Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


Tradeshow talk

The topic of trade shows (conferences, conventions, etc.) seems to be on a lot of people’s minds lately. They (the trade shows) have become a fundamental part of many industries, especially for industries steeped in technology. However, in many ways they seem to be losing their mindshare if not their value all together. Art Petty asks marketers, are trade shows extinct yet? He lists six problems with using trade shows as a marketing investment. He follows that with a short list of better things to do than attend trade shows. Steve adds to the conversation with his post that compares the cost/effectiveness of trade shows with webinars. The latter is not as personal or fun, but is increasingly accepted as a viable alternative.

I am in the middle of my second conference in two weeks and so naturally the value and efficacy of trade shows has been on my mind. From the attendee’s perspective, I think trade shows are struggling. I’m at the ISPCon show this week, and today I listened to the worst keynote address I’ve ever heard. The speaker, from the investment banking industry, was obviously not tuned in to the audience he was addressing. He pretty much offended everybody by saying things like “you guys probably wouldn’t understand this” and “sorry girls, this market is dominated by men.” When someone asked him a question, he started to answer and then said “are you going to put your cell phone away and listen?” And that was not the worst of it. His slides were unreadable, he obviously had not practiced and he used an arrogant delivery style. I filled two pages of notes on what not to do while giving a presentation. I realize this was only one address and is not representative of the many great speakers who frequent trade shows. However, I think it represents what happens when trade show producers cut corners.

Fortunately I had a great experience listening to and participating in several addresses at the SMP conference last week. I wrote about Larry Weber’s address in a recent post. Phil Myers gave the other morning keynote, an outstanding address about what it takes to get tuned in to your market in such a way that you change the game in your marketplace. Both were excellent addresses and I learned not only about what they were teaching, but how to give an effective presentation. I was also impressed with Jeff Lash’s and Saeed Khan’s addresses at the conference (Saeed did a great job despite having completely lost his voice the day before). It was a great opportunity to learn from and participate with thought leaders who are passionate about their work.

To come full circle: I do not think trade shows will go extinct any time soon. Too many people appreciate and enjoy getting together with other like-minded people who are driven to succeed. Some shows will fade away and others will crop up, but passionate people will continue to gather, share ideas and create value;  trade shows will continue to be an important vehicle for that interaction.

Update: The ISPCon folks redeemed themselves today. The Day 2 keynote was great; it was 180° from the one I heard yesterday. Elliott Noss, CEO of Tucows, presented on how the Internet is changing business. Everything from the title, “Why YOU and Lowfat Lattes are Google’s Worst Nightmare” to his presentation style (open and engaging) to the slides (pictures that tell a story) made the experience great. Elliott’s presentation was a great example of people gathering to share ideas and create value. His presentation certainly created value for me!