Event industry, please go easy on us.

You can already sense it and, in some cases, feel it. Jet engines are revving up. Hotel conference rooms are getting dusted off and ready. Somewhere, probably in a sweltering factory, workers are assembling thousands upon thousands of lanyards ablaze with the hashtags….#dreamforce and #con this and #con that.

Oh yes, with the great reopening may come the return of the event and conference circuit. The Tour De Finance of so many industries. The ‘I just need an excuse to get out of the house and travel on the company dime’ but call it a networking opportunity. If you’re reading this from LinkedIn, then there’s a good chance you know what I mean.

But I plead to the event planners, the city organizers, and those of you with the word ‘innovation’ in your job title. Please go easy on us when planning your event calendars. I beg of you.

First, and it perhaps goes without saying that after over a year of lockdowns, most of us are a little anxious. I do miss events, and I guess people in general, but at the same time, I’m not ready to be jammed into packed hotels and conference halls in the name of thought leadership. My ability to be influenced is greatly diminished these days when I’m in cramped spaces or I hear someone sneeze. There’s no stopping the reopening and resurgence of work travel but let’s hope we can ease back into it slowly. Even today after the waves and the shots there’s still much uncertainty around travel and health concerns so this seems like a fair request.  

I’m also not sure we need in-person events to the degree we used to have them. Before the pandemic, and especially in the tech industry, it might be fair to say there were too many events. One could hop from conference to conference during certain seasons pretty much nonstop. And in our industry, many people did just that. I started to wonder if the startup event organizers were making more money than the startups themselves! A modern-day ‘picks and shovels’ analogy, I suppose. But now we’re all used to video and virtual event platforms, and those work fine enough. Not having to travel or wear pants when attending is just one of the many bonuses of this new way to work.

Finally, and I say this with some intrepidation but also after attending a few hundred events myself. Events and conferences don’t often generate the value or ROI you expect them to. That’s especially true for early-stage companies or first-time founders. The event industry makes it feel you have to be there but it’s just good marketing. Look at all these successful people talking! Look at all these logos! OMG look they have a celebrity attending! Ya well, those successful people can take the time for events because they are often paid to be there. The ones that aren’t can be away because they have large organizations to keep things moving in their absence. For the rest of you still trying to get your business off the ground the best thing you can do is stay put and spend time with your team, and I mean like every day. Even if these days much of that time is spent virtually. That’s much harder to do when you’re on the road half the year, constantly switching timezones, or sitting in conference halls.  

To close and at the risk of being a bit hypocritical, I did recently attend and speak at my first in-person event in almost 2 years. It was here in Norway so like many things here it was a smaller-scale event with about 20 people in the audience. However, at the same time, there were more than 60 on the livestream. So to me, it seems about 3x the people made the better choice. For their smart use of time management, they get the added benefit of being able to multitask or simply turn off the stream if I’m not saying something interesting. Not that that has ever happened 😉

Sean Percival

Sean Percival is an American author, investor and entrepreneur.