COMMON: Sessions popular but exhibits not such a draw

Many of the educational sessions during this year's Spring COMMON had standing room only. Their popularity, however, may have affected traffic on the exhibit floor, which vendors say was slow.

NEW ORLEANS - With the kind of attention to detail that only an AS/400 user could love, this year's Spring COMMON Conference and Expo held here this week, hosted as many as 43 concurrent session for eight hours a day, for four days. And, according to most attendees, there was nary a topic that wasn't covered and a question that couldn't be answered. The sessions were so popular, however, the exhibit floor seemed deserted at times.

The educational portion of the conference was very well attended. In fact, some users were closed out of the sessions and many sessions had standing room only. Those who couldn't squeeze their way into a room said they felt the overcrowded sessions could have been avoided if COMMON show coordinators did a better job planning.

"I would think that by now, the folks putting this together would know the buzzwords and make the appropriate accommodations," said Stan Margerum of the Ohio-based Rogers LTD., Inc.

According to a COMMON spokesperson, there was some attempt by COMMON to pre-determine the interest in sessions, but said it is very difficult to predict so early in advance.

In addition, some users expressed frustration that there weren't enough sessions on the hottest topics, such as WebSphere, and that COMMON may have catered to some users and left the requirements of others sorely lagging.

Linda Bettyas, a systems administrator with John Wiley & Son, Inc., a Somerset, N.J.-based publisher, said the conference would have been more suited for her if it offered more Web sessions and said she felt it was too geared toward programmers. "I would be more interested in systems management, security and more Web sessions in general," she said.

Still, many of the sessions that were closed out were on topics that few could have predicted. Sessions that discussed SQL, for instance, were closed out most of the time, said users. And, sessions on V5R1 were not as heavily attended as COMMON officials had expected.

But AS/400 technologist, Bernie DeLeseluc with Pentair, a Jackson, Tenn.-based company, said he had no problem getting into the sessions he wanted to attend and was pleased with the quality of the speakers. He added that COMMON was put together perfectly and it provided a variety of sessions to meet the needs of everyone -- "from the managers to the developers and even the nerdy techies."

The popularity of the sessions may have played a roll in the slower traffic on the exhibit floor. Overall, exhibitors were disappointed that there seemed to be fewer users visiting their booths.

According to figures supplied by COMMON, there were more than 3,700 registered attendees. Although this year's conference wasn't the most highly attended conference compared to past years, officials said the numbers were good considering the slowing economy.

Still, the lure of the sessions -- or perhaps the French Quarter -- kept attendees off the show floor, and the low numbers had some vendors rethinking their participation in next year's fall and spring conferences.

Colleen McGinley, a marketing manager with ASNA, a San Antonio, Texas-based software company, said the number of people coming through seemed to be slower than usual, and her company may opt to participate in the COMMON just once a year, instead of twice, or to send only a few people to cover the show. She said she thought that perhaps New Orleans is a little too busy of a city to hold a conference for iSeriers users -- noting the group's rowdy reputation.

Lisa Grier, a marketing events manager with Seagull, an Atlanta, Ga.-based software company, agreed with McGinley. Grier said the traffic coming through the expo center was equal to the Baltimore COMMON this past fall, which was slow, too. Her company attended COMMON with low expectations, as far as turnout, because of Mother's Day, but felt that the turnout overall was better than expected.

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