Tech Conference’s – Are they really worth it?

Powwownow returned to the office yesterday disappointed having spent a large part of the week at ‘Internet World’. A series of 140 ‘unmissable’ free conference sessions promising to set the ‘new digital agenda’ proved not only to have no agenda, but worse still seemed very, almost certainly missable.

We were promised so much with big names like Google, Facebook, Cisco, LinkedIn and Yahoo. The panels sounded exciting too; ‘The Future Innovations of Search’, ‘The Evolution of Social CRM’ and ‘The Rise of Social Commerce’ all sounded particularly promising. The problem being, a majority of the talks were delivered by sales people and not industry experts. There was also no indication as to what level the talks were going to be pitched at, and so often you’d be sat in a room full of equally bored professionals – all the while a lone intern sat scribbling frantically at the front. My thought wasn’t ‘what I am I doing here?’, but rather ‘more of these interns need to be here’. Had the organisers of stated that the talk would be equivalent to teaching us how to suck eggs, I’m sure many more execs might have freed up their seat for an eager upstart, and better spent their time networking on the floor.

Ah, networking – the other gift to attendees of such events. A chance to mingle with your competition or discuss deals with potential partners or clients – that’s the theory anyhow. In actual fact, hoards of people get shepherded around the same maze, all collecting free giveaways and business cards, with very little discussion at all.

If you stop at a stand that claims to be an expert in ‘SEO optimisation’, you’d like to think you could stop and talk generally about that topic, confer and examine different ways of looking at an issue. What happens instead, unless you’re going to make a purchase of course, is that the person in charge of stand (usually a pretty female) will take your card and tell you ‘they’ll be contact’. But I can have contact here?! This is what I came for…direct contact? No?

Some stands might as well have had a sign above their stall, “If you’re not going to make a sale, just leave your business card – we haven’t got time to talk to you right now” Where were the Product Managers, or better still the CEOs of these products? Where was the genuine expertise?

Worst piece of advice on the day, courtesy of SEO Positive: “Have you ever tried DE-optimising your website?” Errm, no -Isn’t that equivalent to trying to speed up your car by taking off the wheels?

It must be said, there are and were exceptions to the rule. Take Netop for example, which had a number of technical people on hand to discuss the finer points of not only their product, but all customer service tools on a much more general level. Granted their audio and video runs on Flash, so there are glitches, nonetheless they have a fantastic idea. See Netop on NBC for more details.

Similarly Boxpay, a company that allows consumers to pay for goods online with their mobile phone, had a great product and their Product Manager had lots of time to discuss the market more broadly too.

Why is it that London has the Unified Comms expo, the TFM&A and Ad:Tech shows, when the US have Google’s ‘Zeitgeist’ and TechCrunch’s ‘Disrupt’; not forgetting SXSW, The Next Web, LeWeb and Geek n Rolla too? Why is there is such a difference in attitude and quality across the other side of the pond, when the needs of companies in the UK are often very similar to those of our American counterparts?

Did you go to Internet World yesterday too? If you did, what did you think?

Moreover, we’d love to know the best and worst conferences you’ve been to? Which ones really stood out, informed or inspired you? Are conferences in the US really that much better to those in the UK or is it merely a numbers game?

We’d like to open up our channels and encourage you to vent and/or praise specific conferences, highlight any speakers or companies you’ve encountered, and share your own thoughts by and large on the topic of tech / digital conferences.


  • Maria

    I was impressed with the quality of many of the stands, which made me think – What is the ROI for this companies? Is it worth it going to a trade show? If so, should you spend all your money on the best stand, talks, sales people and giveaways or are they all gimmicks? And how about booking the smallest stand – will you get noticed?

    What’s definitely needed – and what’s not – to be remembered?

  • Laura Grant

    We were at Internet World and wish we had a chance to discuss digital issues with you. The only team we had there were passionate and knowledgeable about (a free online video platform for business)

    Whilst part of our team were ill (ended up two of us) and couldn’t make the show we were customer focused, and found explicitly NOT relying on gimmicks and freebies allowed us to measure the real level of interest in what we have just launched.

    Suffice to say we spoke solidly for the entire time and now have no voice!!

    Visiting Internet World with a brand new, free, product that will help businesses and generate an ROI for them enabled us to be seen as a refreshing change to some of the more saturated markets.

    It was hugely beneficial for us and has put us on the map with a London audience.

    Whilst some of the more prominent keynotes clearly recycle the same presentation regardless, the breakout areas gave room to many more enthusiastic passionate companies – generally much smaller and therefor more flexible.

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