Organizational Improvement Conferences and Trade Shows: Are They Value-Added Or Not?

THE QUESTION:
I have a question I would like to pose to those of you who attend trade shows every year. Whether you attend the conference sessions, or your company exhibits at tradeshows, I would like to know if your organization has seen value resulting from a tradeshow/conference/exposition. What does your company gain from expense every year? Where is the ROI?

SOME BACKGROUND:
This year CMOE exhibited at two different Conference and Trade Show Expositions. We exhibit every year at one conference or another and, to be honest, we really haven’t had great experiences in the past. This year a few of the conferences were held in different locations than in years previous and we thought (hoped) the new location may draw a different audience response than the previous years. We were sorely mistaken.
While I had a great time in the city, and enjoyed the after-conference activities, we only talked to about 50 people in the three days (at both shows) who were genuinely interested in anything besides free stuff. In fact, people were fighting and practically clawing at each other for the popular giveaways. The people walking by our booth did not even make eye contact with us. Their gazes were fixed at the level of the tables, where they were searching for the best “free stuff”. I even had a personal item on our table where someone reached beyond another employee in our booth requesting to have the item. Some of our display-only materials were even taken off the table right in front of us. My impression of this Expo: HOW MUCH FREE STUFF CAN I GET HERE?

Learning at Training ConferencesTHE CONFERENCE SESSIONS:
I also attended one of the mega-sessions where an industry leader was to speak. I intended to learn and gain some nuggets of knowledge I could take away and apply to my job. The session was full of fluff, stories and anecdotes about this particular consultant’s life, and swimming with dolphins. While it was mildly entertaining, it was zero in the way of content or any kind of personal growth. I was not alone in my thinking. When I spoke with other attendees, no one had found any value in any of the sessions they attended either. How can organizations justify spending money on something that has this response?
I don’t know the total amount of money spent by all the exhibitors and attendees, but with 60,000 HR/Training Professionals in attendance, and all the after-expo parties and concerts, I can imagine it’s too much money to be spending on nonsense and free gifts. I don’t understand how organizations justify this expense. Is it strictly for branding purposes? Even if this is the case, I feel these expenses are exorbitant both in dollars spent and time away from the office.
For those organizations who send people to these expositions to learn: Why not spend that money on some actual training, some real employee development, something worth the investment, that will help the organization reach their true goals?
I think a better way to spend this money is to bring in an outside vendor with expertise in an area where you or your team need development. Have the message delivered a message or skills for 15, 18, or 25 of your people. This would probably cost about the same as it costs to send one person to these mega shows and rely on them to bring back information of value.

LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER:
What do you think? I would love to see comments on why your company attends trade shows, what goals you have going into the show, and if they are achieved. If you have another opinion, we would love to hear it!

MY OPINION:
If you want free stuff, attend the next trade show coming to your city! If you need training, spend your money on valuable, in-house training that more people will be able to use.

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About the Author

CMOE Design Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.