There is a technological arms race going on in Europe. Big summits – and the cities hosting them – are competing for the hearts and minds of digital professionals. Lisbon’s Web Summit leads the pack; what started as a small conference in Dublin in 2009, has grown into a large-scale event, including 55,000 digital experts, CEOs, start-up founders and a wide range of governmental and other stakeholders. In comparison, SXSW – leader of all technology conferences – counted just over 70 thousand conference participants this year.
With so many events to choose from, digital experts and CEOs find themselves questioning the value in attendance or participation. Are they merely all for show?
Here are five things we learned from our own visits to the largest European tech summits this year:
1. Digital May Have Become Too Diverse for Single (Mega-)Events
Tech summits are often organized around dedicated themes like: FinTech, content, artificial intelligence, start-ups and/or music. While this allows participants to focus on specific topics, we still found ourselves scrambling to attend the best conferences at the Web Summit, which featured almost 1,300 speakers over the course of three and a half days. With time constraints of 10-20 minutes per presentation, many speakers couldn’t delve into the sort of depth their complex subject matter demands.
2. Flying in Even More CEOs is Not the Best-Selling Point
The Web Summit boasts the largest gathering of CEOs in the world. A definite allure, but how does this add value to a speaking opportunity? Being just one of 1,300 speakers, fragmented over 10 stages, attracting attention to your presentation can be difficult. Relying on chance footfall won’t cut it, so it’s critical to be proactive in drumming up interest before with your target clients or partners – that means using social media and direct outreach shrewdly. Highlight the unique perspective you’ll be sharing and plan ahead for differentiated content. Then comes the final step: at a time where trust in CEOs has plummeted and hit an all-time low and peer-to-peer communication has become the golden standard, strong delivery is critical, so make sure you’ve selected the best possible spokesperson to deliver your message.
3. Tech Companies Face an Increasingly Skeptical Public
Speaking about trust, while the big tech companies used to be standard-bearers, the harsh light has turned inward. That high-level scrutiny was clearly felt at the Web Summit. For example, the EU commissioner on competition, Margrethe Vestager, believes that big tech companies should have the responsibility and willingness to use their influence to improve the whole sector instead of keeping out competition. Tech companies were questioned by journalists on diversity and inclusivity, as well as privacy issues and what measures they’re taking to combat fake news. As tech companies actively develop artificial Intelligence, they should take even more accountability on social issues.
4. Practice Innovation to Your Community
The Next Web partnered with PayPal (Edelman client), offering conference participants the service of cashless payments through RFID wristbands – a practical, digital innovation that showed how tech can make life easier for those in the audience. The Web Summit provided fewer technical interaction opportunities as part of their event experience but, where the “official” opportunities were few, thousands of young volunteers from all over compensated for that, making support readily available.
5. The Future is Female, So Change Your Act
The Web Summit had equal number men and women – a welcome development in a traditionally male-dominated industry. However, many brands still offered a male-centric experience, including a gendered one, with female models luring guests at exhibitor booths. It’s time for brands and organizers to realize that inclusivity is about more than holding talks on the subject. Inclusive actions should be engrained in a company’s overall strategy and vision.
Raymond de Coninck is a director, Digital, Edelman Amsterdam