This was a reponse I posted in response to another blog. I thought that I would post it here also because it's a blog entry in itself and reflects my experiences in attending Australian helpdesk and service management conferences for the last 15 years.
You can read the original blog at the Helpdesk Association of Australasia (http://www.hdaa.com.au/blog/index.php/conference-conundrum)
Why the conundrum? Here’s my take. As a vendor who has been to dozens of PACRIM, ITSMF, CeBIT, Government Technology and other miscellaneous business and helpdesk trade shows, I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of delegates and their “approving” bosses.
As a vendor, we are very interested in the reasons why delegates do, or do not attend such an event, as delegate numbers have a direct bearing on ROI. To this end, I have always made it part of my research to ask people why they have attended and how many work colleagues are with them. I also try to spread the word about industry events when on-site at a client, or doing consulting work.
The biggest reason that people cite for non-attendance is price. More accurately, bang for buck. Managers that I speak with are also mindful of the so-called “junket factor”. With so many of these events being held at exotic locations (PACRIM a few years ago were tossing up between Hamilton Island and Ayers Rock!) with lavish “Gala dinners” at places like Sea World, Dreamworld, Movie World, Sydney Harbour cruises, etc etc. bosses get the feeling that perhaps there is a little too much play, not enough work. I suspect also that the raving reports by delegates about the fun and grand time had at the conference may incite a touch of jealousy with those who missed out on such an event due to budget, staffing levels back at the helpdesk or some other reason.
Rod, Batman and Russ working out some helpdesk issues
The fact that vendors are now accustomed to offering Berocca and other such hang-over amelioratives the morning after the gala event indicates the level of excess that can occur (not to mention the light-hearted, yet desperate attempt to lure the hard-core convention delegate to their booth one last time). Alas, the attendance figures for the morning after are not good. When all of this gets back to the boss, is it any wonder that their approval stamp is disinclined?
When events are held in Casinos like they often are, the added lure of gambling and the associated events held at casinos can be a compelling distraction for delegates. As a vendor, it’s disappointing and frustrating to see delegates walk straight out of the conference – mid lecture, straight through the vendor hall and right into the gaming rooms. I remember a few years ago at Jupiters many did this and there was a lot of chatter about it from the vendors. Not long after this conference I was doing some consulting at a client of ours and a disapproving remark was made to me from senior staff members about an employee that attended the conference and spent most of it gambling. His colleagues noticed it of course, told their boss and they have never sent another staff member to a conference like this again. It’s now company policy! In this case, it seems that one person ruined the image of the conference for the rest.
A final point worth noting is the now mandatory motivation speaker to open the conference. Entertaining for sure, but relevant? It’s a moot point I guess…..except when the HDI book Laurie Lawrence 2 years in a row to tell the Kieran Perkins Olympic story!!! Not good. Heard it before Laurie. By booking higher profile speakers, and guest motivator, the price of the conference can only go up.
All of these factors can make it difficult for corporate bean counters to tick the approved box. I can imagine a conversation going something like this…
Helpdesker to boss: I would like to attend the annual helpdesk and service management show. It costs $3000 per head.
Boss: Why do you want to go?
Helpdesker: To learn how to implement better service management for our company and deliver better support to our clients
Boss: Sounds good. Where is it?
Helpdesker: On the Gold Coast, with Gala event at SuperDreamWorld
Boss: Gala dinner eh?
Helpdesker: Should be great. They’ve booked Cold Chisel, U2, and Pink Floyd to play for us.
Helpdesker: ..and Sir Richard Branson will be talking to us about how to be the best we can be
Boss: …and whereabouts will this event be held on the Gold Coast?
Helpdesker: Jupiters Casino. So excited! I’ve never been to a casino before… plus they have special discounts if you stay in their 5 star rooms.
Boss: Will our vendor be there?
Helpdesker: Sure, all the regulars will be there. I’ll have a look around the vendor hall and see what is on offer and report back.
Boss: We just spent $1,000,000 on [insert tier1 product here] and we’re not moving anywhere, so don’t look too hard.
Helpdesker: OK, I’ll just get all the goodies and swag – I love all the freebies at these events
Boss: Let me think it over (locks drawer with the “approval” stamp in it….)
Perhaps a touch cynical…
If price is a factor, perhaps the conference can look at
1. Reducing the profile of the motivating speaker, or cutting them out altogether
2. Look at alternate venues. This is a business convention. Does it have to be held at 6 star resorts?
3. Re-think the Gala events. Exclusively booking out MovieWorld / Seaworld for a night cost how much???
Still, if you take all the fun out of the event, you end up with a conference about helpdesk and service management.
Pretty dry stuff at the end of the day….unless of course you love service management!
Which I do.