THE BLOG
01/27/2016 12:00 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Why Trade Shows and Conferences Thrive in a Digital Economy -- Face Time Beats FaceTime Every Time

It's 2016 and we are 25 years into the revolution in digital technology; and yet, perhaps counter-intuitively, the most effective way to conduct business is still the most analog method in history - a face-to-face meeting. How else to explain the increasing popularity of the classic trade show, where people gather in giant exhibition halls to meet and take each other's pulse - live and in person?

Forget email, Skype, go-to-meeting, video conferences or social media. The real FaceTime is actually "face time," where you can shake hands and look someone in the eye. It's not enough to know the company that makes the things we buy. We need to know the people who make them -- their values, not just their value.

There's a reason every major city has a convention center. There are some cities - think Las Vegas - where the convention business is their primary, booming industry. In an increasingly isolated digital world how else are you supposed to get to know anybody without physically meeting him or her?

And don't think that digital and technology enthusiasts don't recognize the value of personal interaction. What's the biggest annual event in the tech world? The Consumer Technology Association's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). CES 2016 attracted 170,000 industry professionals, up from 120,000 in 2010. What's one of the biggest and most important cultural events of the year? South by Southwest, which generates more than $200 million annually for the Austin economy. And what about last week in Davos, if not the chance for many of the world's most powerful people to meet face-to-face.

Digital-savvy Millennials in particular crave face-to-face interactions, which makes the future of the trade show business seem secure. More than 150,000 people attended the most Millennial of events -New York Comic Con - a number that has grown from 95,000 in just five years. And among Millennial exhibitors, 93% say they are likely to return to trade shows in the near future according to Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

Trade shows that attract consumers get a lot of media attention, but at the heart of the trade show world are still traditional business-to-business shows where industry leaders come together to make connections, cut deals and sell product.

The PGA Merchandise Show, which takes place this week in Orlando, is a case in point. Going into its 63rd year, the PGA Show is organized in conjunction with the PGA of America by Reed Exhibitions. More than 40,000 PGA Professionals and industry leaders from some 75 countries are expected to attend this year's show, which will feature more than 1,000 golf companies and brands. It will be an international gathering of top PGA teachers, retailers, manufacturers, inventors, designers, celebrities, media companies, and start-up capitalists. There will be approximately 1,000 credentialed journalists from 25 countries. The Golf Channel will carry more than 25 hours of coverage from PGA Show Week and SiriusXM will broadcast live for 35 hours during the show.

Golf is ideally suited to be the poster child for the importance of the personal nature of the entire trade show industry. Think of all the business conducted on the golf course. When President Obama wanted to demonstrate that he was trying to be bipartisan, the first thing he did was invite then-House speaker John Boehner for a round of golf.

The PGA Merchandise Show is where the industry can come to see, touch, test and discuss the latest trends and technologies. It's one thing to see the newest technology in a video, discuss it with a colleague via Skype, or read the most detailed of reviews, but the value of personal interaction with the latest products, plus the face-to-face conversations with the inventor or manufacturer, is what takes the business experience to the next level.

But for all the new businesses, brands and technologies at exhibitions like CES, New York Comic Con, and the PGA Merchandise Show, the heart and soul of these events is still the same as it's been since vendors first started gathering in markets centuries ago - in-person transactions, partnerships and ventures. This is where we are energized by each other to drive forward our business. Some companies plan their whole year around these events knowing that the future of their business can depend on a successful show.

So slide out from behind your desk, escape the digital dungeon and get together live and in person.