As 2014 dawns, I have been thinking of how the conference business has changed in the last 20 years….

Back in 1993 when I came into the academic conference sector, computers were few and far between (we had just one in our department), and very basic, with dark screens and green writing, and Windows were things to watch rain drip down. We wrote letters…real letters, with typewriters (typewriters were things with keyboards connected to sort of hammers with letters on…never mind, Google it!). Oh yes, and we had to go to the library to research anything because the World Wide Web was a year or two away!

Back in those days, when we’d only just heard of Bill Clinton, the final episode of Cheers was in the can, and Whitney Houston was topping the charts screeching “I Will Always Love You” (I know these things because I Googled them), I used to exhibit at seven or eight venue shows. These included Venuemasters, EIBTM, Confex, Chase, HRD, and the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD).

making-exhibitionHow times have changed. Although face-to-face discussions are still said to be important to buyers, the years are littered with failed attempts to launch new shows and attendances at exhibitions went into a steep decline. The truth is that the speed, content and usability of the Web means that we can exchange vast amounts of information in a microsecond, and increasingly savvy buyers can comprehensively research venues without leaving their offices. And conversely, venues are able to seek out and target potential buyers without breaking sweat.
These days at MEETinLEEDS we routinely attend only one, very focused exhibition (Venuemasters, 14th May 2014, at the Earl’s Court Ibis) and the rest, like Bill and Whitney, are history.

I actually did tot up the number of exhibitions I’ve done over these twenty years and I reckon it’s an astounding 60 at a cost probably well in excess of £150k! Although this seems a high cost, we did see a lot of business coming from exhibitions when they were at their zenith, and in fact I can remember one single enquiry returning £150k of revenue.

What will the picture be in another 20 years? It’s anybody’s guess, but thinking very positively, One Direction will be no more…..