Last week, I asked if y’all had been to in-person regional events before, and whether you were going back.
I wanted to know because Data Saturdays and SQL Saturdays are starting to happen again, but … attendance seems way down from pre-COVID numbers. I wondered, are people just not going to return to conferences for another year?
The results tells me:
- Most readers have been to events before
- Most of those past attendees do plan to return, but 1/4-1/3 of them don’t
- Of the readers who’ve never been to an event before, half of them don’t plan on going
So, why aren’t people going back now that the big wave of the pandemic has passed? I don’t think it’s just one thing – I think there are a lot of good reasons:
People are still cautious. Some folks have health issues, immunity risks, etc., and that’s all perfectly valid. (Someone’s going to want to say, “People have kids now,” but that’s not a new issue. News flash: people had kids before the pandemic, too. Ask your mom, and tell her I said hi.)
People got used to online & hybrid events. Perhaps they’re comfy at home, and they don’t want to leave the comforts of home anymore in order to learn. They might have also gotten used to using other ways to network and learn, like social media and recorded training.
People got burned out on online & hybrid events. I feel this one firsthand: I got used to those events, but then over time, I sat through a whole lot of really terrible Zoom calls. Me personally, I’d rather take one of those Fear Factor eating challenges than sit through another non-interactive Zoom call. I’d rather get my learning via other methods.
Companies stopped budgeting for in-person events. Several of my clients have told me, “Our staff told us they could work just as well from home as they do in the office. Okay, great – but then you can’t claim in-person conferences are better than remote, so now your in-person conference budget is over.”
People stopped budgeting for them too. With the roller-coaster economy, widely publicized layoffs, and higher interest rates, some attendees who used to pay for conferences out of their own pocket are no longer doing so.
Senior people moved on to other technologies. Whenever I ask questions like this on social media, inevitably I get replies from people I met at SQL Saturdays a decade ago. They say, “I’m just not working with SQL Server anymore – I’ve moved on to X.” Sometimes those technologies are non-database, sometimes they’re so new that there aren’t conferences covering ’em yet, sometimes it’s management.
Junior people don’t know about conferences. If you’re a data professional with only 3-4 years of experience, you never got the chance to attend a conference, and you’re probably not asking for the opportunity or money. Plus, you haven’t seen these events on your social media feed for the last few years, so either you don’t know about them at all, or you don’t have evidence about their benefits.
Speakers don’t travel as much anymore. There used to be a huge crew of speakers who would jump at the chance to drive or take a cheap flight to present anywhere that would accept ’em. That lifestyle has dropped dramatically, and when I see regional events, it’s a new crew of speakers. That has an interesting side effect: I’ve talked to both speakers and attendees who say, “I don’t wanna go to a conference if my old friends aren’t speaking.”
Speakers don’t evangelize the events as much anymore. A lot of the new generation of local/regional speakers don’t have a large following on their blog, mailing list, YouTube, or social media. As a result, promotion of these events is left to the local organizers, who don’t have a large following either. That means it’s tougher to drive signups.
I’ve written a lot above about why I think some people aren’t going, but just so we’re clear: I’m still really bullish on in-person networking. I think if you make a plan and put work into it, it can be really positive for your career. That’s not to say it’s the only way to get career growth – it’s certainly not – but I’m a believer in them as part of an overall strategy. Having said that, I’ve cut back too. I’m only going to 3 more events in 2023: Data Saturday Gothenburg, Data Saturday Oslo, and SQL Saturday Boston. Hope to catch up with you at one of those!