Saturday, October 21, 2006


What Conference Chairs could learn from the TechForum...

I served on a panel this week at the TechForum that was probably the absolute best gathering I have been to in years...

There were several things this conference did right that others need to seriously pay attention to. The very first thing that they did was understand that conferences for folks who are employed by large enterprises should be free. Attendance at paid conferences has been dropping rapidly over the last few years which has caused many conferences to miss expectations not only in terms of their own revenue but also serve to disappoint vendors who spend their own time and money on booths to market to enterprise folks who aren't there.

Conferences need to move away from charging for conferences and simply make them free. This will have the effect of increasing the number of folks who attend which will make your vendors happy and who may even be willing to pay you more for attendance.

The second thing they got right was that every single vendor had a raffle. If you only have a few grand prizes, most folks of a technical nature will calculate the odds of winning and therefore not participate. If you have each vendor raffling off iPods, Portable DVD players and other gadgets this has the effect of increasing the number of prizes which causes more folks to participate.

The third thing they did right was to move away from individual presenters and have a lot more moderated panels. Vendors are infamous for presenting thinly veiled sales presentations chock-a-block eye candy lacking substance. Maybe someone should inform vendors that just because they pay shouldn't mean that they automatically get the right to present. Panels provide more value in that they allow folks to participate in a dialog vs simply listening to a canned speech that may or may not align with the reason they attended.

Being fair to vendors, most presentations (except for the ones done by my peers) done by folks in corporate America are of equal bullshit. Most media relations departments make enterprisey folks sanitize their presentations to the point where they too provide very little information. Since it is impossible for a dialog to be sanitized in advance, they tend to allow more details to emerge. I wonder if I could get Matt Asay and Jon Udell to change their upcoming conferences in this regard.

The final thing that this conference did right was that the panels were staffed by IT executives who weren't just management but actually had a clue. The topic for this event was security-oriented and the room was at least fifty percent filled with CISO's from firms such as Pershing, Marsh, US Trust, Con Edison, and other respected firms. When you staff the panels filled with executives of high caliber, the vendors know beyond a doubt that high quality leads will be in attendance.

Conferences that ignore pursuit of executives in terms of panels will tend to get lower grade enterprise attendees since executives will usually defer to those lower in the foodchain. Since one's name in print is usually not something deferred as ego is king.

Anyway, in terms of vendors, I had some great dialogs with folks from Securent, Secure Computing, Intel, Symantec, and Cisco. Based on my own observations, I saw first-hand who was attending their booths and suspect that their competitors will be sorely disappointed once they learn that they have been spending their monies unwisely by sponsoring the wrong conferences...


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