The Greatest: Interview with Expo Stars Interactive’s Lee Ali

By June 10, 2019Features
Lee Ali

Lee Ali, MD of global exhibition engagement company Expo Stars discusses his globe-trotting career and some of the burning issues concerning the MICE industry right now…

Lee Ali set up Expo Stars Interactive nearly 12 years ago to help large, international organisations get the most out of exhibitions and events. Lee and his team work on approximately 30 events a month around the world with a team of 2,500 exhibition specialists helping global brands such as BMW, SEMRush and a number of pharmaceutical companies.


I founded Expo Stars Interactive in Manchester and expanded worldwide…

Throughout my career, I’d attended a lot of tradeshows all around the world. But it wasn’t until 2007 when I attended an exhibition in Chicago that I was proactively approached and engaged by an exhibitor. Within two minutes, a professional lead generator caught my attention and qualified me as a potential client by asking the right questions and learning about my challenges. I realised there was a huge gap in the market to help businesses develop and implement pro-active engagement strategies at exhibitions.

I wanted to build a company that could make a difference to organisations and help them achieve a greater return on investment from events. It’s also important for me to educate people about the importance of face-to-face interaction in a modern world that is so dominated by social media and online communication.

The business was set up in Manchester, where it’s still based today, but we very quickly started working with businesses all over the world. The exhibition industry is huge in the US, Middle East and across Europe – and we work with global companies to help them take advantage of these thriving markets.


Exhibitions and conferences have value to businesses…

If businesses get their exhibition strategy and engagement process right, live events can create great opportunities for businesses. They can help to build a valuable new business pipeline for years to come, establish strong relationships with industry peers, partners and customers, and enhance brand reputation.


I am passionate about sales psychology and how businesses can build meaningful relationships…

I first got into business psychology while working as a sales representative in my early career. Understanding how people make decisions and their thought process behind saying yes or no fascinated me. This led me to think about business processes, including how to pre-empt issues before they happen and how factors like brand perception and pricing can impact results.


Mindfulness and positivity are so important…

With long hours and a lot of different pressures to manage, the exhibition industry can be particularly stressful. Practicing mindfulness keeps me calm and in control, even when things – which are usually beyond our control – go wrong. Anything can happen in the lead up to, during, or after an event. Suppliers can let you down, people get sick, even the weather can quite literally put a dampener on events if they’re outdoors.

Meditation and mindful exercises help to keep me focused, objective and look for positive solutions rather than getting caught in a negative cycle. It’s important to lead teams in a calm, positive way. If you’re stressed and anxious, your staff will pick up on your negative energy and it will impact their own mood and performance.


Event technology and face-to-face engagement can work hand-in-hand…

We’re seeing some great uses of technology at exhibitions. For example, interactive glass displays, where glazing is combined with micro-LED lighting and media content, which help businesses project live images and deliver engaging messages to attendees.

Augmented reality can also create a great discussion point on your stand, especially if you’re using it to demonstrate a product in action. Virtual reality, on the other hand, although still quite novel, can cut off communication between you and your attendees. Once that VR headset goes on, you can’t speak to your prospect directly.

And that’s the key to effective use of technology. Tech needs to support personal, face-to-face engagement – not replace it. Technology can also help exhibitors get real-time market intelligence from attendees and well automate some processes. It’s important to work as smartly as possible, so take advantage of the tools available but not at the expense of personal face to face interactions.


The MD of the company isn’t always the best person to put in front of potential customers…

It’s vital during exhibitions for trained promotional staff to be able to read people’s communication styles. By doing this, they can match the way they communicate, which helps to build connections.

Sometimes MDs aren’t always the best person to communicate with their target audience. Of course, they’ll be passionate about their business, product or service, but unless they’re able to engage effectively with potential customers they won’t be the best person to qualify leads and deliver the right key messages. Trained promotional professionals are experienced in proactive attendee engagement, know how to handle rejection and once fully in the business and its offering, they can help exhibitors get the best return on investment.

Learn more about your communication style with the interactive iMA questionnaire at