The Value Of Conference Tables

Although I’ve been attending and speaking at conferences for two decades, I have never purchased a table or booth. Instead, I opt for purchasing sponsorships and making it easy for attendees to connect one on one so we can talk shop and/or business.

I’ve been to a wide range of conventions from an even larger range of service organizations but one thing I find fascinating is the way an organziaiton approaches exhibition space. The exhibition hall location and layout will tell you a lot about what the conference is telling attendees what they should find valuable.

Groups that focus more on networking and closed session constituent meetings tend to create buffers between attendees and exhibitors without it being obvious (think Opera America and the League). On the other end of the spectrum, conferences that design foot traffic so attendees must engage with vendors have a much livelier vibe. Attendees are there as much for the vendors as they are anything else (think Arts Midwest, NTEN, and INTIX).

What’s also fascinating are the range of vendor displays. Yes, the goal is to attract attention but the lack of clarity when it comes to letting an attendee know who you are, what you do, and why they should care with nothing more than a 2-second glance doesn’t seem to be a universal goal.

At an NTEN conference several years back, I recall seeing what had to be a $15k 10′ x 20′ booth display filled with attractive design work and hi-tech displays but even after talking to the rep, I still wasn’t entirely certain what they were selling. The whole thing projected a serious Underpants Gnomes vibe.

But I’m curious to know what your impressions are. If you go to arts and culture sector conferences, what do you notice about vendors and sponsors. How do you engage with them and what encounters have been most memorable over the years?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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