By now you have probably heard the news that Susan Gantner, John Paris, and Paul Touhy, main stay speakers at Common since the beginning of time, will not be participating in the conference next spring (May 2 â€“ 6 in Orlando) after Common cut itâ€™s reimbursement policy for speakers.
The purpose of this post is not to weigh in on the wisdom of Commonâ€™s decision. Theyâ€™re in a tough spot financially and were trying to cut the costs associated with the conference. On the other hand, as a former Common speaker and an independent consultant (like Paris, Gantner, and Touhy), going to Common is an expensive proposition and cuts you off from a week of revenue, and itâ€™s hard to justify the expense particularly in the current economic client. I also made the decision not to submit any sessions for this year although I donâ€™t remember seeing any press coverage on that.
What I am wondering is â€“ is this the end of the â€˜conference eraâ€™. For the last 40 years, big conferences have ruled the day, but has it reached the end of itâ€™s road? Certainly over the past ten years a number of mid size conferences, (Inovis, for example), have folded. Is it only a matter of time before the big ones go too? Perhaps the only thing that will survive are some of the high glamour trade shows out in Vegas.
And the question is why?
One reason that everyone cites is the internet. There is so much information on the internet that people donâ€™t need to go to sessions anymore to learn new techniques. And there is a great deal of truth to that, although the interactive nature of a session can be very helpful in the learning process (as can online forums).
Another reason for the decline, I believe, is that senior level people are not attending these conferences the way they use to. They are too busy to block out a week for one particular event. And when senior people donâ€™t attend they are less likely to send members of their staff. At the same time, not having senior people there also changes the utility of presenting for consultants.
But I think one of the main reasons for the decline is that there has been a real decline in people learning or wanting to learn. Yes, we go out to the web a lot, but we go out to peruse, not learn. When is the last time you actually went through and learned an entire tutorial on the web? Generally we go out to â€˜see whatâ€™s going onâ€™. Senior people arenâ€™t the only ones who are busy. Everyone is. And when that happens you donâ€™t worry about learning in the broad sense. You get tidbits; a fact here and there; just enough information to get you over the hump you are currently stuck on.
The death of conferences (if it occurs, and it might not), is just another symptom of our â€˜Iâ€™m too busy to think and grow Iâ€™ll just get through thisâ€™ culture. Interesting twist isnâ€™t it, especially at a time when most i people should be spending as much time as they can doing some in depth learning.