I was in Silicon Valley this week speaking at Software 2006. This was pitched as having 2,500 attendees, and the organizers claimed 1,700 on the day itself, yet at any plenary session I could only count about 400 or so. Indeed on the first morning the main hall was so awkwardly empty that the number of chairs was dramatically reduced for future sessions, presumably to make it seem fuller. This is getting silly, rather like the perennial numbers game between police (”10,000 protestors”) and demonstrators (”100,000 protestors”) played out in countries the world over. As noted previously the trade show seems to be in secular decline, even here in the heart of hi-tech country. The show itself had good speakers and excellent conference admin, yet the partly deserted exhibit hall spoke volumes. Even the bikini-clad girl handing out free gifts (note to the marketing manager at Aztec who hired the model: you may want to consider trying a gimmick that does not look quite so tacky; even in the 1980s this seemed a bit dubious) was unable to lift the atmosphere. The exhibit sponsors did not seem best pleased (sample comment: “four of out of five people who came to the booth were trying to sell us something rather than the other way around”) and the supposed legion of CIOs attending were either cunningly disguised or further optimism on the organiser’s behalf.
Ironically the conference hotel perhaps held the clue as to why attendance at trade shows seems to be so hard to drum up these days. If you go to the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara concierge desk you are greeted not by a person but by a video screen. The concierge herself (the helpful Anna) sits 80 miles away and chats to you, even able to print out directions on the printer at the concierge desk. If even the hotel concierge can’t be bothered to travel to work any more and can do her job quite adequately by video link, is it any wonder that busy executives spend less time at trade shows and more time on webinars?