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The 6 Questions with Mike Swartout

AuthorSeveral years ago it was my privilege to walk the Exhibitor Show with Mike Swartout, a true exhibit designer. We got to know each other a little better that day. As someone in the creative field I am always making distinctions of style and finding differences of detail in exhibits, or so I thought. After a while, what you notice is how everything looks the same. It was refreshing to get Mikes perspective on what the creatives in our world had been doing. I am happy to have Mike as my friend and inspiration.

This week I asked Mike Swartout, Classic Exhibits The 6 Questions

1. Tradeshow industry lore is that we all just fell into tradeshow and once you’re in you never leave. For many people that is certainly true. For others, they leave but a part of them remains.  How did you get into the business?

MS – Fell in was right.  As a “suit” I’d been to tradeshows before but never really thought about where all the stuff came from.  One day, after returning from California on completion of a contract job, sick of being a “suit” I saw an ad in the paper.  The only thing about the ad I noticed was that a proficiency in 3d Studio Max required – a rather specialized piece of software at the time that I’d been playing with for years.  They didn’t hire me the first time but did the second. I was going to hide there for a year until I decided what I was going to do.  I guess, fifteen years later, I’m pretty well hidden.

And who inspired you to grow into your Tradeshow career?

MS – For growth inspiration in the industry, there’s a small group of “of old hands” lead by Kevin Carty that chose to take me under their wing.  Truly an amazing group of folk actually.


2. What would you be if you were not in Tradeshow?
AuthorMS – Probably a life of itinerant gunkholing.

3. Without considering the customers you visit, focusing only on the location, what is your favorite city to hang out in for business travel and why?
MS – I haven’t spent a lot of time in “tradeshow” cities but of the ones I have Chicago has always entertained me.  I’ll never forget taking a “short cut” through what was apparently So. Chicago.  Later that night, at dinner, I told my client what I did.  She turned white as sheet and lectured me on the risks of Chicago shortcuts.

4. What experience do you recall as a nightmare when it happened but can sit back and laugh about it now?

MS – There is a difference between a large header that has a 10’ radius and 10’ diameter.  I learned this jewel of wisdom when I walked into set up one morning.  There sat the header from hell produced on a 10’ radius because that’s how I drew it.  For those curious the 10’ diameter header did fit.  Other than that I’ve actually been truly lucky that pretty much only my mouth gets me into those sorts of situations.


5. Do you have any hobbies? How does your hobby influence your industry work and vice versa?

MS – I used to be real outdoorsy especially if it involved sailing or kayaking but now I read.  I read voraciously. Suggestions accepted and appreciated.  Not just for entertainment but reference too.  Learning is really important to me.  Hell, I even bought a book on lighting just the other day.  Why would I do that?  I know all there is to know about my craft.  NOT!

6. If you could send a message to yourself day one of your tradeshow career what advice would you give yourself?

MS – Breathe.

What the heck is Gunkholing? – Look it up, it’s a real thing

Thanks Mike!
Next up – We hear from the master of lighting, Rob Cohen and ask him
“The 6 Questions” 

Have someone that you would like me to ask “The 6 Questions” ?
Send me an email at gcamarato@optimagfx.com

What is The 6 Questions?

A clever friend of mine, we’ll call him Harold Mintz, just to use a name, once hipped me to a trick. Harold explained that whenever he is at a party and the conversation is slow he loosens things up with a question. “What did you go to school for and what are you doing now.” Everybody has a story – Brilliant!

Piggybacking on big H’s idea, I’m running a new blog series titled The 6 Questions. I have some of the icons of our industry, folks you all know, lined up and ready to reveal the how, why and whatever. Our tradeshow industry is packed full of some of the most interesting people. They each have a unique story to share. Thanks for reading!   ~ g

About our Author
Gary Camarato is the Vice President of Marketing & Creative Development at Optima™ and has been in the Trade Show industry since 1992.


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