Over the last few years, we've all witnessed a general downturn in industry trade show attendance across the board, and some even suggest the best days of such events are already behind us. There are a number of reasons often given to explain this development, such as: reduced travel budgets, time constraints on already-lean staff levels, general anxiety over traveling, too many competing events, the internet, etc. Although all of these observations are valid, they don't provide a complete answer to the question—and none, either alone or together, support the notion that professional trade shows and conferences no longer provide significant and unique value to the industry they cover.
It's just as true today as ever before that one of the best things about industry exhibitions and conferences is the opportunity they provide for face-to-face time with professional colleagues, customers and friends. Those of the “old school,” of which I must now reluctantly count myself, already know how important industry trade shows and conferences have been, and continue to be, in both advancing the business interests of our companies as well as our own individual professional growth—which, of course, also ultimately benefits our companies. Professional meetings and events allow people to establish and maintain important relationships with others in the field, to share real-world experiences and lessons learned, and to network and hear about new developments, and perhaps become involved in future plans.
Today, unfortunately, there's a growing possibility that a large part of the current generation of professionals
entering the workforce will begin their careers unaware of, misinformed about, or unable to take advantage of these invaluable educational and professional opportunities. Where many companies would once encourage their junior employees to take advantage of these cost-effective opportunities to broaden their industry experience, connections, and knowledge, they're now more tightly rationing participation.
This is not only a negative trend for show sponsors and exhibitors who lose the vitality and interest of this important audience, but it will also eventually come back to haunt those short-sighted corporate managers when they look to replace their retiring “industry-savvy” people. It will certainly be a negative for the facility-bound employees left without the networking resources or industry knowledge needed to broaden and advance their careers.
When it comes to industry trade shows and conferences, it's important to remember that it pays just to show up.
Editor in Chief