and appreciating new ways of doing business and getting together. As we plan and imagine the future, virtual events for bookstores and the associations will be part of our formats. New Voices New Rooms could very well live on. We shall take the good and move forward from there to a better place.


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