“This is why I have stopped attending events. They just take up too much time and one does not get to know anything new.”
That statement was made by a senior tech writer a few months ago after a particularly messy tech event which virtually chewed up more than half of his work day. “Let’s be practical,” he explained. “I have nothing against the brand or the product. But this is a serious waste of time – there’s nothing here that we did not already know, things do not get underway or finish on time, I do not have the patience and muscle to fight for press kits and demo zone shots! I have spent close to five hours here and what have I got? A press release, which is anyway going to be mailed to me later!”
His, alas, is not an isolated case. Once a matter of excitement and anticipation, far too many tech events are now being seen as nothing but expensive indulgences by brands, and attending them can at times become a tedious affair, not just because of the time consumed, but because of their sheer ineffectiveness. Yes, attendances at events have gone up but the events themselves no longer inspire the kind of awe they once did and are now becoming almost routine.
So what’s going wrong? Quite a few things, and the brands and their agencies are not the only ones to blame, really. There are ten things in particular that we think wreck a tech event because they shift focus from the core message or product, and how we think they can be handled as well, based on our own experience of them:
(Note: This article is written in an Indian context, but a number of our colleagues who have attended events abroad assure us that the points covered are universal. The solutions are suggestions, really. We don’t make the rules and we are not perfect. We know it.)
1. Late starts
If well-begun is half done, then most tech events fail at the very beginning. We have lost count of the number of times we have arrived well before the designated start of the event and then been made to wait as the commencement has been delayed for reasons that vary from the stage not being ready to celebrities in transit to the “electronic media not turning up.” Things have reached such a pass that in some cases, people deliberately start out late for events, knowing that the event will not start on time. Brands start events late, mediapersons start coming late and then brands start events even later as the mediapersons are late anyway – it is a vicious cycle and spinning faster by the day. We really wish someone would lock down on timings – a few minutes of grace is fine, a few hours is not. Oh and running a ten second countdown when an event has started two hours late is NOT clever.
The solution: Perhaps have a grace period of a quarter of an hour, but not beyond that. Exceptions of course can be made, but the whole “it is Ok to go late, they never start on time” assumption has to be proved wrong.
2. Strange venues
You would have thought that a brand that is investing in an event would be careful about the venue it chooses – it would be picked on the basis of the facilities it offers and its ability to host the activities the brand has in mind. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. We have seen some very well-known brands hosting events at dimly-lit cafes and pubs which have abysmal sound facilities and hardly any proper seating to speak of. Then there are the venues that have the facilities but are located so far away that one spends more time travelling to and from them than at the event itself. And we REALLY wish someone would check network availability at venues before choosing them – official Wi-Fi seldom works well when there are dozens of people in a room!
The solution: Check networks, lights, sound…do a proper dry run with real people.
3. Poor seating
Seating is one of the most important parts of an event. And one that is surprisingly often ignored. It is often haphazard and cramped – in an era where most mediapersons are accompanied by backpacks or some sort of carrying bag (most of us have tablets and notebooks to lug, besides a whole snake’s coil of cables and chargers), it is the rare to have an event which actually allows you to sit comfortably with ample place for your elbows and your bag. In most cases, you end up being squeezed between two people as in a crowded cinema hall, with your bag either in your lap or your feet and having to move every time someone comes into your row of seating. Just how difficult is it to have proper seating? Must be very difficult. Not too many seem to do it.
The solution: See if you can sit in a “normal” seat and keep a bag comfortably and still tweet, write and take pictures. Simple!
4. “Lost” Anchors
An anchor can make or break an event. And of late, they have been unfortunately doing a lot of the latter. The reason: they have not been briefed enough (many actually read off cards on stage), have just been kept for eye candy or celebrity value and are often neither part of the brand or its agency, and therefore have very little connect. The result is the same hackneyed set of cliches being rolled out at differing pitches and volumes and mediapersons in the crowd tweeting about the mistakes being made.
The solution: Brief the anchor in detail. Ban flash cards (use a teleprompter). And in case of doubts, go with a company executive. At least they know the product.
5. Old presentations/films
There was a time when mediapersons were not able to follow international presentations and videos and these could be repeated safely at different venues. In the era of live streaming and YouTube, doing the same thing curiously looks like cutting corners. We have lost count of the number of times we have had to endure exactly the same video or presentation on international streaming as well as at a local event, with no changes whatsoever. Needless to say, it conveys very little in news terms.
The solution: If it has been online in the past and viewed extensively, do not try to use it again, unless it is very short in duration.
6. Irrelevant celebrities
We understand the need for brands to tie up with celebrities to promote their products, but when a celebrity is invited just to, well, BE at an event, then one begins to wonder. If we had a Dollar for every lost and listless celeb we have seen at tech events, whether it is on stage or in the audience, we would be close to making a fortune. It is one thing to have a dedicated brand ambassador who understands their role and the product or service they are endorsing, quite another to have someone who just turns up, looks lost and mouths cliches and inanities. Yes, they will get the non-tech media to an event, but then we still have not recovered from hearing a film star say that a phone was special because it could be used by both men and women and another saying that his favourite game was Snake at a console launch!
The solution: If they don’t know the product or are not comfortable talking about it, keep them away and use them in ad films. Fewer people will laugh at them. Selfies at events get FB likes but don’t do much for your product.
7. Irrelevant audiences
There was a time when a press briefing or a tech event was restricted number of attendees, who were often carefully chosen. That era seems to be ending with brands wanting large crowds of mediapersons, dealers and ah yes, fans at their events. As in most cases, the increase in quantity has resulted in the quality of audiences taking a hit. The result has been an increased amount of less than polite behaviour at tech events, be it talking loudly during presentations and keynotes, fighting for food and gifts (more on that later) and asking irrelevant questions. It has also spawned a new breed of event attendee who actually picks and chooses which events to attend based on venue and food and gift potential (“Just start a blog, call it ‘tech something or the other’, or tweet a lot, buy some followers and call yourself an ‘influencer’,” people will invite you,” is advice we have heard far too many times). The greater their number at an event, the less effective it is likely to be – they are simply not there for the message.
The solution: Work out the guest list and figure out why you want someone attending the event. And “he/she/it has a blog or/and is a influencer” is not a good enough reason, really.
8. Limited executive interactions
One of the biggest attractions of attending a tech event till about 2012 was the fact that you could meet and talk to people closely associated with a brand or a product. That has now become increasingly difficult, thanks to crowds at events and the fact that the question and answer sessions at the end of conferences and events are becoming tame – everyone and their grandmother want a “exclusive byte” for their publication/site/channel/blog, even if the executive ends up saying pretty much the same thing ten times over. Almost every event ends with executives of a company talking to different media persons one by one or in relatively small groups, saying the same thing again and again. Needless to say, this consumes a lot of time and many media persons even actually come late to events, because all they are interested in is the “interaction” and “quotes” after it. “Why even bother having an event in that case? I could have met this person for coffee in the office or any hotel lobby!” I remember a CEO snapping angrily at his team once.
The solution: Schedule executive interactions carefully. Allow them to mingle with people that are considered key. Event-based interviews don’t work too well – no one buys a phone/TV/notebook/PC because the CEO gave a good interview!
9. Chaotic demo zones
Imagine a room with about 10-20 units of a device and about 100-150 people interested in looking at them and using them. Right, that’s the “demo zone” at tech events these days – a mass of mayhem with lots of pushing and shoving in an attempt to get that elusive “exclusive first hands on review” (or whatever they choose to call it). We have always wondered why the whole affair be handled in a more organised manner – be it through a line or through better scheduled slots. At the moment, no one seems to mind a lot of poorly shot videos and images of their products, because that is what all the pushing in the demo zone results in. No amount of optical image stabilisation can fix matters here. The result: poor images of the very product that has been showcased at the event.
The solution: Give time limits and ask people to queue up and wait outside.
10. “Media Gifts”
An old sticking point with us, really. We have no idea why so many brands try to hand out freebies at events – they often result in chaos at events (or sometimes, all too rare discipline – people willing to fight in demo zones and in dining rooms at times line up dutifully for their “gifts”), and attract people for whom the takeaway from an event is more materialistic than the message the brand wanted to convey. No real mediaperson attends a tech event for a gift – take it in writing for us. They want the story, and the gift is not it!
The solution: Leave the gifting to Santa.