In early January, I had mentioned that I planned to cut-down on the number of conferences I attend, this year. Travel is costly and it can be difficult to try to take too much time out of customer work during busy seasons. My impression is that I’ve now spent a good bit of January turning down invitations to participate in events.
Yet Another One!
In any case, I’ve been invited to YET ANOTHER conference! The response some might expect from me is possibly that I would feel grateful for the opportunity or maybe that I would feel a bit smug that I’m just so much in demand. But my actual response to all this is that I think my jaw dropped and I was astounded at the number of conferences going on. Counting the events I think I could be participating in, I think that comes out to be six events in the first half of 2011 (by “participate” I mean that I would be speaking, giving a workshop, or some other such active role, as opposed to merely attending).
For those who have noticed, our industry talks quite frequently about how the in-person conferences are going away, how they’re a thing of the past, how they’re dying, webinars and virtual shows are taking over, etc… If that’s really true, then how do we account for the sheer number of these conferences being held?
What Does it All Mean?
It seems that the conference business has “discovered” our industry. It’s not that it’s only just happening, this year, because we’ve seen other private conferences in our industry, in the past. It’s just that it must have discovered us as a true “market segment” and finally figured out how to market to us and run these conferences in a profitable manner.
It could be, too, that as the world starts to view the economy as having the possibility of reviving that people are now more willing and able to attend some of these events.
Are They All the Same?
Getting good speakers remains a problem for the conferences. Potential attendees don’t necessarily like the fact that they look at each conference and see many of the same speakers and topics. That’s not just within a conference brand, but even looking between two entirely different conference brands, it’s not uncommon to see the same names and topics.
Attendees of these conferences also strenuously object when speakers aren’t good or when there are too many talks from sponsors and from consultants. But this is one way that conferences can find more speakers to select from. With regard to finding “good” speakers, that gets more difficult as more and more companies prevent their employees from giving public talks about their projects or by making it more difficult. Conferences do want experienced speakers and do ask around to find people with a good track record, but it is increasingly difficult to do.
If each conference tends to look the same, it’s not just that it’s difficult for potential attendees to pick, but it would seem to make more sense to have fewer but larger events. On the other hand, keeping these events small makes it easier for attendees to meet the speakers for further discussions and to get more personalized attention. Some conference brands appear to be trying to break their events out by region. Thus, even if the event is basically the same, with many of the same speakers and topics, as it is held in various geographic regions, it allows a new group of attendees to benefit from the formula but possibly while still keeping the events smaller.
Then again, none of the conferences have specifically come out and said, “If you think this lineup is great, just wait, because it will be coming to an area near you!” So, the regionality we’re seeing could just be that conferences are trying to be geographically convenient to their intended market of attendees, but that the number of speakers and topics being the same is not what they’re intending, but merely part of the ongoing problem of finding new topics and people.