A few thoughts about events for the event industry

November is always a busy month for event organisers in the event industry. Whether we are trying to shoe horn in a few events before peoples minds start to wonder to the festive period or maybe we are upping the marketing for our events in the first quarter of the following year, November can be a car crash of a month!

So perhaps it’s surprising that three of the biggest events in Europe for event professionals take place in November. Those three are Event Tech Live in London, EUBEA World Festival, which this year took place in Coimbra in Portugal and IBTM World in Barcelona. What’s perhaps even more surprising is that I not only managed to attend them all, but I managed to speak on the three programmes too!

It helped covering the same topic, online events, in both London and Coimbra but preparing, traveling and delivering sessions is always a challenge. IBTM session was all about Meeting Design and the venue is about 5 miles from my office, so attending that one was much easier!

Details of my session at IBTM World.

Despite the effort and the reward of speaking in front of your peers I also make sure I take in as much as possible when I attend any event. And in this post I wanted to list a three things that I noticed and considered from the three events. My hopes that my thoughts will be useful for individual planners as they look at their own events but also for the event industry as a whole.

Firstly here’s some context on the three events. Events Tech Live is Europe’s largest dedicated show for Event Technology. It’s a relatively new show and has a clear focus on Event Technology. It is run by Event Industry News an online magazine.

The main stage at Event Tech Live

EUBEA World Festival is now a three day “festival” focussed around awards for the best events in Europe and mainly attended by agencies who run those events for clients.

Main stage at EUBEA Festival

IBTM is Europe’s largest exhibition for event suppliers and has hundreds of exhibitors from across the globe and similarly thousands of attendees from across the many different sectors within the events industry. Both EUBEA and IBTM have been around for a while.

South Korean stand staff captured popping on to the Scotland stand for some Irn Bru!

Here’s three themes in the hope I can tie in a few thoughts.

1. Nothing much has changed

I put the association programme together for IBTM in 2011 (it was called EIBTM then, so something has changed) and I wrote my first review of the exhibition in 2013. Rather than write another one for this year I would suggest you just read that review. It’s five years ago and the show looks the same. And the same problems persist.

Event Tech Live keeps growing. This year it had several different areas and looked great. But of course in terms of basic format, it’s not too different from Tech Fest the first European Event Tech event that I set up in 2012. And that was a long time ago……

It was my first time attending EUBEA World Festival so it’s impossible to comment on any changes over time. However despite it being the most important event for event agencies it just seemed like any another event, run by any other sector.

There are two ways of looking at this point that nothing seems to be changing. Perhaps “if it’s not broken, don’t fiddle with it” would be one approach and this certainly seems to be the case for most of the exhibition industry. The other way is to think, “innovate or DIE!!!!!” And of course like most things in life, the actual approach lives somewhere in the middle.

There is certainly more room for innovation at exhibitions, could anyone argue this isn’t the case? And I would especially like to see the event industry lead this innovation. Fingers crossed but no breath being held on that.

2. When it comes to content more is often less

If you want to attract as many people as possible to your exhibition one of the best ways to do that is to have LOADS of sessions. Pack the programme and offer something for everyone is a great approach to bump the numbers! More people will be drawn to the show if there is content that appeals. For exhibitors (the ones paying the big sums of money) foot fall is the priority and the organiser has to focus on that so sessions can draw people to your show.

The problem is, that when this is the case, the content almost always falls flat. If you pack a programme with 100 plus sessions (as was the case with Event Tech Live and IBTM) you lack any clear narrative throughout your content. I will admit it’s not the most important thing if you are dropping in and out of sessions but a narrative does at least keep your presenters on the same page.

There are however two very important issues when you take the “pack in the sessions approach”:

  1. It is unlikely that the exhibition has allocated the sufficient amount of resource, including staff time, to properly support the speakers. And this leads to pooper content for the attendees.
  2. Chances that the organiser will pay for the time the speakers have put into preparing, traveling and delivering that content will be low.

EUBEA World took a different approach and for this they have to be greatly praised. They spent a considerable amount of time and effort working with the speakers, and in the many years I’ve been speaking, I have never received a more detailed or useful speaker brief. They also only had one day of content across the three day event.

Their invitation to speak was extended so that speakers could attend the whole event, including the prestigious awards dinner. And they covered travel, transfers and accommodation for the entire event.

However, none of these events offered to pay a speaker fee.

Think about that for a minute.

Despite the shows all making a very handsome profit none thought it “value” or “worth while” to pay for content. If you remove yourself from the bubble of events and resist the, “well, it’s profile etc.” there is a basic principle at play: people should be rewarded for the work they do for you.

This should include those manning your stand or doing registration and it should cover your speakers. Here’s my possible controversial view of volunteers at our events.

I have written before about what event organisers can offer in exchange for a fee. The “reward” could be access to the whole show for free, if it’s an expensive paid for conference but when it’s free to attend exhibition with some content, it’s hard to list that as a benefit.

As ever it’s worth saying that none of these shows are doing anything out of the ordinary, many (most?) conferences don’t pay for content. Every speaker is free to say no. However my point isn’t really about the speaker, more about the attendee experience. If you pay your speakers you have more control of content and you can be very confident you will have better presentations at your event.

3. Exhibitors, in the main, still don’t get it!

I visited perhaps fifty stands across the three events. From event tech to destinations to venues, all I found was chairs, tables, brochures and bored staff. The dry sales driven atmosphere of the sales floor. What I want to see at exhibitions are exhibitors who want to entertain and excite on their stand. Who want to innovate and be remembered. Who want to truly interact with the audience and do something on their stand that makes it sticky (i.e. visitors want to come back).

I’ve been writing about this for a while now and to reemphasise the first point on this post: nothing seems to be changing. Exhibitions are boring and exhibitors and organisers are doing little to improve the visitor experience. For some reason I feel that the meetings industry should be driving that. What do you think?

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