Mid January I have read an interesting post on the website of Marco Arment called ”The end of the conference era” and even though Marco is referring to small Apple-ish developer-ish conferences, I left the tab open, as I wanted to write my thoughts on this concerning web conferences or web events, like I prefer to call it.
Marco mentions a few interesting aspects, why he thinks that those smaller events are at their end. One reason he mentions is cost as one factor, why people would not attend anymore, where I think, if you keep prices affordable, there is still room for travel, accommodation and even food. This, though, is surely very subjective, as allocating a budget for events in a company is very different depending on where you work. Two weeks ago I had an apprentice from an agency writing me, asking for discounts. I first wrote back and explained how the ticket price is calculated in my case, to show, where the money goes to. But furthermore I had a look at her agencies website and only saw big names on the client list. My question was, if her boss would not have any money/budget planned for events for their employees. Sadly they had not, even with their size of agency. I have seen really good examples, where the value of attending events is very clear for the company. sipgate for example have a wall, where employees can add the event they want to attend at and, I think, up to a certain budget, it does not matter even, were this is (I will check again, how this exactly works for them and also bring photos, as I really like how they dealt with it). I agree, though, that there are events out there charging way too much for what you get (where others charging quite some money also really package a great deal with a lot for the money they charge).
Marco also says
It’s getting increasingly difficult for organizers to sell tickets, in part because it’s hard to get big-name speakers without the budget to pay them much (which would significantly drive up ticket costs, which exacerbates other problems), but also because conferences now have much bigger competition in connecting people to their colleagues or audiences.
Though I agree, that competition got harder as more and more events pop up weekly, I don’t agree with what he says about big-name speakers. Sure: big-name speakers is a matter of definition again. Maybe he thinks of bigger names than I do, but I furthermore think, that the content and finding new talent is more important than having big names on your list. Yes, I do also think of course, that a good mix of well-known speakers and new findings is always the best recipe.
As said before, he maybe refers to other events for a different target audience, but talks about fixing conferences when he says
I don’t know how to fix conferences, but the first place I’d start on that whiteboard is by getting rid of all of the talks, then trying to find different ways to bring people together — and far more of them than before.
Again: I think, that events are not broken. When I look at my beyond tellerrand events, I see 500 knowledge and inspiration hungry people at each edition. Attendees, which are hungry for new inspiration, different views and opinions on things, exchanging with other people and most importantly to spend time with all the other people at the event. I agree, when he says that talks are not the most important reason for attending an event, but I think they are part of it, as they set the spark for conversations in the breaks after the talks and in the evening, when the attendees meet for food and drinks.
I furthermore answer his following assumption with no
Or maybe we’ve already solved these problems with social networks, Slack groups, podcasts, and YouTube, and we just haven’t fully realized it yet.
I think anything online – even an online conference – will never be able to replace an event, where people meet face to face, have conversations, plan their next side project, speak about their latest findings or ask for help during a chat. For me, being with all the other people and the conversations that evolve from this is the real juice of attending events.
So, no, I don’t see the end of a conference era.