Focused Conferences Will Come Back Stronger Than Ever, Because of What Makes Us Human

Since the impact of covid on the entire world, there has been a lot of discussion about the long-term impact on conferences and trade shows that take in place in-person. We know that short-term, these events have all been cancelled and many conference organizers are using online platforms to publish content in varying forms. While many seem to think that online events will now become the norm, spelling the death of in-person conferences, the fact is that for conferences with good content and focus, in-person events are going to come back stronger than ever.

Over the past 19 years, previously with and now with the NAB Show, I’ve had the opportunity to be the conference chairman for over 50 in-person events, across two continents, in 11 venues, interacting with over 4,000 individual speakers. Every day I talk to vendors and content owners who are all looking for ways to showcase their expertise as thought leaders, demonstrate their capabilities, fill their pipeline with leads, generate content for social platforms and meet with their largest clients and partners. While some of this can be accomplished by online platforms, no digital platform can ever replace what can be accomplished in person (and previously with a handshake).

The majority of us want to be around others, we want to read body language during negotiations, listen to the tone of someone’s voice and network and interact with other people. In order words, conferences will come back because of what makes us all human. That’s not to suggest all conferences will survive post-covid and we’ve already seen a few conference organizers that have announced their plans to exit the conference business completely. But let’s be honest here. For more than a few conferences, covid wasn’t what caused their demise. It was the fact that even pre-covid their event simply stunk. Some may not like to hear it, but it needs to be said. With or without covid their conference business would not have survived.

How many events do we need that classify themselves as a “cloud” show and say they cover “blockchain, security, IoT, hyperscale, private/hybrid/public, across enterprise, publishing and broadcast.” Events like that, trying to be everything to every vertical are already on their way out. That’s not how we consume business related content online and it’s not how we consume content in-person. The best conferences are ones that focus on the content, the user-experience, their marketing message and are relentless in their attempt to ALWAYS put the attendee experience first – above all else. Conferences that sell keynotes to companies to do sales pitches, put seven speakers on a 30 minute round-table panel just to pad their speaker lineup and don’t have a “content is king” mentality simply won’t survive. I am amazed at just how many in-person conference websites I look at where they don’t even list by name, the chairperson of the show. The content of any show is only as good as the expertise of the person putting it on.

Everyone thinks they can be a show organizer and many don’t truly understand what it takes to provide speakers, attendees and sponsors with a good user-experience, start to finish. You have to pay attention to every little detail and many overlook the little things that really make the experience better. Something as simple as brining your own doorstops to the venue to make sure session room doors don’t close loudly while someone is speaking – that’s the level of detail required. Now multiply that times 100.

I can no longer count the number of vendors, OTT platforms, studios, broadcasters and those tied to the streaming media industry who have said to me that they can’t wait till conferences come back. They miss being able to generate the sales leads that they get from focused shows and many tell me that online events don’t bring the same level of qualified leads. This makes sense because when someone takes the time and spends the money to come to an in-person event, they are already well qualified. That’s not the case when events are online and anyone can stop by to kick the tires. Companies also want to give their executives a way to get in front of a live audience to showcase their thought-leadership, be engaging, take questions and interact with others. Being able to network and meet someone at a reception that you would never have met online. Once again, doing all the things that make us human. This becomes even more needed in a digitally overloaded world.

What covid is going to do for the events that do survive is make many organizers re-think what the end-user experience needs to be and how to improve on it. And that’s a good thing for everyone. Conferences need to be personalized, bespoke and custom for each attendee. It’s a lot of work, but it can be done. Online platforms should not be a replacement for a great show, but should enhance it, adding value and reducing complexity for the attendee. Far too many events are not frictionless from the start and only add complexity with their platforms and process, demanding that attendees do things the way they want them to do it, or simply because that’s how they have done it in the past. That approach and thought process simply isn’t going to work moving forward. Covid has shown everyone how easy it is to do things online and conference organizers will need to immediately adapt and change their mentality. The best companies in the world see their business excel in times of turmoil, as they spot the opportunity, pivot and are forged in fire.

And for those wondering, yes, my Streaming Summit event in collaboration with the NAB Show will be back and better than ever. For Vegas, whenever the next event takes place, it will move into the newly expanded convention center, in the West Hall. With new conference rooms, exhibition area, dining options and plenty of space to implement any social distancing requirements, the venue is the perfect fit. When you add in the new Streaming Experience, a free area where you can see live demos of every streaming media device in the market running over 100 OTT platforms, make no mistake – we will be back! [Updated Sept 10th: the NAB Show announced new dates for the 2021 Vegas show, now taking place October 9-13. My Streaming Summit event will take place during this time. Further details to come next year.] 

Focus is key. Content is king. Frictionless is essential. Messaging is crucial. Any event that can follow these principles is going to come back stronger than ever. Not overnight, maybe not for their first show, but in the long-run their business will be better as a result of the hiatus.