I regularly visit Amazon's most popular computer books page and thought to myself "I'd love to attend a conference of the top selling authors."
The problem is that book authors often are boring speakers. But, Amazon should think about getting into the conference business. It'd be a profitable way to extend their bookselling brand.
A personal note to Dori: if I were planning a conference, you'd be one of the first people I'd call.
I hope to go to a bunch of conferences too.
But, she's right. The first job of a conference planner (particularly now) is to find a large enough audience. That's not easy, particularly in the Web Design space (which is why CMP and CNET both cancelled their conference even though they had several thousand attendees in 2000).
Quite a few conferences hurt their brands by being beholden to conference sponsors. It's too bad that this happens, too, because it really isn't in the vendor's best interest to control the content. If your content turns into advertising, attendees soon figure it out and stop coming.
Attendees also tell me they got tired of being treated like cattle. Getting little box lunches with no service despite paying $1400 to $2500 to attend conferences. I think they should study Pop!Tech: everyone there got a lunch ticket for a real restaurant in Camden Maine for a real lunch, not some over-baked hot dog. I still think the little details matter and far too many conferences don't think they matter that much.
Heck, even the super expensive Microsoft TechED conference makes you print out your own conference binder and gives you mediocre food at best. Mostly because they are stuck by the hotel industry. A pox on all hotels that force you to overpay for crappy food. The hotel industry is quite a racket. Did you know that many hotels charge conference planners $7 for a Coke and $35 for a hot dog lunch? (That's how they pay for the rooms, which come free, sorta).
Another thing that sucks is the best speakers often don't get on stage. Why? A whole raft of political and economic decisions. I tried to be as objective as possible when picking speakers, but often I couldn't get the people I wanted on stage because they charged too much, or because they pissed off someone on the conference team in a past life.
When I was at Fawcette I wrote up a Speaker's FAQ. This is how I picked speakers and I tried very hard to stick to this list. I wasn't always perfect, though. You can always get snowed one time, particularly if the person snowing you has a popular book or following on the Internet.
Back to Dori's point. I'm in contact with a lot of conference teams in the technology industry (I made a lot of friends and keep in touch) and all of them are having a rough economic time of things right now. Everyone is gun shy and not funding new conference ideas. That's pretty lame and guarantees you'll see new competition soon.
But, they don't care. They are scared to death and unable to get past their fear. Interesting times we live in. One thing I'm totally convinced of: people like going to conferences and will keep going if they see a good reason to attend.
Hey, Pop!Tech was sold out and still filled the hall about a month after 9/11. So, the excuse of 9/11 is utter bullshit. Conferences win and die by training budgets. Training budgets are extremely tight right now.
But, how do you get your employees to perform more efficiently? You gotta train them. And, sorry O'Reilly and Apress, a book or two won't cut it.
Mark my words, by the middle of 2003 conference attendance will be back up. Companies can't afford to let their competitors get ahead of them. So, spending on training will increase again soon.