Tradeshow 2 Step

Let’s get the reality out on the table early: I don’t love tradeshows. I suppose I was excited during my rookie season at Microsoft when I took my first business trip in 1988 to a tradeshow called Comdex in Las Vegas. At the time, this was the centerpiece of the computing world’s exposition calendar, but for me it was the opportunity to learn that standing behind a podium for 8 hours demonstrating Microsoft Works to random passers-by was actually exciting for about 30 minutes. After that it was nothing but hard work followed by bad hotel food and a sore throat. I’m not much of a party-scene guy so I didn’t even enjoy the nightlife recovery offered at most shows.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (C) holds up twenty dollars he won from Robbie Bach (R), President of the company's Entertainment and Devices Division, as guitarist Slash  (L) joins them in a "Guitar Hero" match durling the keynote address at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2008. It was GatesÕ tenth and final CES keynote address.  Photo by Lee Celano/Microsoft Corp.

Bill Gates holds up twenty dollars he won from me as guitarist Slash joins us in a “Guitar Hero” match during the keynote address at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

As I progressed through my career, Comdex faded but was quickly replaced by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and E3 on my tradeshow dance card. My role at these shows also changed, as I went from demo booth duty to supporting Bill Gates’ keynote speeches to actually doing my own PR and presentations.

Both CES and E3 were crazy in their own way – CES was just so massive in scope and scale that it was impossible to actually experience “the show”. E3 involved 50,000 gaming industry folks in one venue including all of the noise and visual stimulus you can possibly imagine – something that is wild to see and makes one pause for a moment to contemplate what it all means.

This past week I returned to E3 for the first time in 7 years as part of the kickoff for my new book, Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal. E3 played a central role in the Xbox story so it was apropos that I return to the scene of some of my highest and lowest moments as Chief Xbox Officer. And despite all my mixed feelings about tradeshows, I realized that they encompass some of the defining moments of my career:

  1. Restaging the entire run of show for BillG’s Comdex keynote after a particularly bad dress rehearsal. There was some yelling at that one.
  2. Keynoting CES with Bill twice and with Steve Ballmer twice…sans yelling.
  3. Pressing the on/off switch on the original Xbox at E3 and watching the product fail to start – ahem…
  4. Working with Dwayne Johnson (at the time, “the Rock”) and Donald Trump (still “the Donald”) on Xbox PR at CES and E3.
  5. Standing on stage at E3 with Mohammad Ali – simply the Greatest
E3 XBox Press Briefing EA Announcement 15 MS_05_2004
The Champ 2


Last week’s visit to E3 was really the first show I’d been to as an attendee, and I found that the experience was different…and yet the same. I actually had a chance to walk the show floor and experience the exhibits – this was a new, stress-free activity for me. I was also able to answers press questions objectively and without any PR spin required – now that was totally fun. At the same time, Electronic Arts was still selling sports, Ubisoft was still selling Tom Clancy, Square Enix was still selling Final Fantasy 11 (which first released in 2002), Microsoft was still selling a new version of Halo, and Sony still felt like the enemy. And I still don’t like tradeshows.


But as the irony gods would have it, I actually apply many of the lessons I learned at those shows in my new work as an author, speaker, and Civic Engineer.

  • Tradeshows require a strategic plan – Xbox Revisited is based on the simple premise that we need purpose, principles, and priorities in our personal, professional, and civic lives to have a strategy for success.
  • The best keynote speeches have a simple message – Xbox Revisited delivers a simple message about the power of the 3P Framework: “Solving difficult problems requires a tremendous ability to simplify.”
  • People come to tradeshows to learn AND be entertained – Xbox Revisited tells a personal and compelling story with a deeper purpose. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a memorable, entertaining story is worth ten thousand.

It takes a great team to create a successful tradeshow experience – We need a big team…in fact we need an entire army of civic engineers dedicated to our most difficult community issues. Xbox Revisited provides a roadmap for civic engineers and their armies.

As you can see, I’m pretty excited about Xbox Revisited and my work as a civic engineer – excited enough to go to a tradeshow to talk about it. I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing.