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A call for new concepts in conferences.

Tight budgets demand lower-cost conferences.

Conference sponsors should respond to these pressures by designing conferences that reduce attendee costs, reduce time away from the job and pinpoint learning.

The typical telecommunications conference, profit or non-profit, costs each attendee (and his or her company) a minimum of $1,000 in travel, hotel costs and conference fees, and frequently much more. It consumes two to five days away from work, and it exposes the attendee to hundreds of exhibits and dozens of presentations.

It's a shotgun approach when a rifle effect is sorely needed in today's corporate climate.

In the late '70s and '80s when telecommunications was growing almost exponentially, attendance was part of the job description. In many departments attendance was parceled out like perks for the executive dining room or space in the ramp garage.

Selections were made on the basis of the city where the conference was held and the nightly entertainment. Detroit and Dallas were "out." New Orleans, Las Vegas and San Francisco were "in." Big name entertainment was always a draw and spouses were assiduously consulted on those issues.

Today, except for retirees, few spouses remain who have time to attend these remain who have time to attend these extravaganzas. Today, the telecomm industry has moved from a generalized industry covering all communications to a segmented industry where one must concentrate on highly technical, specialized components to maintain corporate competence and competitiveness. Today, attendees have a choice of dozens of conferences.

They want answers to specific problems, not general education.

Improving your competence in telecomm is not akin to buying fall fashions at a style show. It doesn't require glamour, glitz and glossy brochures to understand high-performance networking.

The Association of Data Communications Users recognized many of these trends when they surveyed their members a year ago. However, despite strong indications that less costly, more specialized conferences were indicated, ADCU plowed ahead in mid-'91 with planning for a typical national conference and exhibit for '92.

It became apparent after several months that there was a lukewarm response from attendees, exhibitors and other participants. Few, if any, associations or conference sponsors would admit that.

But just travel the exhibit aisles, talk to exhibit personnel, and look in on the almost empty presentation rooms at other conferences and ask yourself if there isn't a better structure for attendees.

Conference sponsors, at least not-for-profit sponsors, should remember that these conferences are for the benefit of the attendees. Unfortunately, most associations rely on the profit from these conferences to fund their other activities and consequently they are structured for the benefit of the sponsor, not the attendee.

ADCU's answer in 1992 is to replace the annual conference with multiple regional meetings. These will be half-day or full-day sessions in cities such as New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis. There will be no hotel or travel costs, no attendance fee, except possibly the cost of a luncheon, and little time lost from the job.

The agenda will be specialized, not "something for everyone." A typical meeting may cover recent frame relay developments and implementations, or it may concentrate on image processing techniques or possibly disaster avoidance.

It will not try to cover "internetworking," "connectivity," "understanding regulatory affairs," or "issues and trends in ... (whatever)."

And it will be a blend of user case histories, consultant experiences and technical expertise of leading telecomm vendors.

Two of these regional conferences were held last month in Philadelphia and New York. Others are scheduled for coming months in different cities, as well as follow-up conferences in Philadelphia and New York.

Tough times require tough decisions and ADCU, and its members, appear to have made them.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Datacomm User
Author:Blegen, August
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:611
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