When I read the spam that landed in my inbox from Pluralsight about their conference my first thought was that it was a joke. I then clicked the link to be confronted with the face of Michelle Obama and dearly hoped it was a joke. Sadly they in fact have a registration page and agendas so apparently yet another tech company has decided to create yet another crappy tech conference.
I’ve been attending tech conferences for somewhere on the order of 13 years at this point. Back in the day the conferences were dominated by the big conferences such as CES, InterOp, and such. As time went by large vendors decided it was better for them to run their own affairs and so Cisco Live, VMworld and such started to grow. This unfortunately spawned the ideas of small tech companies that they too should jump in the game. So we’ve gone from being able to attend a tech conference a few times a year, to having significant conferences held every other month, to now you can’t get off a plane without tripping over a tech conference. Sadly I think this whole mess is only going to get worse…
The problem with these tech conferences that mirrors the problem of the larger tech world is that they are inherently selfish. Small vendor specific conferences are ridiculously inefficient, expensive for the attendee, and generally offer poor results. The reason that the companies like them is that they own them. They own all attendee information. They control the entire flow of the event. And after it’s over they can pat themselves on the back and say what THEY did. These small events have more to do with the ego of the CEO’s than they do about the attendees.
What gets left out of the discussion by the PR folks that put these things together is the real cost to attendees to go to these events. Even if a ticket is free the attendee still has to pay for travel, hotel, food, parking, etc. When I attended NextCon last year even after they paid for hotel, airfare, and the registration fee it still costs me around $400 out of pocket. This is before we start talking about opportunity cost.
Attending events simply takes a lot of time. A 3 day event takes the 3 days obviously, but also requires travel time and prep time. You should figure that you’ll burn a weeks worth of time to attend a conference. This isn’t so bad when you attend CES and InterOP. The problem is when EVERY vendor decides to put on their own conferences and then they pull support from the vendor agnostic ones. Whereas before you could go to one week long conference to get a view of the industry now vendors are keeping the good stuff for their own events.
I wouldn’t be so bad if the conferences themselves were worthwhile. This is again where the PR people have come to destroy value while patting themselves on the back. You’ll notice for PlauralSight Live that they prominently advertise Michelle Obama as a main attraction. WHY??? NO SERIOUSLY WHY??? I have nothing against Michelle Obama, but what value does she offer to a tech professional? NONE!!! It looks good for the PR folks to say they were able to spend a stupid amount of money to get a well known speaker to attend, but beyond the PR folks it’s worthless. It reminds me when I went to InterOp New York a few years ago and they had Seth Myers as the keynote speaker. Everyone around me groaned through his speech. He’s a fine guy, but had nothing to do with tech.
All of this gets compounded by tech “journalists” being bribed into writing good coverage. One reason I so despise NextCon is that they tried to hold over my head that they paid for airfare and the hotel room when I posted a few snarky posts on Twitter and Instagram. Honestly I had been trying to be a good boy for the first couple of days, but when they pulled that crap I had a hard time not screaming. LITERALLY I got a talking to after posting a few snarky tweets after having already posted near 100 good ones. They had one seminar that was a joke, that just so happened to be about using video in business. I was literally looked in the eye and told, “Well… we did pay for your travel here…” The fact that those words ever came out of an employee for Nextcon’s mouth said everything I will ever need to know about Nextcon. Paying for travel is a very real thing, and how many of these “journalists” do you think will tell a vendor to pound sand? So if you are someone that reads the trash posts that these writers publish you will have an idea of an event that does not look like what the folks in the media room are saying while they’re eating lunch. Of course there are no “agreements” between vendors and writers, there’s just understandings…
These are some things you’ll have to think about if you plan to attend a tech event. Honestly I believe the good old large ones are still the best in general. I’ll be going to CES and InterOp when they swing by again. The large conferences are worthwhile because they are in fact large. They also give you a good idea what many vendors are doing vs. focusing on specific ones. At this with Skype I can reach out and talk to any vendor I want from the comfort of my own home. So I go to the large events, gather business cads, and then ping who I care about.
The larger vendor events are worthwhile if you focus on their product simply because they can focus their agenda on their products. When you are Cisco, or VMware, or SalesForce there is so much to the products and ecosystem that having a focused conference makes sense. You can attend a bootcamp, test for certification, watch a few keynotes, and shake hands with the people you buy product from all at the same time.
The smaller events are generally a crap show. You pay for the privilege of seeing vendors pontificate about how great they are. PR folks who are not tech professionals try to wow you with what THEY think is cool. Generally the event is too small and bereft of very much of interest for the time and money required.
PluaralSight Live wants $899 a ticket for an event held in Salt Lake City. I personally like PluralSight as a product and paid for it for awhile. I’ll even most likely sign up again. The thing is I have a feeling if I attended this event I’d end up hating them. I’d hate the waste of time. I’d hate the money and time lost. I’d hate how utterly miserable the agenda looks.
In an age of YouTube, Meetup, and frankly services like PluralSight I’m at a loss as to why small tech conferences make sense. I know for a fact more of these will be coming online, but if ANYONE with an ounce of decision making ability is reading… please… please… for just a moment consider that being maniacal control freaks that put PR ahead of attendees may not be good for your brand long term. Just consider that coming together at large vendor agnostic events may come at a cost to you, but has real benefits for attendees. And at the end of the day your company will survive or die based on the health of the industry, not the size of your email list…
If you’re interested in PluralSight Live you can go here: https://www.pluralsight.com/event-details/2017/live-2017
Note: Ironically the featured image was taken at Nextcon during the CEO’s keynote. I fear tech executives may lack the gene for introspection…