Why Trade Shows Still Matter

As I watched the stream of Twitter updates about heading to Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show this week, it got me thinking anew about the state of trade shows. In the run-up to CES in January, the discussion wasn’t as much about which latest gadget would steal the show, but instead whether the show itself would survive. Of course, this was in part fed by all the economic doom and gloom that started the previous September. But the increased talk about cutting back and doing more with less turned the conversation toward the long term viability of trade shows themselves.

Think about it: with all of the advances in technology to get people together virtually, it’s natural to ask, why is it still necessary to together physically?  The sheer wasted energy (of both the fossil and human variety) makes you wonder if more of what takes place in the Las Vegas desert in January couldn’t happen online.

Some folks, like those attending  this week’s CloudSlam’09 — a four-day virtual conference about cloud computing — have already decided to eschew physical meetings for online conferences.  It’s an interesting idea, but when I start to think about sitting at my desk watching four days of presentations, I start to long for bad conference swag, afternoon cookie breaks and awkward conversation.

While we will ultimately see more meetings and virtual conferences take place online as the price for bandwidth needed for teleepresence and video streaming comes down, it’s the chance meetings in the hall or on the trade show floor that make the big events necessary for any technology industry person. And that’s the irony which will ensure that, in the end, CES and shows like it survive: Despite all the advances in technology to bring us together, often there is still that very human need to have a conversation over a beer, to connect in person rather than just on a network, before you to trust them enough to do business.

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Michael Wolf

Chief Analyst NextMarket Insights

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3 Comments Subscribers to comment

  1. James Kendrick Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Part of that discussion about the CES was because quite frankly that show has grown too large. I’ve attended the last 5 years and it is impossible to see (or cover) the entire show. It covers two separate venues and countless company exhibits off-site in the various hotels. It is too big and thus will be hard to maintain given the state of the economy.

    1. James – I couldn’t agree more. The show has become too big and most of the exhibitors are seeing less return on investment for the floor space, personnel, etc they put into CES. The smart ones rent meeting suites off-site. In the end, CES won’t die like Comdex because its really THE show for consumer, but it will likely shrink or see some pieces split off into separate shows. I wouldn’t mind a CES spring and fall like CTIA, quite honestly.

  2. Mike,

    I agree with idea that people still want to get together and interact in the real world, and I still attend many conferences. However, I have started seeing a shift from the large trade shows (CES, etc.) to more nimble niche conferences and community organized unconferences. I find that I get more value out events like BarCamp than I do out of the bigger events.

    Big trade shows with exhibit halls were essential before we could find all of the same information online. For me, conferences have become a place where I can have interesting conversations with smart people to delve into the guts of a topic or have a more strategic discussion about the direction of a particular technology. For some reason, unconferences and smaller events seem to lend themselves more easily to those types of discussions.

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