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Tech Viewpoint: Technology conference promotions–good, bad and entertaining

More than two decades of attending technology conferences has resulted in a lot of memorable promotional performances and interactions.

I don’t know how many high-tech gatherings I have attended since beginning my career as a retail tech writer in 1998, but let’s just say “a lot.” As we enter the dog days of the summer news cycle, I thought I’d cool off from my normal industry pontificating and take a look back at what I learned from a few interesting trade show promotional efforts.

My first time
I forget what conference it was, but sometime in 1998 I received an invite to my first one-on-one press dinner. I was excited to see the meal would be at a well-known upscale steak house, where I would dine with a senior industry marketing rep of a nameless technology company that is no longer in business.

When my host ordered a $60 lobster for an appetizer, I was impressed. When he told me with a little too much sincerity that the resources of his company were fully at my disposal to ensure a successful career, I got a valuable lesson in the meaning of a “free” press dinner. Also, I gained insight into what dating life can probably be like for women.

Comdex 1999–Big names, mixed results
I attended the late, great Comdex mega-conference in Las Vegas in 1999. I got to watch a concert by the legendary Neville Brothers in a hotel ballroom. This was my introduction to the fact that sometimes attending a conference can mean seeing a big-name performer at no cost.

I also saw Bill Gates speak in a small auditorium where he tried to connect with the audience by cracking a joke about how his house had much better technology than our houses. It did not go over well. I learned even the best and the brightest make errors in judgment.

Retail Systems 2002–Future stars
At the 2002 edition of the dearly departed Retail Systems Conference in Chicago, I briefly shook hands with keynote speaker Jeff Bezos, who was riding around the show on a Segway scooter. A lot of experts at the time were predicting Amazon would be another “dot bomb,” while the Segway would end our dependence on fossil fuel. In hindsight, this encounter taught me that you never know what the person you meet today will do tomorrow, and expert opinions are simply guesses.

NRF Big Show–Playing the game
I have met many famous athletes at a lot of NRF booths over the years. Most of them will sign their autograph or pose for a photo with the enthusiasm of a convict facing sentencing. But baseball legend Steve Garvey and football hero Joe Theismann both went out of their way to smile, ask my name, shake my hand, thank me, and generally feign interest. Both taught me if you are going to do something, do it with class and style.

Do you have any funny/interesting/educational conference stories? Share them with me at [email protected].
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