I recently spent a few hours up in Birmingham, at their trainstation/airport/convention centre.

If that sounds deadly boring it’s because:

  • You’ve spent time at an airport
  • You’ve spent time at a train station
  • You’ve been to Birmingham

I felt a sense of dread on the train ride up there, and not just for the above reasons, but also because I had been dragooned in the day before to give a half hour presentation on water efficiency.

The presentation went as well as could be expected; that is, passably. I went a little too fast, a few of the slides didn’t work, I leaned too heavily on charm over preparation, and ultimately received a well-deserved warm smattering of applause from the sparse crowd. Then, with nothing else to do, I was free to roam the Energy Event killing time before my train home.

I very quickly realized that I had convention/trade shows all wrong. If you can get past the pervasive smell of desperation, you can have an amazing time.

Okay, maybe ‘amazing’ is overstating the case a bit, but trade show attendance (even at something dry and nichey like this) is a lot like going to a fun fair. In some ways, it’s even better.

First of all, it didn’t cost me anything. Second of all, I got paid. And third of all, I learned all kinds of things about energy procurement and state-of-the-art billing techniques. That never happened at the fun fairs of my childhood.

As for the good times:

It wasn’t the same as getting a cheaply made teddy bear, or gigantic rubber ball, but I collected a set of branded reusable shopping bags full of candy (so! much! candy!), as well as a Rubik’s cube, foam squeeze toys, balloons, pens, highlighters, magazines and notepads.

If I’d had the inclination and bag-space I could’ve collected up a door-stop sized stack of business cards. If I’d had the time and wherewithal, I could’ve collected up even more giveaway trinkets – the stuff they keep under the table, for discerning punters only.

But I didn’t just spend my time wandering around collecting things; that would’ve been silly. Instead I seized the opportunity to drink deep of the experiential happenings available. There were no tattooed chain-smoking carnies, but in their place were an awful lot of mid-twenties guys in shiny suits and spiky hair. And the occasional leggy blonde.

During my day at the fair I managed to, at various points: ride a Segway, play an Operation-like metallic wand game for the chance to win an iPad2, sit behind the wheel of a prototype sportscar, get up close to a prototype of a different electric sports car, check my emails, play some roulette and do some simulated clay pigeon shooting. It wasn’t quite on the level of ‘knock the milk jugs over with a baseball’, or ‘shoot water into clown’s mouth’ type games, but I still had difficulty prying myself away from the showroom floor in order to make my train.

Obviously all that activity seriously taxed my energy levels. Fortunately I was able to keep peppy thanks to the steady stream of complimentary goods on offer. I had three flat whites, two muffins, a glass of champagne, a chicken finger dipped in salsa, a handful of triangle sandwiches, two energy drinks (Siemens and npower, respectively) a homemade cupcake washed down with a ginger soda water cocktail shaked up by an actual bartender, and of course, candy.

On the train ride home I built myself a nest out of all the free swag, and covered myself with my reusable shopping bags in order to sleep off my stomachache.

But now that the food pains have subsided, the giveaway treats have been disposed of, and my mood has leveled out, I can look back with fondness. I may not get a chance to go next year, but I’ll always have my memories of the Energy Event 2011.