by Jim Olsen October 7 , 2003 -- I have been going to GraphExpo events since the 60's, and I have never experienced anything like GraphExpo '03. Last Saturday night I was reluctantly packing my bag not wanting to go to the show. Normally, I want to go to those events and have people notice me. I'm a consultant in the industry and I always wear a bow tie as part of my “branding” effort. But I didn't want to walk through those aisles and have those thousands of people stare at the paralyzed right side of my face - the drooping eye, the half-frown of my mouth, my lop-sided smile. I have had Bell's Palsy for a month now. As I understand it, it is a virus that affects the tri-facial nerve. But I did fly to Chicago on Sunday and, as I entered, I could tell that every one of those attendees and exhibitors were looking at me, and wondering what was wrong with this defective person. Well, I'm back, and I have a beautiful smile inside of me. I have just experienced one of the most wonderful and fulfilling times of my life. I have attended hundreds of conferences, meetings and trade shows during my career, but I have never been to one like this. Actually I now realize that I have been to many events like this before; I just didn't know it. It wasn't the event that was different; it was I. I was amazed at the understanding and empathy that old friends and new acquaintances offered me. In the Press Room, Joel Friedman, Executive Director of HDIA sat with me at lunch and chatted away while I struggled with my food. He realized that it was difficult for me to eat and talk at the same time so he kept a non-stop dialogue going which I thankfully didn't have to respond to. (Of course talking incessantly is quite natural for Joel). Once I finished my lunch, Joel and I landed on a strategy to defuse and explain away my affliction. We decided that I would tell folks I was on the Atkins Diet, which I am, and that in addition to losing twenty-nine pounds, which I have, I had encountered a serious “side” effect – the whole “side” of my face was falling down! We both thought that was a brilliant tactic and happily patted ourselves on the back for coming up with that one. Immediately after entering the show itself, Rich Cutri, Vice President, Marketing for the Xerox iGEN3 team, came up to me and said, “Hey, I see you have Bell's Palsy. Don't worry. It will soon go away. Mine did.” During my time at the show, I was amazed at how many people either had had Bell's Palsy or knew someone who did, and, to a person, they assured me not to worry – like Rich, they said it would soon go away. Frankly, I wouldn't have gone if it were not for some important meetings I needed to attend, and in those meetings the empathy and understanding continued to be felt. At one point, in a meeting with Frank Steenburgh, Xerox Senior Vice President, I lost my train of thought. Frank reached over a placed his hand on my arm and said, “Don't worry Jim that will go away. It used to happen to Rich Cutri all the time.” What a reassuring feeling. I then promptly went on to lose my train of thought twice more during the meeting, and by the time we got to the third one, everyone was laughing and helping me get back on track. Later, at a Scitex Digital Printing reception, I met an old friend Ben Cooper (a very senior vice president of PIA), and Ben informed me that he had had bi-lateral palsy of his face a few years ago and he had lost a whole bunch of weight because he couldn't eat at all. I told him going on the Atkins Diet was a more appealing idea. He was of course very helpful in reassuring me that things were going to be O.K. There was another major meeting to go. It was dinner at a posh restaurant with Bob Lindgren, President, Printing and Imaging Association of Southern California, his wife Lena and several of his staff members. This was a milieu that I had been very concerned about since I had not eaten in a public restaurant for over a month except with my wife Debbie. Needless to say, as Bob is often fond of saying, “Not to worry.” Everyone at that table was extremely gracious and I was soon completely at ease – especially after I had informed them that my malady was the result of the now-famous diet. Before I left the show, I was walking down the aisles with great confidence and feeling very good about having made the decision to attend. It isn't very often that a person gets an opportunity to extend personal thanks in a public forum like whattheythink.com, so I'm taking advantage of it. Thank you one and all, both mentioned and unmentioned, for your support and understanding, and for this humbling experience. You have shown me more than ever that what counts is what is on the inside – not the outside. It's great to be part of an industry that includes all of you.