Practical Technology

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Are Trade-Shows Worth Your Time?

I’ve just spent three weeks speaking at as many trade shows. I did my act at a small DTR Business Systems reseller show in Vegas; a middling Seybold show in Boston, with 1,500 guests; and the 70,000-attendee Spring Comdex in Chicago. Guess which show had, by far, the happiest and most satisfied attendees?

If you guessed the DTR show, with about 80 resellers and integrators, you;d be right. Oh, it wasn’t all sweetness and light:

The DTR people, who base their businesses largely on SCO Open Server, were desperate for answers about the Caldera/SCO merger, since approved by the SEC. But at least they got some answers, and a chance to talk one-on-one with their peers as well as with bigwigs from their distributors and vendors.

Fast-forward to Spring Comdex. Key3Media claimed there were 70,000 people there. I didn’t see them. The show floor was tiny; and the jokes that the Waste Expo trade show for the trash business, right across the hall, was more interesting weren’t very funny, because they were true.Off the show floor, things were worse. Many conference speakers simply didn’t show up, leaving their audiences in the lurch.

But, wait, there’s more. Spring Comdex’s ASP Summit was a joke. The forlorn free-lunch ballroom had only two tables occupied. While my ASP (Application Service Provider) panel mates at Seybold argued that the ASP model was coming into its own, you sure couldn’t tell it from Spring Comdex.

It wasn’t just there, either. SP senior editor Fred Aun tells me that ISPCon speakers also stood up their audiences. At least at Seybold, the speakers came and met expectations.If you’re counting, that’ s two out of four trade shows that made the grade. Fifty percent is an unbelievable average for hitting a baseball, but it’s lousy for everything else.

In general, trade shows are going downhill. Some of it is the sour economy. Almost no major vendors, for example, thought it worth their time and money to have a booth at Spring Comdex.At the end of it, I’m left asking: What the heck is the point of going to trade shows these days?

Networking and making deals have always been the best reason to go. If you want to do that, you’re better off going to small, specialized shows like DTR’s. You’ll have a much better chance of finding someone who actually wants to do business.

People also used to go to learn about technology and business. But now it looks like you’vve only got about a two-in-four chance to see the “experts.” Frankly, I’m surprised conference attendees at Spring Comdex weren’t demanding their money back.

Another argument was that you went to trade shows to see the latest in technology. Forget that. If you want to see the best, you’re better off reading this magazine, eWeek or PC Magazine. That way, you get your information all nicely prepackaged, and you don’t have to pay $500 in airfare for the privilege.

First published in Ziff-Davis‘ Sm@rt Partner

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