What I learnt about Audience Development for Tech Conferences

I am deeply encouraged by the good feedback that I received to last week’s post titled, ‘Tech events model has changed in India’. In this post I am going to write about audience development strategies. But before I get into that, here’s a quick summary of the comments in response to last week’s post. All these comments and likes appear on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20141014070518-24924439-tech-events-model-has-changed-in-india?trk=hb_ntf_MEGAPHONE_ARTICLE_LIKE

Brent Goff, Journalist, TV news anchor, talk show host and moderator from Berlin writes, “In our world of constant connectivity the challenge is even greater to convince people that a show or trade fair can reveal anything new. This presents a great opportunity for conferences to emerge as integral parts of a successful show/trade fair. Why? Because the conference is now THE place where people meet, talk and THINK! Big ideas are as attractive as ever. And a conference venue is where big thinkers should convene–with an audience. One man’s old show is a clever man’s new stage!”

Arun Gupta, Ex-CIO at Cipla, Business & IT leader with multi-industry experience, transforming business with IT, writes about the four E’s that make conferences successful: Excite, Engage, Explain, Entertain. He says most Expos and Conferences are unable to create this magic formula.

Rachana Chowdhary, Founder Director – MediaValueWorks, Country Manager – African Press Organization writes, “…guess, the scale of events in India, concept, conceive, conduct, content needs an equal in-depth revisit as the 4 e’s above…we may refer – MWC- Mobile World Congress, Barcelona….. Another noted development, pls refer the SAP – Innovation Express, a multi-city roadshow, capturing and interacting with SME’s and Industry Associations…finding newer ways to showcase solutions.”

And Subroto Panda, CIO-CTO at Anand and Anand – Premier IP and Media Law Firm writes, “I completely agree with you Brian and at the same time the views expressed by Arun Sir also. But the awards also some how expose that it is not done with a real view to reward small time IT Experts who really struggle hard in pushing tough IT strategies in small scale industry.”

And then there were some ‘likes’ to the article including one from Jaideep Mehta, Managing director, India and South Asia at IDC.

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and for spending time reading my posts.

Over the weekend I was reading the iPad edition of Content Marketing magazine (you can search for it from Apple Newsstand or on Magzter). The article was mainly about developing audiences through Social Media. But the term “Minimum Viable Audience” or MVA kept leaping out of the digital page and catching my eye! Essentially, MVA is about how building an audience first can be a more efficient way to producing a successful conference.

In the six years that I devoted to developing various Conference Agendas I have always worked like this: Getting the Speakers and topics and agendas set first — and then pursuing delegates and visitors to register. I have seen people struggle (and falter) with delegate registrations (audience development). And I often thought to myself, “What if we could develop the audiences first, right at the beginning of the cycle, and then work on the content and speakers?”

But these activities must overlap and be done in parallel — audiences want to know who are the speakers. And partners and exhibitors want to know how many visitors are expected and what is the profile of these visitors.

Think about it. In business, you develop the product first, before the audience comes in. The cycle is: Market Research, Product Research & Development, Marketing, Selling, feedback, product redesign, development….

But if you look at the cycle carefully, you’ll see that customer feedback and market research are the most important elements. A company may pour billions into R&D and millions into marketing — but what good is all that if customers don’t want that product?

So, coming back to conferences, if you have done the show at least once, then in your second or third year (and in future editions), you could do extensive audience feedback exercises using tools like online surveys. calls, or just face-to-face meetings with randomly selected visitors. Social Media is another good tool for audience feedback and engagement. Build a community online — all your visitors should be discussing speakers, topics and other aspects of the conference there.

Also monitor trends in the industry, what are the issues being discussed in industry and in government (related to the domain).

These issues (and all the audience feedback) should serve as the basis for forming next year’s conference agenda.

Market the content to audiences first, then go get your speakers!

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The views expressed by the writer in this article are his own, and should not be attributed to his current organization. The comments are generic and do not refer to any specific conference or organization.

Tech events model has changed in India

After attending numerous conferences and exhibitions in the Indian IT Industry, I observe a clear trend in the way these events have evolved/matured. And my observation is seconded by the opinions of the conference attendees I’ve spoken to.

This year I attended some tech events (albeit not as many as last year) and the immediate observations were:

a. The number of booths on the expo floor has reduced, drastically (in some cases halved).

b. There are a lot more awards ceremonies (and it is a good strategy to get all the important people to your show). People love to receive awards and recognition, but what are you going to do after everyone receives an award?

c. The conference content hasn’t changed much — the same people discussing the same issues all over again. (Yawn!).

So I try to think of ways to innovate (and change the world). I have brainstormed with industry people to come up with a list of suggestions.

What expos should be

Think about it — why would consumers come to an exhibition to see and buy products when they can do so online? B2B is a different case.

Suggestion:

1. Launch new products at expos. Give sneak previews of prototypes. Bloggers love this. And people love demos. Make product announcements. And create some hype and PR in the run up to the event.

2. Expos should have action on the floor. I have seen mini boxing matches at an expo in Las Vegas — right at the booth! Darts and shooting games are old school.

3. Get your visitor engaged and involved. Try gaming, it usually works.

4. Decorate your stalls well — I am seeing the same boring stalls with a table, two chairs and flat 2D posters — manned by an equally bored attendant. This is a good business opportunity for someone who is creative.

5. Contests, lucky draws and lots of yelling are passe. Try something new. At one expo I saw two face-readers — they took one look at my face and wrote down my personality description on a piece of paper! And much of it was true! It’s indeed written on your forehead! Instant photos with props are fun!

What conferences should be

1. Conferences should raise and discuss industry issues and challenges. Get the people who matter (policy makers, politicians, lobbyists, press) to come to your conference. The CEOs that you want will then make time to attend.

2 Partner with industry associations — and work together to support their causes. They can use your platform to discuss and publicize their issues, or to make announcements.

3. Pre-conference events- Workshops

I am seeing workshops and Master Class sessions being conducted by industry experts a day before the conference. These are well-attended and highly appreciated. People actually PAY to attend these workshops.

4. Pre-conference events- Roadshows

Again, partner with industry associations to raise, promote and publicize issues. I am seeing a lot of interest in Tier-II and Tier-III towns and cities. The roadshows there are well attended and are taken very seriously. Help attract IT investment to the state — the state government will support you 100%.

5. Topics — Let’s hear something new. Make it practical and tell real-life stories. Share examples and case studies.

6. Video killed the PPT

Personally, I am against videos and long PPTs. It shows that the speaker is not well prepared and is just summarizing someone else’s thoughts and research. Similar for Government speakers who read out pre-prepared speeches written by professional speech writers.

7. Un-conference and Extempore is In

Solution to point 6.

Good speakers can speak without tele-prompters and audio-visual aids. They know their topic thoroughly.

Write in an give me some more tips! Do you disagree to anything I’ve written here?

The views expressed by the writer in this article are his own and should not be attributed to his current employer. These are broad-based observations that apply to Indian tech events in general.

 

The next big thing for Samsung, Sony, Apple, LG, Google….

Ever since the passing away of Steve Jobs, we haven’t really seen something “new and exciting” from Apple. The iPhone and the iPad got better, and we now have Apple Watch. Samsung beat Apple to the watch, of course. You probably own more than one watch, so are you really going to buy another just because it promises to keep an eye on your health?

As the tech biggies are wondering what to create next, let me offer a few ideas. I haven’t created any of these products and don’t own any patents — the ideas are all locked away in my head!

Idea #1. Holodecks at home 

Star Trek fans will know what a Holodeck is. It is a recreation room in which objects, people and places are virtually created. And you could visit a particular place and have virtual encounters. For instance, a Star Trek crew member could step on a holodeck to go horse riding in Edinburgh or mountain climbing in the Himalayas.

If you want to read more about holodecks go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodeck

We already have technology for large screen, super-wide projection. And holographic laser projection technology has been around for some time. And we have realistic 3D sound technology like Dolby Atmos.

The home entertainment product I am suggesting is a system of mini short-throw projectors deployed around your living room. They could flash a sea-side scene on the living room walls, with realistic moving images and sound. Dim all the lights in your living room, stretch out on a deck chair and pretend that you are on the beach!

Idea #2. Music Cassettes are back in a new avatar – SD cards!

If you were born before the year 2000, you would have seen an audio cassette tape. I loved to create my own mix tapes, buying blanks from Sony, TDK or Maxell and using two tape decks to create my own mix tape. I could listen to them on the go, with my Walkman or in my car.

It was a joy to have my very own collection of selected songs. Now you can do the same by carrying your collection of songs in your phone or MP3 player or tablet.

But I sure do miss the joy of creating compilations of songs on cassettes. Well, I could do the same with SD cards and Micro SD cards if I wanted.  I could use Pen Drives.

But why did they forget to include SD card slots in car audio players or in home receivers? I think we should have external SD card slots on mobile phones too, so that we can quickly swap cards (and change our collection of songs on the fly). I know the same can be achieved with playlists on our phones.

Is the consumer electronics industry listening?

Idea #3. Solve the biggest problems in our cities

Focus on new areas like transportation, water supply, energy and sanitation. Can you create products that generate clean energy at home? How about devices that save water and electricity? Look at mass rapid transport — we need this badly in our overcrowded cities. Can you create products that will improve the quality of life for citizens?

Smart cities and Internet of Things are what you should be looking at.

Idea #4. Products for business travelers

Frequent flyers and business travelers need something to help them relax. How about portable feet, head or back massagers? Perhaps a personal entertainment device loaded with all our favorite songs, movies, games and e-books. Something on the lines of the personal entertainment system offered by airlines like Singapore Airlines and Emirates. We are spoiled for choice!

Idea #5. Portable Internet radio

There are numerous Internet radio stations, some dedicated to certain genres of music — or to music from a certain period in time (60s, 70s, 80s etc).

It would be nice to have this music streamed on to portable devices that we carry on the daily commute to work. I know this can be accomplished through mobile apps. But I am suggesting a dedicated Internet radio device with multiple stations.

More ideas coming soon….

How businesses should prepare for IoT

The IT industry creates new buzzwords every few years and this year everyone is talking about Internet of Things and Internet of Everything.

But what really is the true definition of IoT and what are its constituents? How should businesses prepare?

IoTThere are several definitions. But IoT or IoE is really about networks, devices, people and processes – and how these are all getting interconnected. The enabling technologies are mobility, cloud computing, big data analytics and social – a collective term for this is SMAC.

With real-time processing of sensor data, IoT will make businesses smarter and more efficient. With IoT, businesses will offer more innovative services, leading to increased customer satisfaction, and hence more revenue.

Consider a case in Retail, for instance. This industry has been using RFID technology effectively, for years. But IoT will have maximum impact on supply chain management. Sensors on store shelves, products, components, raw materials, and logistical equipment, would make it easier to track the movement of materials from factory, to warehouse to retail outlets. And it would also make for smarter inventory management. This would be most useful for items that have a shorter shelf life. So food items on shelves would be fresh, thanks to faster deliveries. And consumers would have more ways to choose and buy products, perhaps without the need to visit a supermarket. IoT will greatly enhance the in-store shopping experience. Marketers will be able to deliver information to customers using new channels, at just the right time and place. The shopping experience will be greatly enhanced for consumers. We can expect smart vending machines, payments through NFC-enabled mobile phones, and innovative ways to experience the product.

How should businesses prepare for IoT?

So here’s how businesses should prepare:

Backend infrastructure – As IoT devices will generate a lot of data, there will be a need to analyse and process this data in real-time, for faster business decisions. So existing backend infrastructure will need to be upgraded, for high performance computing, high capacity networks, in-memory databases, and analytics solutions.

Re-engineering business processes – with higher volumes of data and the need to process it in real-time, there will be a need to transform business models and business processes. The way we capture, store, process and act on transactional data is certain to change.

 

Conclusion

Gartner estimates that IoT will include 26 billion units installed by 2020. That’s a lucrative opportunity for IoT product and service suppliers who will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion – with a chunk of it coming through services.

For IoT to be widely accepted and implemented, there are 2 or 3 things that need to happen:

1. Businesses need to become IoT ready by upgrading its infrastructure, re-engineering processes and business models, and infusing an IoT culture in the organization.

2. We need to have widely accepted industry standards, compliance, frameworks and protocols, through strong consortiums.

3. Businesses need to be crystal clear about what they want to achieve with IoT – beginning with the end in mind.

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Send me your comments and challenge me on anything said in this article.

The dinosaurs didn’t evolve…

I recently bought the latest issue (July) of Digit Magazine (India) for two reasons: It has a cover story on Big Data. The second reason is a little book titled “Fast Track” series that comes with the magazine. The July edition of Fast Track is themed on E-learning apps and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). It helpfully reviews all the popular MOOCs and some great e-learning apps, that you can download on your smartphone — for learning on the go.

And when I registered at Coursera and other MOOCs, I wondered why Indian Universities and colleges are not doing MOOCs. We have had distance learning and correspondence courses (such as IGNOU) for years, and MOOCs are the next level in self-learning. MOOCs such as Coursera offer a variety of university-linked courses, some with the official university certification.

Now I am also told that Indians staying in India are yet to cultivate that habit of self-learning, preferring to learn in a real classroom, with a real teacher, and a real blackboard.

But that notion is beginning to change. I am seeing certain private classes in my city (Mumbai) successfully implementing virtual learning systems. Now private classes and tutorial institutions are doing roaring business in India, taking advantage of the country’s sloppy education system. So if I can learn from the comfort of my bedroom and watch re-runs of a recorded classroom session — that beats rushing out to a late evening class, clashing with  crowds in public transport on the way.

Today’s generation is lucky to have the Internet, smart phones and e-learning apps, and tech that enables virtual classrooms. So I do hope that our youth take advantage of this, and keep learning.

It is shocking to read media reports about State Governments giving away laptops and tablets for free. And these are being misused by our youth. If state governments think they can boost literacy in their state by giving students free laptops, they are wasting their funds. Instead, use that money to build more schools and improve infrastructure. Increase the salaries of teachers (who are paid a pittance, or do not receive their salaries for months).

The free devices should come loaded with e-learning apps and subsidized e-learning services, so that our youth can immediately start learning. And do block all those unproductive sites.

I truly believe that if one stops learning, their value in an ever-changing industry starts to decline. And they would soon be extinct, outmoded, redundant and then jobless. If you ever reach that stage, you have only yourself to blame.

Because, like the Dinosaurs, you just didn’t evolve and survive.

(Yes I know, it was something else that made the dinosaurs extinct).

 

Report-2: 6th DSCI Best Practices meet — IT Act and its Amendments

India does not have a data protection law and data security is thought more of as a regulatory system. Our communication satellites are very vulnerable and can be zapped out by the enemy. There is a cost-benefit analysis to cybercrime. 

Bold statements like these made me sit up and pay close attention during the presentation by Dr. N.L Mitra, Senior Partner-Fox Mandal and Ex-Director, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

And what should our country do about all this?

Statement #1: India does not have a data protection law.

Well, the US has 2 data protection laws and the UK has two Evidence Acts; India has one.

Action: We must take proactive steps to secure our own data. Being reactive will not help. Progressive thinking in this direction is required.

Statement #2: Communication satellites can be shot down. 

Action: We need to stop worrying about it and start preparing for an incident like this. How do we protect our critical communications infrastructure? How do we respond to an attack?

This invoked a thought: Remember the ambitious “Star Wars” defense plan proposed by the Ronald Reagan government in 1983? It was officially labelled Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and it was a plan to blast nuclear tipped enemy missiles before they hit their intended ground-based or space lodged US targets. Can India create a missile shield to protect its space-based assets?

Statement #3: There is a cost-benefit analysis to cyber crime.

It’s a known fact that most people in India can get away with cyber crime and it is not easy to track down criminals. Even if they are caught, it would take at least 7 years to penalize someone, thanks to our sluggish legal system and courts. 

Action: An independent regulatory authority is required for . cyber crimes.

I’d like to add: It should be an autonomous body and there should be no interference from other national investigation agencies.

 

Here’s what Dr. Mitra recommended.

  • There is a need to develop a best practice code.
  • Need for business or industrial ethics.
  • More data certification officers are needed.
  • Private industry must engage with government.
  • NASSCOM needs to establish a research centre for Data Security.

 

Report-1: 6th DSCI Best Practices meet — IT Act and its Amendments

I’ve just returned to Mumbai after attending the 6th DSCI Best Practices meet in Bangalore (Twitter: @DSCI_connect). The event returns to its home base, Bangalore this year (it was held in Chennai last year). I say “home base” because Bangalore is regarded as the biggest chapter (300 members); a lot of contribution has come from this chapter. And from the good attendance it was obvious that Bangaloreans really missed the event last year. 

The event kicked off on 9th July with some very exclusive workshops (by-invitation only). I attended the workshop on the IT Act and its Amendments, conducted by DSCI and Fox Mandal. The latter is a 100 year old law firm and has been working closely with DSCI for over a year on policy making, and to address various concerns on Information Security.

Mr. Vinayak Godse, Director-Data Protection, DSCI opened the workshop. He pointed out that DCSI was involved in framing the IT Act 2008, particularly Section 43 A on Data Protection. 

Some points from Mr. Godse’s presentation:

  • The Internet is a medium of empowerment in society. It imparts values and rights, which are being challenged. How are the rights being governed today? (Recall various incidents about Indians being impeached and humiliated for liking political-related comments on social media).
  • The Internet is really about content (created by users and organizations).
  • It is a medium that enhances communication and helps in business and strategic transactions.
  • There is a legal requirements to enhance and uphold rights & values — and to protect entities who communicate via the Internet.

Mr. Godse also spoke about Artists & Entities — the latter are intermediaries who provide the platform. Intermediaries and body corporates need to be governed separately. And he discussed the various types of cyber crimes and what kind of impact they could have on society and the nation.

I had a passing thought that sent shivers down my spine: In an increasingly connected world, where anyone has access to a mass media publishing platform (social media networks and instant messaging apps, for instance), it’s really easy for mischief makers, anti-social and anti-national elements to spread rumors that could disrupt peace and harmony.

Are we doing enough to look out for these threats? How does the law, specifically the IT Act, check this?

Mr. Godse concluded by alluding to the fact that the IT Act is far from perfect, when it comes to data protection, privacy and freedom of expression. He said we need to look at equivalent IT Acts in other countries and learn from those acts.

More posts on this DSCI event follow soon. 

Stay tuned.