I just returned from the COMMON Fall 2014 conference after a 12-year hiatus. It was good to return to something you first attended some 33 years ago.
Ten years back I started doing a 3-day event known as RPG World with a 2-day Vendor Expo. It lasted for 5 or so years, and then the economy tanked and we suspended that event. A few years ago, COMMON saw a huge downturn in Conference attendance due to the nature of today's IT education needs. So they restructured their twice-yearly "big" events into one Annual Event (the Spring Conference) and one "RPG World-like" event (the Fall Conference).
This year, I attended COMMON's Fall Conference as a Vendor. I'm selling my "Query File SQL" and "Cozzi Tools" packages so I thought I'd see how an in-person event like this worked in today's world.
For the most part, I see that COMMON's Fall Conference attracts a lot of Systems Admins and Students. In addition there were the usual group of volunteers and Speakers who seem to be at any event you attend today. The number of developers at COMMON is certainly a substantial percentage of the attendees, but they seem to have less and less influence on purchasing decisions, and certainly don't need another free pen, or USB iPhone charger, so they largely come to Expo for the free food and then leave.
Speaking with other vendors, the common theme (no pun intended) is that the Spring Conference is where you really get solid leads, and the smaller Fall Event is where you go to make a good impression with COMMON staff and Board. The Spring event is where they continue to run the IT Executive Conference that I personally designed and started back at the 2002 Conference in Denver. Glad to see that its still going strong. Since IT Execs are in attendance, it makes sense that, that is where the stronger leads are generated.
I found that our experience at the Fall Conference and Expo is about what we expected. We obtained a hand-full of solid leads, who we expect to follow up. About 80 percent of people were their to get their prize card stamped or collect the freebees the vendors were giving away. In spit of that, we have signed up for the 2015 Fall Event and are looking forward to returning. All in all, we feel it was worth the Expo fees.
I was able to attend a few educational sessions, and saw that there are typically fewer than 20 people in each session, (about 240 attendees) except for the hot topics such as SQL, which were typically full (full=60+ attendees). Certainly not like the days when we had 900+ people listening to one of my RPG or API lectures, but still a great attendance for today's largely online-education world.
One note on another phenomenon: Sponsored Students Attendance. COMMON allows students to attend the conference at no charge and asks the Vendors and others to sponsor one or more students for a fee to cover expenses. While this is great for the Students and I applaud the initiative, the jury is out on the validity of having the students explore the Expo and ask questions and collect materials from the Vendors. Sure there's good will, but where is the ROI on this for the Vendors? Particularly the smaller (non-Billion dollar companies) vendors like us. I still have to get my head around this one to understand their perspective. It may just be as a business owner and primarily technical person, I don't see the advantage. But it was sure nice to see so many students at the Conference itself.