A note came my way recently that contained the word "Lobbycon" to refer to the informal networking that occurred at a trade show in another segment of the technology business. Normally, I don't quote other publications. But this item from the San Francisco Chronicle struck a chord because I agree with its premise that the lobby of a conference hotel, and by extension the bars and nooks and crannies where people can gather and exchange ideas, is often the most important part of any conference.
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When I am attending shows, people often corner me and ask what I am finding to be the most important part of show. I usually reply, "the cocktail hour." It's not just that people talk more with a few drinks in them (they do). It's that the receptions, the gathering in the hotel lobby bar, the late nights when we close down a bar, are the occasions where ideas are exchanged in a relaxed atmosphere, which makes it easier to absorb them.
There have been a lot of shows where such facilities made a big difference in how attendees perceived a get-together. I have always felt that one thing that contributed to the success of the AICPA Tech 2000 in Atlanta was that the exhibit hall floor led directly to the bar in the hotel lobby. People could rest weary feet and exchange ideas. And it was a central point and part of the reason the Atlanta show sticks in my mind as one that worked, which is the central point of this view.
The latter is important. I have also felt that it's for such reasons that the AICPA's frequent jaunts to Las Vegas hotels for its Tech shows are not a good idea. The saurian-sized casinos are too big for such a small show and few have central points where attendees can gather. (My thought on the Tech show is if the only way for an event to succeed is to be held in Las Vegas every year, it's not a good show.)
Space, of course, has a big impact on any gathering. Is the room too big or too small for the crowd? Temperature, background noise, acoustics of audio-video equipment, lighting, all these things have an impact.
Most of us know that 50 people in a small room can make it feel packed, while the same 50 people in an auditorium has an empty feel. A facility not only has to have the right kinds of gathering spaces, it has to be of an appropriate size. Most of us know that when we are too cold, or too hot, it's difficult to concentrate on topics and speakers.
But not enough attention is paid to the gathering areas, especially when choosing the location. I'd be willing to sacrifice some glitz and glorious architecture for a place that makes it easier to network.
Heck, I'd settle for Holiday Inn most of the time if I could learn more.