The Con. The Show. Some tech industry trade shows are so iconic. Some so much that they are only known by their initials. Spring and fall trade shows are a tech industry staple. Considerable time is spent planning for attendees, speakers, sessions, and for things like food and entertainment. Vendors have whole teams that do nothing but handle show details, booth hardware, transportation and promotion. These personnel make sure the keynote intro is at an ear-splitting volume with a concert-like light show and features a walk-on song from Imagine Dragons for the CEO.

A gradual shift over the last 20 years away from generalized 3rd party hosted shows with multiple vendors in one market have yielded to vendor-specific shows. Here other vendors show up, but exist in a careful détente. That has led to more shows each year. The big shift that had been going on was away from some cities. This is because the costs for customers and visitors were pricing the very customers the trade shows are for out of attending.

Are Online trade shows the way forward?

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The spring tech show circuit was essentially cancelled and moved to online events. Perhaps it’s time to look at the concept of the ‘Big Tech Conference’ overall. Because sometimes, at the end of the convention, the thought occurs: Was travel necessary for that information?

We have the technology to do intricate webinars.  This includes full video, presentations, sound and recording playback, all in high definition. Q&A is easily handled. Similarly, technology demonstrations, particularly software demonstrations are also easily done. Customers’ entire teams can participate, including junior members who are often left to hold the fort while more senior members of staff jet off to the yearly conference.

Companies can be reassured that if an emergency occurs while the webinar event is happening, that they have people on site and available to handle it.  They can watch a recording of the event, later. Travel expenses could be lowered, and employees would have more time at home which is particularly important for those who have young children. Disruption for vendors is minimized as well. Instead of the frantic ugliness of trying to conform to executive calendars and disruptions of the sales team, there is planned time with the ability to rehearse extensively and take a less stressful approach to communicating with your customers.

Then there are the green aspects. Less air travel both domestic and international, less rideshares (because who uses taxi’s anymore?), less equipment transportation, less mass food creation and the associated waste. The carbon footprint of a webinar is undeniably a fraction of live convention. Food, fuel, electricity…all saved.

 Trade shows can be breeding grounds for bugs

The last unlamented loss with shifting away from conventions is what is collectively called ‘con-crud’ where you get the flu, a cold, or some other illness, either at the convention center or in the flying aluminum petri dishes that transport convention goers to and from the host city.

Yet, there is something about the personal nature of going to a convention that a webinar cannot replicate. Many times, the most important part of the show isn’t the presentations, speakers, and sessions. It’s the informal conversations that are held in the hallways, at dinners, or just with the person sitting next to you during a keynote. Evening events and dinners offer non-work opportunities to bond with co-workers or vendor folks (or stray analysts) you may have spoken to or exchanged email with for years but have never met. The intimacy and extended information gained by simply taking in the convention should not be dismissed, it’s part of the value of the event.

Conventions should target quality

Perhaps the way forward is less frequent conventions, or conventions that do more to ensure quality content rather than perfect marketing events would be a way to still get the human benefits of face to face contact. The Covid-19 pandemic is making vendors scramble to present their material in an alternate way. It’s time to re-evaluate not only whether to have a convention, but if a convention is going to happen, perhaps it should be less frequent and most importantly, it should emphasize quality over marketing opportunities.

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