Are industry conferences a dying breed?

Michael Dowling raises the question of the value of conferences these days. Dave Winer raised this issue some time ago as well.. Personally, I go to fewer and fewer of these each year since time is so precious and there’s little to be gained as an attendee. Trade shows aren’t much better and at the moment, I skipped CES this year but did go to CTIA last week (where word was attendance was way down, as much as 30-40% according to some estimates)

While there was little news at CTIA last week and I did not hear great things about the conference sessions, the time was super valuable to me. Why? I was in non-stop meetings from the time I got off the plane until the time I left for the airport. I think I had a total of about an hour of downtime the entire time I was in Vegas. While the shows themselves aren’t overly useful, as a venue for face time, they continue to provide value. The question is, do we need these events to serve as the venue? I could think of a totally different type of event that would facilitate the same or better dialogue and do it in places that are more convenient toward travel and make better use of time. What do you think? Are conferences as we know them a dying breed?

2 responses to “Are industry conferences a dying breed?

  1. Michael,

    I just came back from an “un-conference” in Seattle – organized in a couple of months, held at a local university, admission covered the cost of snacks. For all that, the camp attracted some O’Reilly Media speakers, Scott Berkun and a few other fairly high calibre speakers … and not all of them from the Puget Sound area.

    My suspicion is that these – unconferences, foo and bar camps and similar fairly spontaneous events – are likely to start replacing the big industry conferences. Most of the conferences that I’ve attended in the last year have been far more like these than they have been like CES or CTIA.

    In good times, companies can afford to shell out $1000 in admission fees + an additional $1500-$2000 in travel costs, because these shows did provide a way to network and set up deals. These aren’t good times. It’s much harder to justify spending $3000 when money is tight, and when sales people in particular have so many other alternatives for developing their leads.

    Eventually, the market will recover, but the big trade shows (Comdex, anyone?) will likely be under different names, different management, and increasingly more narrowly focused.

  2. Michael,

    I just came back from an “un-conference” in Seattle – organized in a couple of months, held at a local university, admission covered the cost of snacks. For all that, the camp attracted some O’Reilly Media speakers, Scott Berkun and a few other fairly high calibre speakers … and not all of them from the Puget Sound area.

    My suspicion is that these – unconferences, foo and bar camps and similar fairly spontaneous events – are likely to start replacing the big industry conferences. Most of the conferences that I’ve attended in the last year have been far more like these than they have been like CES or CTIA.

    In good times, companies can afford to shell out $1000 in admission fees + an additional $1500-$2000 in travel costs, because these shows did provide a way to network and set up deals. These aren’t good times. It’s much harder to justify spending $3000 when money is tight, and when sales people in particular have so many other alternatives for developing their leads.

    Eventually, the market will recover, but I’m not really sure the big, general trade shows will. There are simply too many opportunities now to do online many of the functions of trade shows, especially when they have too broad a focus.

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