Are Conferences Keeping Up?

Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief

We had threatened to write about conferences a few times and the week before last we finally got round to it (the conference season for the year being pretty much at an end) and our story caused a little a bit of a stir as we are starting to hear some (serious) grumbles from the industry, one source who wished to remain anonymous told us “some people are hoping that the DSE and SI events will go away and be replaced by ones that are run by the associations active in the industry”.

Now, by all accounts the last Strategy Institute conference was pretty good and the other Strategy Institute events we have been to this year have been DAMN (very) good as well. We are lucky that the Strategy Institute have got their act together and are giving the industry some fine events at which to network and share but still we think, the Strategy Institute are not putting as much effort as they could into our industry.

It’s easy to se the argument for those who are grumbling, Exponation and the Strategy Institute (to take just two examples) have very little ‘skin in the game” – at least in terms building out the industry beyond their events.

One prominent industry observer told us “Yes, we owe them a debt of gratitude for starting these events, of course but now we may be far enough along for groups like the DSA and OVAB to take over”.

The DSA and OVAB of course are really starting to build the industry, there’s little doubt that they FULLY understand the need to do broader education and outreach to the various verticals where Digital Signage is being deployed and not just talk inwards to an already insular industry.

ds strategies forum bannerExhibitions these days as well of course are not complete It seems without a conference running alongside it (note: that the Strategy Institute will be coming to Europe next year at Screen media expo Europe in May in London).

After every event this year we have asked ourselves “are conferences keeping up with the times and giving real value for money?” and we think that the answer is a definitive NO.

Conferences have been slow to respond to almost all of the innovations within the industry, have not harnessed the power of the Internet (or social media), have done little to think outside of the box AND have done nothing to broaden the reach of the industry outside of itself (to some of the vertical sectors mentioned above).

Whilst we accept that conference organisers are a business and their aim is to make money we think that many of them have become lazy, are happy to pull in money but not happy to invest going forward.

Here’s why we think that: –

  • Wi-Fi. It’s a god given that any press attending should be given complimentary Internet access but it’s also a must these days that the whole room is lit-up. Everyone in the room should be given free Internet access. It’s no good thinking about this late in the day as many do – and complaining that the venue’s Internet charging is high (of course it’s high, even with local 3G it’s pretty much a captive audience). It’s your job as conference organiser to negotiate this in advance. Beat down the venue on price, get them to give it to you for free if they (the conference venue want you to use their facilities) or pay for it youself and get someone to setup free wi-fi in the venue for press and delegates. Delegates who may have stumped up several hundred dollars to attend your event should NOT have to put their hand in their own pocket again to get on the Internet
  • Twitter. Wow what a long way we have come since we first started using Twitter to cover events! Last week’s event #BuildDSbiz was something of a watershed moment for this with 3 entities twittering from the event. Conference organisers get your hashtag sorted out well in advance (we made up ‘#BuildDSbiz’ in the few minutes before the start of the event last week and thank goodness that MediaTile, David Drain and Manolo Almagro all agreed to use it). Live Twitter from an event needs to be carefully planned in advance and of course publicised BUT who’s been driving that? The industry organisers themselves? No, absolutely not, it’s the common man who has been attending who has (against the grain) driven this innovation forward.
  • Screens. Screens are pretty much the life blood of our industry. How many exactly do you see at conferences? Answer is NONE. Attendees are lucky if they get a good projector (it’s usually some crappy little cheap consumer product). Not one conference organiser seems to have the wherewithal to work with a top flight rental / staging crew and have good projection plus others screens and good sound around the room. Additional screens around the room can be used for folks to interact with using Twitter (as described above) and mobile phone or polling interactivity (as described below)
  • Interactivity. Getting the audience to interact and be involved is key to successful (and fun) conferences, why not use technology and get the mobile phone to be a remote control for such interactivity and polling
  • Presentations. We know how difficult it is for organisers to get presentations out of speakers BEFORE the event – how many speakers work on their presentations the night before? Most if we are really honest but there is nothing to stop the presentation being loaded up somewhere online as soon as it is available on the presentation laptop / PC at the event. Manolo Almagro’s presentation from last week’s event in Chicago for example was up the minute he stopped speaking here on DailyDOOH via SCRIBD. It costs organisers nothing to get the presentations out in such a way; first off SCRIBD is free and secondly, people like us love having presentations as editorial.
  • Attendees. Everyone in the room should know everyone else in the room at the start of the event (and the presenters). Networking at these sorts of events is often one of the number one reasons why folks go. Give email details at the start of the event and let people LinkedIn and twitter during and after the event – this is especially important with the presenters.

revx screen grabLastly, the event is not over when the conference has finished and the attendees are winging their way home.

This is perhaps one of our biggest gripes as it stinks of the conference organiser grabbing the money and running! We have long suggested to conference organisers that they do MORE than just throw up an FTP server and email out a username and *&%$$^%1 password to all and sundry who attended (to download the presentations or video material that might have been uploaded).

Apart from the quality of the event itself, looking after your attendees after the event will do more for your brand (and your next event) than anything else you can possibly do.

It’s likely that Screen media expo Europe will (next May 2009) rent a SaaS service called Revx that we ourselves use with some of our North American clients instead of a crappy FTP server.

Revx: –

  1. is easier to use and more secure than FTP
  2. automatically notifies attendees when new files are added
  3. allows attendees to preview many file types before deciding to download
  4. allows files be previewed but locked for download (you always get some presenters who are within their rights to allow read what I say but not download)
  5. gives a comment trail (this is a powerful way to get attendee feedback)
  6. allows bespoke features to be built into the system, the front page can be branded with sponsor logo and follow up details, branded emails can be sent out etc.

2 Responses to “Are Conferences Keeping Up?”

  1. bob asher Says:

    I totally agree that these events need to mirror the cutting edge technologies sweeping the industry. I even pitched one of the big event organizers earlier this week on creating a network of screens inside the conference hall itself. It seems like an obvious application to stream video content and text/graphic content live. I was told thanks but no thanks….it was too expensive…. sad.

  2. Charles Ansley Says:


    Your comments are 100% on target. Frankly, I don’t think I could have said it better. However, it will be interesting to see if any conference companys enter 2010 with 2010 methods, tools, and technology. If I had to bet, I would think attendance would have to be cut in half to get them to act. As they say here in the USA money talks!

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