Future of Events I

I think that everyone is right in their assessment about the future of events.  On the one side,  we have the traditional events professionals saying that there will always be a need for face-to-face.  On the other side, we have the naysayers declaring the death of traditional trade shows and conferences due to the internet and social media.  They’re right.  Everyone’s right.

But everyone can’t be right.   Well . . . yes . . . you’re right.  Let me backtrack,  Part of  what each side is saying is right.  Will face-to-face meetings live on?  Absolutely, yes (unless there’s some dramatic leap forward in human evolution or hologram technology).   Will the internet and its latest iteration in social media play a large role in the evolution of trade shows, conferences, and event?  Absolutely, yes (these new communications channels and approaches will supplement, complement, and to some extent replace traditional channels).

Like many people, recently I’ve been watching the rapidly accellerating, public  death of the traditional newspaper industry.  A year ago there were probably only a few people predicting that this once venerable and strong industry would be where it is today.  A year ago most people saw some troubling signs but thought that with a little time solutions would be found and the local newspaper would continue to land daily at their front door.  But the combination of long-term structural changes and a weak economy  proved most people to be wrong.

I think that the same type of thought process has been prevalent among many in the b2b publishing and events space.  It’s not that these are not smart people, they are, but sometimes it seems that they have the admirable trait of believing so strongly in what they’ve always done that they dismiss signs that they would otherwise clearly see if they were an outsider looking at the same situation. 

The traditional media company and association managed event and conference business will become smaller in the coming years.  And it’s not just the economy.  With nothing other than my judgement and my finger in the air testing the wind direction,  I estimate that it will be 20% smaller in real terms by 2015 with traditional “concrete” trade show taking the biggest hit.


Start with the buying process.  There are probably hundreds of ways to describe this process but it involves such steps as identifying a need, finding potential solutions, identifying suppliers, etc.   But no matter what words or steps you use the front-end of the process is heavily weighted towards gathering information.

Consider a trade show attendee from 15 or 20 years ago.  Apart from the much more prevalent “boondoggle” perception of trade shows back then and greater number of attendees, an extremely important business objective was to gather (attendee) and distribute (exhibitor) as much information as possible.  Attendees would load up with bag full of literature by the time they walked the first two aisles and then they would find another (exhibitor sponsored) bag and fill that up as well.   Their biggest challenge would be how to get it all home.

Fast forward to 2008 and a typical attendee/buyer.  The front-end, information gathering part of the buying process is now down largely online.  The need to go to a trade show and gather information is still there, but it’s nowhere near as important as it was 10 to 15 years ago because technology has changed the channel.

Now do the same role play for a traditional conference participant.  Think about the limited ways in which anyone could get structured, professional information 10 to 15 years ago.  Fast forward again to today.  Where do you even begin in describing the ubiquity and ease of accessing information from Google searches to webinars to the Twitter stream. 

One way to look at this is as an Economics 101 basic supply and demand equation.  The supply of information and information sources has exploded.  Yes, not all is veritifiable, Grade A stamped information, but we all know that this is a lot of good solid information out there  . . . free . . .  a pricing structure that causes all kinds of problems for my Economics 101 supply and demand equation.     My simple analysis becomes even more complicated when we take a look at the demand side and individual behavior.  Just think about your own situation and how many different information sources you use and how those sources will most likely expand in the coming years as you begin to tap even more into the social media delivery of information through blogs, podcast, video.

Not only will there be more information sources but you will also start to use some of the social media channels for relationship building activities.  Although these activities will not be as effective as face-to-face they will fill some of the time and mindshare leaving less for traditional channels.

So this post is my first attempt at exploring my thoughts on this.  More to come as I tighten up my argument and thoughts.


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