With challenging economic times came budget cuts. Within each internal department, travel budgets were likely among the hardest hit. In virtually all vertical markets—and mil/aero was no exception—attendance at industry conferences and exhibitions dwindled. At one point, roughly a year ago, Fortune 500 giant Intel Corp. put a hold on all trade-show exhibitions enterprise-wide; rather than exhibiting at brick-and-mortar trade show venues, the company opted to host their own virtual trade shows online.
I have attended many virtual trade shows, including a couple Intel e-vents. E-vents are not equivalent substitutes for brick-and-mortar events, but they do have their place. If you want to “chat” (instant message) with a product manager or engineer or grab some virtual brochures and data sheets, virtual trade shows provide ready access to key personnel and info. Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer to put a face with the name, a handshake, and an actual, physical business card; and despite all the advances in online networking, perhaps nothing beats networking on the trade-show floor at the close of the day or in the hotel lobby bar, even. Many a business plan and relationship has been hatched at a hotel bar, and nearly as many contracts and agreements scribbled on napkins there.
I am, admittedly, not a very good e-vent attendee; I’m not sure who is, in fact. In my defense, I am attending these e-vents online while sitting at my desk at work; that characteristic or “convenience” is suppose to be a big selling point to virtual events, but it’s not in my book. All the normal office distractions are present—phone calls, e-mail messages, colleagues and supervisors, etc.—and pulling me away from e-vent keynote addresses, presentations, round tables, and exhibitions. Sure, I can log on later and view the archived talk, but how many of us actually do that? I sure haven’t.
Please don’t get me wrong. I value Webcasts, podcasts, and the advent of remote, virtual/online meetings and collaboration. I celebrate and appreciate companies, product engineers, and industry pundits who invest time in crafting online presentations, tutorials, and the like. I do use those—ad nauseam, in fact. (Mentor.com is a treasure trove of easily digestible tutorials and Webcasts, by the way.)
I won’t bore you with even my top 10 list of real-world trade show benefits (unless you insist, of course), but I have yet to attend a virtual e-vent as satisfying or productive as a real-world conference and exhibition.
Thankfully, business is ramping up, purchase orders are being written, the U.S. Department of Defense budget is holding steady, and road warriors are again taking to the skies and highways—and nothing beats face-to-face interaction, even for this geek.