With a few European exceptions, private equity conference attendance is pitiful. If you remove the speakers (who don’t stick around) and the sponsors (who no one wants to see), most of what’s left are a bunch of wannabes who don’t have anything better to do at the office. To be honest, it’s the reason I rarely attend them anymore — even though part of my job is to cover private equity.
Three quick suggestions to reverse the tide:
1. Make sure the majority of panel moderators/interviewers are journalists, academics or someone else without conflicts of interest. If a moderator does business with a panelist — or has reason to think they might do business in the future — then expect nothing but milquetoast softballs.
2. Remind speakers that the audience is sophisticated, and doesn’t need a primer on current economic conditions. PE conference speakers and panelists should use their own experience to inform the conversation, which includes specific anecdotes. You were asked to speak because of what you’ve done, so share some of it.
3. Encourage speakers to break news, like you see at tech conferences. If a PE conference keynote announced a new deal or anything at a conference right now, the audience would be stunned. And maybe would stop playing with their Blackberries for a moment.