A free conference without authority or community is a vacuum

Following my post here on a free conference I attended in the City of London last week which failed to pull much of an audience, I was contacted by someone at Fix Protocol who had read the piece and shared their own experiences. They gave me their permission to republish the email, which raised some interesting matters.

I read with interest the submission you had written about city conferences in the current climate and I would like to share with you some of my thoughts.

Your submission raised some very interesting and valuable points and as a not-for-profit organisation that is heavily focused on education, the formulation of events that enable us to communicate the issues, challenges and opportunities presented by electronic trading and use of the FIX Protocol are central to the effective delivery of this information to the financial community.

Last week FPL hosted two events in London and due to recent market developments we were nervous that this would cause us to struggle from an attendance perspective, however our fears proved unfounded. On Tuesday evening we hosted the Quarterly FPL EMEA Meeting which typically attracts 50-80 representatives from the FPL membership, including buy-side, sell-side, exchange/ECN and vendor participants. The meeting included a panel session entitled ‘The European Trading Environment: Can it Meet the Challenges of Current Market Conditions’ and was followed by networking drinks. This event attracted over 100 registrants and in the end we had to turn people away who wanted to register due to the space available, and on the evening we had 71 delegates attend. Additionally, on Wednesday we hosted a FIX Beyond Equities Briefing from 9am-2:30pm which explored the support offered by the protocol within the Fixed Income, Foreign Exchange and Derivatives space and we had 107 people attend which was great, as in planning the event we were hoping to achieve delegate numbers of approximately 80!

Further to this, on October 8th FPL held the FPL Japan Electronic Trading Conference in Tokyo which successfully attracted just over 500 delegates on the day. Still to come this year we have the China FIX Conference which will take place tomorrow and the annual FPL Americas Electronic Trading Conference in November, which in 2007 sold out completely and with an agenda that really focuses on the key issues impacting this market, it looks like it will be a great event yet again.

The one pattern that we have noticed is that with events at present expected numbers are a little lower than normal up until 10-14 days before the event, but within the last few days interest soars. Hence, what we are witnessing as an organisation is that market conditions are impacting people’s ability to plan to attend events in advance but so far from an FPL perspective they have not impacted numbers on the day.

Daniella Baker, FPL Marketing and Communications Manager www.fixprotocol.org

Firstly, I was delighted to hear FPL is still attracting good sized crowds to its' events. Having been involved with the European Marketing Group for the Fix Protocol some years ago, I know how hard the volunteers in the community work to promote the use of the "open source" message protocol and to stage events to inform, educate and debate on matters relating to Fix.

Based on Daniella's comments, I gave some thought as to why these events might be more succesful than others:
- Evening events outside of work. I'd expect these to do better as people will find it easier to attend outside of work and even if they do cut into the end of the work day, you can demonstrate your giving up some of your own time as well.
- Having been on the European Marketing Group several years ago, my experience was that FPL events have greater authority than similar commercial events and are more justifiable at work.
- FPL represents a community and whilst there are many motives at play for participating in the community [as with any such organisation], people tend to relegate their personal agendas because its' socially unacceptable i.e. FPL member peer pressure tends to eliminate corporate self-promotion and plugging one's own firm. I find the reverse happens at commercial events, especially when speakers have had to pay [directly or indirectly via sponsorship] to speak.
- The community aspect tends to make events more practically focussed e.g. how you can do "X" because the agenda's are put together by members rather than by professional conference organisers with no direct experience
- Speakers tend to be better at the community events because people are often more willing to speak at such events where no one is making "a buck", because they have gotten something out of past events or recognise the benefits the community brings
- Attendance at an FPL "community" event is a less haphazard mingling occasion and a good catch up opportunity with industry peers, in contrast to one-off conferences.

I think these matters are true of many community run events e.g. Barcamps or Open Source groups and will be why they succeed when commercial rivals do less well.
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