I just returned from my final technology vendor conference of 2018 and have been thinking about how the size of the conference changes the experience. My conferences this year ranged from as many as 50,000+ attendees down to 25, with most in the 200-300 range.
So what are the advantages of really big conferences (let’s say, more than 10,000 attendees)? They are usually your best chance to see the biggest, celebrity-level tech execs. That means direct insight from the top as well as social media bragging rights to your friends back home. Through breakouts large conferences can provide the ability to assemble a customized and detailed agenda. They tend to attract an interesting show floor. And there’s no doubt that the big name musical guests are only at the mega-conferences.
Of course, big conferences also mean crowded hotels, lunches at huge buffets worthy of a cattle call, and worn holes in your shoes from all the walking.
So maybe smaller conferences are for you? They are usually more targeted at your direct area of interest. You get a more boutique experience, from the hotel options to lunch to finding good restaurants that aren’t all booked up for dinner. And you can expect more direct interaction with the product teams and executives. The keynotes tend to be more substantial and less positioning and bombast. And while you’re not going to see Cirque de Soliel or Aerosmith you can still have a good time.
Actually, music is a good analogy as my tastes there have changed in a similar fashion. I’ve gone from seeing bands with the volume, bombast, and energy of an arena tour to now preferring them in more intimate fashion in venues of 50-500. Of course, it’s not like I have a choice. If I want to go to the conference for a specific vendor conference in a specific region then, large or small, that’s where I have to go.
It was great to see more non-IT attendees at the technology conferences I attended this year. That shows IT is “growing up” and being taken seriously by the business. What I’d really like to see is a conference that blends roles across organizations and helps facilitate the level setting and subsequent meeting of the minds between IT, execs, business units, HR, legal, and security across an organization. The topics I cover (digital workplace, collaboration, productivity, future of work, digital dexterity) require a unified effort across the business to work.
If each constituency goes to separate conferences at different times of the year and hears different messages, this common foundation is difficult to build. Whoever can get all those stakeholders in the room at the same table for a week will achieve a new, higher level of success than we’ve seen from traditional conferences.
I might even prefer that to Aerosmith.
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