Big tech conferences could be a COVID-19 casualty

Lindsay Clark at the Register predicts smaller, fewer tech conferences post-COVID-19.

My first was CA World in New Orleans in 1998. In front of an audience of thousands, then Computer Associates CEO Charles Wang wandered across the stage pontificating as a chorus of children danced about him (no, really) and I knew I had indeed entered a whole new world of weird.

A chorus of children dancing around the CEO is actually not particularly unusual for a tech conference for a billion-dollar company. You see some weird-ass shit for entertainment at conference keynotes.

Already pre-COVID-19 we saw the big vendor-neutral tech conferences dry up. Remember COMDEX? Remember Interop? And there were always rumors that the gargantuan Mobile World Congress was struggling to break even.

These were replaced by events sponsored by individual vendors, including Amazon Web Services, Google, Cisco, VMware, etc., with attendance in the tens of thousands, as well as smaller, focused multivendor events with attendance in the hundreds.

I prefer the smaller, focused events myself; easier to find people to talk with who are useful professionally.

At the bigger events, sheer navigation becomes a challenge. Some years, my commute to and from Mobile World Congress was 30-60 minutes on public transit, like a regular job. Though part of me actually enjoyed that; it made me feel cosmopolitan and worldly. Like I lived in Barcelona.

Salespeople love conferences because it helps them generate leads and make deals. Engineers get a rare opportunity for face-to-face networking. And everybody loves the parties.

Or, rather, everybody except me loves the parties. As an introvert who went to one or two conferences per month, I looked forward to the opportunity to go back to my hotel room and decompress.

Big conferences give CEOs and senior executives the opportunity to bask in front of a wildly cheering crowd of thousands. They get to be rock stars for a day. Don’t overlook that as a driver keeping big conferences in business.

Mitch W @MitchW