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Are Conferences a Thing of the Past?

August, 2019

We’ve all been there. Poring over lists of different industry events, passing over a nice sum to attend, packing, and networking for days on end. It’s an exercise that we go through every year, sometimes multiple times, because it is the norm. “Can’t miss” and “event of the year” are thrown around in the promotion of these conferences, but is this true for 2019 and beyond?

So far this year, members of 121 were present at multiple conferences, and have noted a downward trend in attendance. This came as something of a shock to us, as each event was well organized with engaging speakers sharing valuable insights. Is this a trend in the event planning industry? Let’s look at possible factors and what could be done to reverse course.

Location, Location, Location

Arguably the most important factor in conference attendance, where an event is located can often be a deciding factor. Location encapsules more than just the venue. Everyone that has attended multiple conferences is nodding their heads in agreement with that last sentence. Event planners should consider transportation, access to accommodation, entertainment and other factors when selecting a location. Potential attendees that see that the venue is difficult to reach and without much to do outside of the conference will choose to pass.

These observations on location are more than anecdotal. A 2013 study on international events published in Science Direct confirms these views. Of the participating scientists that have attended at least two international events, 74% stated that the infrastructure of the event location is important to them.

It is not unlikely that conferences related to different fields would yield the same results. Academia, marketing, mathematics, packaging and more all hold multiple conferences throughout the year. With more than 30,000 conferences held worldwide each year, it is important to get location right.

Value Elsewhere

Combine poor location with the ubiquity of the internet, and you have a perfect storm that can cause the downfall of the conference. With over 1.94 billion websites online as of January 2019, information is everywhere and accessible with just a few taps. Industry e-magazines, websites and blogs all offer worthwhile insights. Learning information that is similar to what is discussed at a conference or industry event without leaving the office is an appealing option to many people. With the average business traveler taking 14 trips a year, it is no wonder why some may elect to stay close to home.

Education and information are not the only value conferences hold. Doing something out of the routine of office, home, office can be beneficial, as well as the opportunities to make new connections through networking. Organizers that can show the extra value offered by their conferences outside of learning can create a better experience for attendees. As a result, attendance will likely increase.

Conference Fatigue

Both of these factors combine and manifest themselves as a third, new factor: conference fatigue. Here is a fun little office poll you can do, starting with yourself. What words and feelings come to your mind when you hear the word conference? Think about it. Would you say insightful, inspiring and useful? Do you lean towards descriptions of dry, boring and uninformative? The latter group is symptomatic of conference fatigue.

Attending multiple conferences a year and sitting in on too many speeches and discussions during conferences can increase this feeling. As much as we would like to avoid this truth in the name of productivity, there is a limit to our focus. Combine the mental fatigue of too many conferences and the physical fatigue of traveling (and all that it entails). Skipping conferences becomes very appealing in this light.

With all this being said, conferences are not going anywhere anytime soon. Gathering industry professionals in one place to discuss the latest happenings and network with one another is still valuable. The event planning industry remains strong and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees its growth in the coming 6 years. However, this does not mean that it is not without threats. Falling attendance is a real issue to be dealt with, and event planners should take note.


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Last Edited on May 25, 2018