Day one at the CIPD conference and as I said yesterday it has been a while since I was here. Now it may be me, or it may be a reflection on the economic climate….but where the hell is everyone?
The CIPD boasts 135,000 members on its website. I’d be amazed if 1% of them were here. Which means that either people can’t afford to attend, people don’t want to attend or everyone has been abducted by aliens sent by SHRM in a form of extraordinary rendition to the US. Whatever is true it feels like a poor showing.
Looking at the programme of contents, it isn’t as if the subject matter isn’t relevant. My experience to date is that the quality is pretty wide-ranging (to say the least). That said, given that I’m yet to speak myself I’m probably setting myself up for a right royal fall. But that is to be expected at any conference….there are very few that can deliver a consistently high calibre of sessions year in year out.
So what is it that are keeping the numbers away? Even the exhibition stands, once like a slightly tacky freebie version of Sodom and Gomorrah are quiet. When I asked people how attendance was going, the normal response was, “We’ve seen a few people”. But then they are hardly going to say that they’ve been sat on their backsides all day with little or nothing to do. Is it the quality of the freebies? There are only a certain number of Quality Street and rubbish pens that one person can consume in their lifetime.
All in all, I reckon a couple of things are at play. The number of people attending just the exhibition must be down, as companies reign in their discretionary spend, leading to the impression of lower footfall. And that leaves the people who are willing to pay out to attend the conference proper. With a three-day ticket costing over £1000 people will think twice about the value an event like this can give them compared to other uses for limited funds.
A recession is hard for everyone, and the recession that we seem to be in is doubly hard. I’m not sure that the CIPD are necessarily doing anything wrong with their approach, but as people choose not to go there is always a fear that they want come back again in future years. Is this the end of the conference as we know it? Some will argue that the unconference format is the way forward, but I’m really not that convinced. The financial model of large conferences, however, relies on numbers and numbers seem to be dwindling.
Maybe tomorrow will prove me wrong, maybe this is the new norm and my absence over the past few years is fogging my memory. But looking at current rates, I’d say that we can only have a few more years to go in this format before it becomes unviable. I don’t think that is good for the profession of for the Institute.
Something is going to have to change……