What we haven't missed this user conference season...

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer May 29, 2020
After a season of no physical conferences and vendor events, a very personal view of the 'new normal'...

User conferences (and analyst events) are rarely the feel-good functions that vendors try to engineer. So, in a Spring season virtually devoid of these in-person extravaganzas, let’s remember what we’ve been missing.  

Brian ticket

Flying to the event

Airline advertising imagery never matches the reality we all suffer when flying. There’s no food, cramped seating, pitiful service and no way to get any work done.

Oh, and forget an upgrade to first class. If you’re like me, you would have gotten that highly coveted, SPECIAL boarding assignment C76. Ah, smell that last row, middle seat by the washroom!


Smack talk at the arrival airport 

After a connection or two and some terrible, overpriced food at other airports, you finally arrive at the conference airport.

Even though you didn’t check your bags, you still have to walk a fair piece to get to the Uber pickup point that is conveniently located in an adjacent county.

On the way, you’ll see a few airport billboards of overpriced implementation firms, cubic zirconium sponsors and those of the vendor’s competitors. You’ll laugh for a bit before schlepping your bags a few more miles.


The conference venue

Even if it’s an intimate gathering of just 130,000+ attendees, the vendor will choose a site with spectacular ambience and comfort.

Hard steel folding chairs, no electric outlets, spotty/non-existent wi-fi and no Dr Pepper are what’s there for your comfort and productivity. 

Who doesn’t want these creature comforts in their own home?


The Day 1 wake-up call

For some inescapable reason, vendors think a marching band at 8 am ET is a great way to wake up everyone. For those too hungover from the pre-conference parties, it isn’t. I’ve determined that the real purpose of these bands in a small, low-ceiling hotel ballroom is to deafen all the attendees so that no one can hear the keynote to come. They have to do this as the keynote is so lacking in real news and real progress.

kick off

Take your assigned seat, the mind control initial keynote begins

Well, those front row seats are reserved for well-heeled prospects, President’s Club winning salespersons and other vendor executives. Existing customers, industry analysts, etc. get the nose-bleed seats. Remember, we left home for this!

Usually, the first keynote will feature Glorious Leader, aka the software CEO. This pep talk is always bullish, optimistic and a feel-good festival all rolled into one. Sales will be up. New logos will be splashed on the screen. The plutonium, polycarbonate and ethylene glycol sponsors will be thanked. And, of course, the CEO will introduce his/her pet social responsibility firm and tell you how things are going with it. You’ll be encouraged to do something with them, too. But before the CEO ends their keynote, he/she will introduce the next executive to speak and, wait for it, thank them for their leadership. Don’t you love it when software executives are all-in on thanking each other? #TYFYL


The Expo Hall opens

The sole purpose of these areas is to press the flesh between customers and other ecosystem players. That can’t happen in a social distancing world.

The best part of these events was to load up a bag of SWAG and take it back home to the office. I just don’t know if anyone will ever need more promotional t-shirts, ink pens or sand-filled stress balls.

My office is thankful I didn’t drag anymore of that stuff back this spring.


The Awards ceremony

What’s a user conference without awards? You’ll see implementers, customers and even vendor sales people win awards.

Watch out though as old, slow-growing ERP vendors that have nothing tangible to celebrate still give out participation trophies!


Hm-mm, that delicious conference food

Meals at a user conference can be..challenging.

Sometimes it will come in a box. Sometimes it’s wrapped in cellophane. Sometimes it’s an assemble-your-own flat meat sandwich 

Or, the ultimate indignity, see menu item above...


Off to the airport again

Finally, it’s time to go to the airport and move onto the next vendor event.

As the above photo shows, veteran industry analyst, Ray Wang (@rwang0)’s excitement is palpable as his plane is once again delayed.

(Outfit - model's own)

And don't forget to wear your flair...

How can people know you’ve been to this event before if you don’t ridiculously proudly sport all of the flair you’ve accumulated before? All that flair can cost you in checked bag fees, though!

My take

Maybe we didn’t miss much this Spring after all. Yes, I missed some things like long hotel check-in lines, bed bugs (an occupation hazard for some industry analysts), overly slow expense reimbursements and more.

I actually enjoyed not completing a single expense report the last 4 months!  Maybe this new normal isn’t so bad after all!


Image credit - All photos courtesy of TechVentive, Inc. and used with permission.

Disclosure - Numerous vendors paid Brian’s travel costs (but wished they hadn’t).