The days of the glitzy IT trade show and giant technology fairs are over. Not even an endless supply of free caps, fridge magnets and frisbees can combat the time pressures IT professionals which has led to falling attendances at these events.
Not surprisingly, vendors are choosing to stage fewer, smaller events. But with the death of the mammoth IT trade show is a breed of IT professionals who are far more particular about which events they attend and they're keen to get more value for their registration fee.
Meta Group national communications and events manager Jim Pantopolis believes IT execs are still taking time out to attend conferences and trade shows, but the plethora of these events being run each year in Australia makes it a tough choice.
“Current conditions indicate that many organisers now struggle to get the numbers in a flooded conference market,” Pantopolis said.
“In speaking to attendees, the common theme is that a solid conference program featuring a blend of senior local and international speakers delivering case study presentations is instrumental to driving attendance.”
With the attendance fees for these events usually coming out of training budgets, Pantopolis says it’s important to pick and choose the best conference to attend based on need.
Meta vice president technology research services, John Brand, says vendors are having a tough time filling seats, particularly for marketing events.
“I have spoken to vendors who now claim anything up to around 40 to 60 percent of attendees that are confirmed to attend 24 hours before an event do not show up on the day,” Brand said.
“This seems to be reflective of the time pressures people face and also a diminished feeling of social responsibility – people thinking that ‘it doesn’t matter if I said I would attend and I don’t, even if it negatively impacts the vendor financially.”
Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau general manager sales and marketing, Mike Williams has seen conference attendance go up and down over the past few years, particularly in the IT sector.
Technology conferences account for 10 percent of events held in Melbourne, and is expected to decline slightly, although Williams couldn’t explain why.
IDG Communications president and head of the CIO Conference series, Linda Kennedy says participants should have an expectation of "tell me something I don't know". Conferences are all about networking, Kennedy said.
"You often find that IT executives, jobs are so layered and require so many skills, they’re keen to get input from a variety of places."
The CIO conference has enjoyed growing attendance each year, Kennedy said, because it delivers on its promise.
“When you have a conference, you’re asking people to give up a lot of their time.
“We tend to be following trends and issues and we try to address them before they become flavour of the month. Attendees see the value in this and recognise that we’re on the leading, bleeding edge,” Kennedy said.
Cebit Australia managing director Jackie Taranto says cynicism about the relevance of tradeshows is outdated.
“There have been a lot of tradeshows and conferences that haven’t produced in the ICT industry for a variety of reasons, and the industry has also been through some rough times over the past couple of years. This has affected attendance to these sorts of events,” Taranto said.
Why users go to conferences
For Enterasys general manager Lindsay Cordner, exhibiting in IT events is important in order to be recognised as a global player in the IT market.
“Exhibiting means we can keep abreast of what’s going on in the marketplace, and these events give IT executives the opportunity to see all the current technology under one roof,” Cordner said.
Pegler Beacon Australia systems administrator Greg Marshall uses conferences to stay a step ahead and prefers those that are free.
“I find these conferences are often about networking, you can learn what people are doing with technology here in Australia and internationally,” Marshall said.
University of Ballarat computer technical services manager David Edwards agrees such events are informative, but gets annoyed when hassled by companies to attend future conferences.
“When they’re pushy like that, I just think they’ve organised a conference for the point of selling things to the attendees, they have no interest in providing information and a worthwhile service to the industry," he said.