52 min read

7 Takeaways from Attending
One of the Largest Oil & Gas Conferences

By: Oana Borcoman | 08.07.2018

52 min read

7 Takeaways from Attending One of the Largest Oil & Gas Conferences

By: Oana Borcoman | 08.07.2018

52 min read

I have lived in Houston for 11 years now, and ever since I moved here, the entire industry – hotels, restaurants, bars and events – all buzzed around this one conference that comes in April and takes over the entire city: OTC (Offshore Technology Conference). Oil and Gas (O&G for short) is a huge industry in Houston. Not only does it fuel a huge part of our city’s economy, but it also brings in people from all over the world to work at all the major O&G companies that reside in our city. We have ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, Anadarko Petroleum, and Kinder Morgan, to name a few, and they bring in people to work from all over the United States, Asia, India, Middle East and Africa. They all are connected to every single industry we know in some way. Yes – oil powers so much.

But what does that mean to all of us non-O&G people? Well… it means money and foot traffic. It means that as long as those companies employ as many people as they do, our city will be booming (or really hurting in a recession). Our restaurants, bars and hotels are always busy, people are always traveling to Houston and O&G companies are always trying to impress clients, attract new customers and make a footprint at industry conferences and events.

Having worked in hospitality and events for the past 11 years, gearing up for OTC was a huge priority. Every restaurant is booked with reservations, every private dining room full, every hotel at capacity, and every transportation company maxed out – months in the advance. While I always knew this side of it, I had never attended the conference until this year. It was an exciting experience to see how the mecca of corporate conferences does it, but I have to admit that while I was mostly impressed, there were plenty of learning opportunities as well. It should also be noted that OTC as a conference has been declining in attendance in the last few years for many various reasons with 2018 being the lowest attended year. The attendance is due to a variety of factors related to the oil and gas industry and certainly not due to the planning or execution of the event.

HOW OTC NAILED IT

A Seamless Check-In Makes for a Stress Free Start to the Day

Every event planners biggest nightmare is CHECK-IN. Whether you have 50 people or 5,000 people, something is bound to go wrong at check-in, creating long lines with frustrated attendees that make your event look unorganized or unprofessional. Thanks to many event technologies, software and apps, check-in has never been easier for fast execution and accurate attendance tracking. Smaller events may still use a traditional check-in table with smiling faces greeting guests and scanning a QR code or asking for a last name. However, at a conference of 61,300 people such as OTC, the check-in process has to be scaled up, efficient and with minimized issues.

Check-in process was one of my priorities to “see how they did it” since it could go way wrong if poorly executed. However, I was completely and thoroughly impressed. OTC had many check-in stations at all entrances of the conference center. Each station had anywhere from 10-20 kiosks for self-check-in that took no more than a minute to complete and was then followed up by a station attendee who handed me my printed badge and badge holder. Then I was out and free to roam!

The whole process was so seamless that not only was it quick once I got to the kiosk, but I had no line to wait in to even observe the process for too long. As I continued walking around, I noticed the many stations that were free of people clutter, free of paper clutter and overall a quick in-an-out process. All maps, magazines, tote bags, etc. were positioned nearby but not quite at the check-in as to avoid confusion or delay. The longest lines were the ones of people who had not pre-registered online and needed some additional assistance.

For a conference of 61,300 of people, I was VERY impressed at the efficiency of the check-in process. Props to OTC event planners!

conference check-in, registration

One of the many check-in stations at the OTC conference.

Luggage Check Everywhere to Help Those from Far Away

As previously mentioned, this conference brings attendees from literally everywhere in the world from 100+ different countries. Everyone spoke English to each other, but I would say that English was the primary language for very few. Of course, local Houstonians attend the event as well, but the conference is a huge melting pot of cultures, degrees of education, impressive titles and varying job roles all within the oil and gas offshore industry.

Have you ever been to an event where even a coat check was impossible to find? Or maybe you’ve been to an event where they do not allow bags over a certain size and you have to travel to the other side of the world to find a bag check or purchase a locker? For some reason, event planners forget this detail and make it next to impossible for attendees to leave their bags somewhere. A great example of bag check gone wrong is the Tennis U.S. Open in New York where walking to a luggage check will rule your feet out for the rest of the day if you’re wearing anything other than tennis shoes. Then forget about finding that same bag check again as you search for the right shuttle to take you to the right entrance of the correctly colored parking lot (since not all of the entrances have a luggage check).

OTC nailed it with the luggage check. I didn’t even have luggage and noticed the signage everywhere. It looked painless and easily accessible to all guests regardless of where you entered the conference. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of checking into their hotels upon arrival to the conference, and OTC event planners had them top of mind – very important for an international event!

Communication is Key

From registration to post event, communication was an integral and impressive part of the entire conference experience. Beginning with detailed (but not too many) registration emails, I had all the information that I needed to complete my registration online for an easy and efficient check-in process upon arrival. Emails also reminded me to download the OTC app on my phone to have access to everything and anything I could possibly need for the conference. It included maps for every venue of the conference center with detailed floor plans of each exhibitors location. It had guides for finding food, mapping out special events, locating and planning technical sessions, chatting with other attendees, accessing contact information for every single exhibitor (organized by name or category), daily schedules, alerts for saved events, etc. This event app was one of the most thorough I have ever seen, and I was certainly impressed!

In addition to the app, they featured printed conference “Dailies” that showcased the day’s events, speakers and sessions while highlighting different companies or leaders of the industry through interviews or articles. Each “Dailies” had opportunities for companies and brands to buy advertising for additional communication and impressions with attendees.

If the app isn’t your thing, they provided the schedule, maps and an overview of OTC complete with exhibitor contact information in printed versions as well. I am a 100% supporter of all things digital and technologically advanced; however, I did find the printed maps more useful than the app when lost or looking for a particular exhibitor. I loved having both options.

At the completion of the event, I received a thank you email for my attendance and shortly after a post-event survey with a month to complete. The survey was painless, quick and given with ample time for submission.

event apps, otc communication planning

The OTC Mobile App was very approachable, thorough and informative.

With Everyone Trying to Capture Your Attention, You See Some Very Impressive Booths!

There were 2,300 exhibitors from 44 different countries at the Offshore Technology Conference this year covering 585,000 square feet of space. With approximately 6,300 attendees to span over 4 days and physically across five large event and conference spaces at NRG in Houston, it’s hard to grab everyone’s attention! I spoke to someone who gave me some first-timer advice: “Never spend more than two minutes at a booth or you will never make it to all of them.”

When you think about that then account the fact that some booths of interest will certainly take longer than others, attendees’ attention span is VERY limited and VERY divided. So how do you capture their attention and keep them at YOUR booth longer?

One word: EXPERIENTIAL.

Each booth was different from the next with some much, much bigger than most while others were very small and unimpressive. The busiest booths were the ones with the coolest designs, interactive components, sitting areas, giveaways, live speakers, coffee stations…you get the point. The busiest booths that captured people for the longest went well beyond a traditional trade show booth and incorporated interesting elements.

One company displayed a large demo truck that you would enter from one side and exit on the other, allowing attendees to experience their product rather than just hear about it. Many of the booths featured VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) components to either place the attendee on the offshore rig and experience their technology hands-on or to showcase the breadth and depth of the AR/VR technology capabilities. Other booths had AI (artificial intelligence) speak or present their product demos. AI is the future of not only the O&G industry, but many other industries as well. Attendees watched robots conduct demos as they would offshore.

Another wow factor as you enter the floor is the magnitude of trade show booth displays and décor. Some spaces featured two levels, mini-theaters, cafes with luxury seating areas, mini conference rooms to conduct business and overall high end finishes and furniture. Of course there were also the booths with the traditional backdrop on the 10×10 space handing out flyers with a candy jar on the table, but who wants to visit those?! We can come up with creative experiential components for even the smallest budgets, so there should be no excuses!

Offshore technology conference booths at trade show

The exhibits ranged in sizes, looks, experiences and types activations.

WHAT WE THINK OTC COULD IMPROVE

As with any great event, there is always room for improvement. I was quite impressed with the event considering the magnitude of it, but the following are takeaways to be noted for any future conferences.

Shouldn’t a Conference Full of Professionals Offer Wifi and Workspaces?

To my knowledge, there was no Wifi offered at the event, and I certainly looked for it. Maybe I missed the communication for it somewhere, but that just means it wasn’t well-communicated. I would think that with a conference center full of executives and salespeople all carrying laptops, they should offer some sort of paid or unpaid option for Wifi, as work still needs to be conducted throughout those 4 days. Something tells me that not all attendees coming in from Africa, India and China have working hotspots on their international cellphones.

In addition to the Wifi, there was very limited seating throughout the conference space. People were sitting on the floor eating or working due to a lack of table space and power sources.

Huge Takeaway: Offer Wifi and increase work stations, laptop power sources and cellphone recharge stations throughout the event space. While attending the conference and visiting exhibitors is number one priority, working professionals and executives will definitely need to take care of business during a 4-day span. 

Wifi, chargers, meeting place

Workstations are also great for collaborating while catching up, but don’t forget to offer power sources!

Help! Where is the Shuttle? – Signage Clutter Misses What’s Important

Signage was EVERYWHERE, but similar to Times Square in New York, you couldn’t really see anything specific or at least not what you were looking to find. With advertising opportunities at every corner – the floor, the columns, the walls, the ceilings, the booklets, the maps, etc. – simple signage for things like SHUTTLE PICKUP were completely lost in the clutter. As an event planner, I saw every single sign as a money-maker. Every sponsor paid various levels to have various level of visibility for additional impressions. However, I cannot remember a single on that stood out to me. Was the spend worth it for that company? Did anyone leave the conference thinking about one vendor over another just because of their extra sign on a column?

In my opinion, the signage was way too cluttered and created a lack of visible directional signage. I personally had trouble finding the shuttle pick up areas or figuring out exactly where I was to reference in the map.

Selling advertising space to sponsors is a longtime contributor to the bottom line of an event, but with budgets decreasing and ROI tracking taking more of a front seat on event recaps, advertising space should be sold more creatively and cautiously allowing each one to make a bigger impression.

Huge Takeaway: Overselling advertising signage creates clutter and leaves little room for effective and impactful event signage to direct attendees and make the experience less stressful.

Advertising Space NYC

Too much advertisement signage creates clutter and lacks any one message. Don’t let this happen to your sponsors who pay to be visible!

Isn’t This a Networking Event Too?

People travel from far away once a year to attend OTC. The conference is physically massive guaranteeing aching feet by the end of the day, even if you don’t get continuously lost like I did. By lunchtime, people are standing in long lines to get food from food trucks or various food tents after walking from every side of the conference. Unfortunately, there were very limited tables and seating (not to mention that most were outside where it was quite hot). People were sitting on planter edges or waiting for someone to get up just to sit in their spot while holding their food and drink awkwardly.

The conference definitely could have benefited from more seating for eating and socializing. The awkwardness of people waiting for a seat made it to where everyone would rush eat and get up quickly to go back into air conditioning and allow others to sit. Very few people socialized with each other during lunch.

Additionally, while there were a few “networking events” on the schedule, there were no cozy places for attendees to relax and maybe start socializing while resting their feet or catching up on work.

The booths were arranged by country on the floor, but there were no “meet ups” by country or by industry segment to find like-minded people.

Huge Takeaway: The event needs more areas for relaxing, eating, unwinding or catching up on work, especially with like-minded people that would naturally allow more socializing and networking. When I think of the attendee from a small city in Africa who knows no one and is sitting alone in a corner on the floor eating quickly, I feel that the conference has missed the boat on a very important factor of getting everyone in the offshore industry together from around the world.

desk areas, tables, group seating

Provide ample seating of various sizes to give attendees a place to rest and also network.

OTC EVENT SUMMARY

The Offshore Technology Conference truly exceeded in expectation on delivering a quality event by delivering on the following:

  • Seamless, efficient check-in process

  • Luggage check for our traveling visitors

  • Effective communication through pre- and post-event emails, a thorough easy-to-use app and on-site printed materials

  • Eye-catching, impressive booths with extravagant décor and experiential elements for attendees

     

Some of the opportunities for improvement for the conference that serve as takeaways for any future events are:

  • Providing Wifi, power sources, cell phone charging stations and work stations for the professionals attending the event is important in helping them stay on track with their work while enjoying the event

  • Too much advertisement signage creates a visual clutter and might as well act as no signage while directional signage was too minimal and forgotten

  • Provide networking opportunities for guests with seating areas for lunch, rooms for meet-ups or spaces that are inviting for attendees to take a break while meeting like-minded people

     

If you need help with you corporate event, trade show booth, conference, or any other brand representation opportunity, please reach out at [email protected] or fill out our contact form here.

I have lived in Houston for 11 years now, and ever since I moved here, the entire industry – hotels, restaurants, bars and events – all buzzed around this one conference that comes in April and takes over the entire city: OTC (Offshore Technology Conference). Oil and Gas (O&G for short) is a huge industry in Houston. Not only does it fuel a huge part of our city’s economy, but it also brings in people from all over the world to work at all the major O&G companies that reside in our city. We have ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, Anadarko Petroleum, and Kinder Morgan, to name a few, and they bring in people to work from all over the United States, Asia, India, Middle East and Africa. They all are connected to every single industry we know in some way. Yes – oil powers so much.

But what does that mean to all of us non-O&G people? Well… it means money and foot traffic. It means that as long as those companies employ as many people as they do, our city will be booming (or really hurting in a recession). Our restaurants, bars and hotels are always busy, people are always traveling to Houston and O&G companies are always trying to impress clients, attract new customers and make a footprint at industry conferences and events.

Having worked in hospitality and events for the past 11 years, gearing up for OTC was a huge priority. Every restaurant is booked with reservations, every private dining room full, every hotel at capacity, and every transportation company maxed out – months in the advance. While I always knew this side of it, I had never attended the conference until this year. It was an exciting experience to see how the mecca of corporate conferences does it, but I have to admit that while I was mostly impressed, there were plenty of learning opportunities as well. It should also be noted that OTC as a conference has been declining in attendance in the last few years for many various reasons with 2018 being the lowest attended year. The attendance is due to a variety of factors related to the oil and gas industry and certainly not due to the planning or execution of the event.

HOW OTC NAILED IT

A Seamless Check-In Makes for a Stress Free Start to the Day

Every event planners biggest nightmare is CHECK-IN. Whether you have 50 people or 5,000 people, something is bound to go wrong at check-in, creating long lines with frustrated attendees that make your event look unorganized or unprofessional. Thanks to many event technologies, software and apps, check-in has never been easier for fast execution and accurate attendance tracking. Smaller events may still use a traditional check-in table with smiling faces greeting guests and scanning a QR code or asking for a last name. However, at a conference of 61,300 people such as OTC, the check-in process has to be scaled up, efficient and with minimized issues.

Check-in process was one of my priorities to “see how they did it” since it could go way wrong if poorly executed. However, I was completely and thoroughly impressed. OTC had many check-in stations at all entrances of the conference center. Each station had anywhere from 10-20 kiosks for self-check-in that took no more than a minute to complete and was then followed up by a station attendee who handed me my printed badge and badge holder. Then I was out and free to roam!

The whole process was so seamless that not only was it quick once I got to the kiosk, but I had no line to wait in to even observe the process for too long. As I continued walking around, I noticed the many stations that were free of people clutter, free of paper clutter and overall a quick in-an-out process. All maps, magazines, tote bags, etc. were positioned nearby but not quite at the check-in as to avoid confusion or delay. The longest lines were the ones of people who had not pre-registered online and needed some additional assistance.

For a conference of 61,300 of people, I was VERY impressed at the efficiency of the check-in process. Props to OTC event planners!

conference check-in, registration

One of the many check-in stations at the OTC conference.

Luggage Check Everywhere to Help Those from Far Away

As previously mentioned, this conference brings attendees from literally everywhere in the world from 100+ different countries. Everyone spoke English to each other, but I would say that English was the primary language for very few. Of course, local Houstonians attend the event as well, but the conference is a huge melting pot of cultures, degrees of education, impressive titles and varying job roles all within the oil and gas offshore industry.

Have you ever been to an event where even a coat check was impossible to find? Or maybe you’ve been to an event where they do not allow bags over a certain size and you have to travel to the other side of the world to find a bag check or purchase a locker? For some reason, event planners forget this detail and make it next to impossible for attendees to leave their bags somewhere. A great example of bag check gone wrong is the Tennis U.S. Open in New York where walking to a luggage check will rule your feet out for the rest of the day if you’re wearing anything other than tennis shoes. Then forget about finding that same bag check again as you search for the right shuttle to take you to the right entrance of the correctly colored parking lot (since not all of the entrances have a luggage check).

OTC nailed it with the luggage check. I didn’t even have luggage and noticed the signage everywhere. It looked painless and easily accessible to all guests regardless of where you entered the conference. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of checking into their hotels upon arrival to the conference, and OTC event planners had them top of mind – very important for an international event!

Communication is Key

From registration to post event, communication was an integral and impressive part of the entire conference experience. Beginning with detailed (but not too many) registration emails, I had all the information that I needed to complete my registration online for an easy and efficient check-in process upon arrival. Emails also reminded me to download the OTC app on my phone to have access to everything and anything I could possibly need for the conference. It included maps for every venue of the conference center with detailed floor plans of each exhibitors location. It had guides for finding food, mapping out special events, locating and planning technical sessions, chatting with other attendees, accessing contact information for every single exhibitor (organized by name or category), daily schedules, alerts for saved events, etc. This event app was one of the most thorough I have ever seen, and I was certainly impressed!

In addition to the app, they featured printed conference “Dailies” that showcased the day’s events, speakers and sessions while highlighting different companies or leaders of the industry through interviews or articles. Each “Dailies” had opportunities for companies and brands to buy advertising for additional communication and impressions with attendees.

If the app isn’t your thing, they provided the schedule, maps and an overview of OTC complete with exhibitor contact information in printed versions as well. I am a 100% supporter of all things digital and technologically advanced; however, I did find the printed maps more useful than the app when lost or looking for a particular exhibitor. I loved having both options.

At the completion of the event, I received a thank you email for my attendance and shortly after a post-event survey with a month to complete. The survey was painless, quick and given with ample time for submission.

event apps, otc communication planning

The OTC Mobile App was very approachable, thorough and informative.

With Everyone Trying to Capture Your Attention, You See Some Very Impressive Booths!

There were 2,300 exhibitors from 44 different countries at the Offshore Technology Conference this year covering 585,000 square feet of space. With approximately 6,300 attendees to span over 4 days and physically across five large event and conference spaces at NRG in Houston, it’s hard to grab everyone’s attention! I spoke to someone who gave me some first-timer advice: “Never spend more than two minutes at a booth or you will never make it to all of them.”

When you think about that then account the fact that some booths of interest will certainly take longer than others, attendees’ attention span is VERY limited and VERY divided. So how do you capture their attention and keep them at YOUR booth longer?

One word: EXPERIENTIAL.

Each booth was different from the next with some much, much bigger than most while others were very small and unimpressive. The busiest booths were the ones with the coolest designs, interactive components, sitting areas, giveaways, live speakers, coffee stations…you get the point. The busiest booths that captured people for the longest went well beyond a traditional trade show booth and incorporated interesting elements.

One company displayed a large demo truck that you would enter from one side and exit on the other, allowing attendees to experience their product rather than just hear about it. Many of the booths featured VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) components to either place the attendee on the offshore rig and experience their technology hands-on or to showcase the breadth and depth of the AR/VR technology capabilities. Other booths had AI (artificial intelligence) speak or present their product demos. AI is the future of not only the O&G industry, but many other industries as well. Attendees watched robots conduct demos as they would offshore.

Another wow factor as you enter the floor is the magnitude of trade show booth displays and décor. Some spaces featured two levels, mini-theaters, cafes with luxury seating areas, mini conference rooms to conduct business and overall high end finishes and furniture. Of course there were also the booths with the traditional backdrop on the 10×10 space handing out flyers with a candy jar on the table, but who wants to visit those?! We can come up with creative experiential components for even the smallest budgets, so there should be no excuses!

Offshore technology conference booths at trade show

The exhibits ranged in sizes, looks, experiences and types activations.

WHAT WE THINK OTC COULD IMPROVE

As with any great event, there is always room for improvement. I was quite impressed with the event considering the magnitude of it, but the following are takeaways to be noted for any future conferences.

Shouldn’t a Conference Full of Professionals Offer Wifi and Workspaces?

To my knowledge, there was no Wifi offered at the event, and I certainly looked for it. Maybe I missed the communication for it somewhere, but that just means it wasn’t well-communicated. I would think that with a conference center full of executives and salespeople all carrying laptops, they should offer some sort of paid or unpaid option for Wifi, as work still needs to be conducted throughout those 4 days. Something tells me that not all attendees coming in from Africa, India and China have working hotspots on their international cellphones.

In addition to the Wifi, there was very limited seating throughout the conference space. People were sitting on the floor eating or working due to a lack of table space and power sources.

Huge Takeaway: Offer Wifi and increase work stations, laptop power sources and cellphone recharge stations throughout the event space. While attending the conference and visiting exhibitors is number one priority, working professionals and executives will definitely need to take care of business during a 4-day span. 

Wifi, chargers, meeting place

Workstations are also great for collaborating while catching up, but don’t forget to offer power sources!

Help! Where is the Shuttle? – Signage Clutter Misses What’s Important

Signage was EVERYWHERE, but similar to Times Square in New York, you couldn’t really see anything specific or at least not what you were looking to find. With advertising opportunities at every corner – the floor, the columns, the walls, the ceilings, the booklets, the maps, etc. – simple signage for things like SHUTTLE PICKUP were completely lost in the clutter. As an event planner, I saw every single sign as a money-maker. Every sponsor paid various levels to have various level of visibility for additional impressions. However, I cannot remember a single on that stood out to me. Was the spend worth it for that company? Did anyone leave the conference thinking about one vendor over another just because of their extra sign on a column?

In my opinion, the signage was way too cluttered and created a lack of visible directional signage. I personally had trouble finding the shuttle pick up areas or figuring out exactly where I was to reference in the map.

Selling advertising space to sponsors is a longtime contributor to the bottom line of an event, but with budgets decreasing and ROI tracking taking more of a front seat on event recaps, advertising space should be sold more creatively and cautiously allowing each one to make a bigger impression.

Huge Takeaway: Overselling advertising signage creates clutter and leaves little room for effective and impactful event signage to direct attendees and make the experience less stressful.

Advertising Space NYC

Too much advertisement signage creates clutter and lacks any one message. Don’t let this happen to your sponsors who pay to be visible!

Isn’t This a Networking Event Too?

People travel from far away once a year to attend OTC. The conference is physically massive guaranteeing aching feet by the end of the day, even if you don’t get continuously lost like I did. By lunchtime, people are standing in long lines to get food from food trucks or various food tents after walking from every side of the conference. Unfortunately, there were very limited tables and seating (not to mention that most were outside where it was quite hot). People were sitting on planter edges or waiting for someone to get up just to sit in their spot while holding their food and drink awkwardly.

The conference definitely could have benefited from more seating for eating and socializing. The awkwardness of people waiting for a seat made it to where everyone would rush eat and get up quickly to go back into air conditioning and allow others to sit. Very few people socialized with each other during lunch.

Additionally, while there were a few “networking events” on the schedule, there were no cozy places for attendees to relax and maybe start socializing while resting their feet or catching up on work.

The booths were arranged by country on the floor, but there were no “meet ups” by country or by industry segment to find like-minded people.

Huge Takeaway: The event needs more areas for relaxing, eating, unwinding or catching up on work, especially with like-minded people that would naturally allow more socializing and networking. When I think of the attendee from a small city in Africa who knows no one and is sitting alone in a corner on the floor eating quickly, I feel that the conference has missed the boat on a very important factor of getting everyone in the offshore industry together from around the world.

desk areas, tables, group seating

Provide ample seating of various sizes to give attendees a place to rest and also network.

OTC EVENT SUMMARY

The Offshore Technology Conference truly exceeded in expectation on delivering a quality event by delivering on the following:

  • Seamless, efficient check-in process

  • Luggage check for our traveling visitors

  • Effective communication through pre- and post-event emails, a thorough easy-to-use app and on-site printed materials

  • Eye-catching, impressive booths with extravagant décor and experiential elements for attendees

     

Some of the opportunities for improvement for the conference that serve as takeaways for any future events are:

  • Providing Wifi, power sources, cell phone charging stations and work stations for the professionals attending the event is important in helping them stay on track with their work while enjoying the event

  • Too much advertisement signage creates a visual clutter and might as well act as no signage while directional signage was too minimal and forgotten

  • Provide networking opportunities for guests with seating areas for lunch, rooms for meet-ups or spaces that are inviting for attendees to take a break while meeting like-minded people

     

If you need help with you corporate event, trade show booth, conference, or any other brand representation opportunity, please reach out at [email protected] or fill out our contact form here.

I have lived in Houston for 11 years now, and ever since I moved here, the entire industry – hotels, restaurants, bars and events – all buzzed around this one conference that comes in April and takes over the entire city: OTC (Offshore Technology Conference). Oil and Gas (O&G for short) is a huge industry in Houston. Not only does it fuel a huge part of our city’s economy, but it also brings in people from all over the world to work at all the major O&G companies that reside in our city. We have ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, Anadarko Petroleum, and Kinder Morgan, to name a few, and they bring in people to work from all over the United States, Asia, India, Middle East and Africa. They all are connected to every single industry we know in some way. Yes – oil powers so much.

But what does that mean to all of us non-O&G people? Well… it means money and foot traffic. It means that as long as those companies employ as many people as they do, our city will be booming (or really hurting in a recession). Our restaurants, bars and hotels are always busy, people are always traveling to Houston and O&G companies are always trying to impress clients, attract new customers and make a footprint at industry conferences and events.

Having worked in hospitality and events for the past 11 years, gearing up for OTC was a huge priority. Every restaurant is booked with reservations, every private dining room full, every hotel at capacity, and every transportation company maxed out – months in the advance. While I always knew this side of it, I had never attended the conference until this year. It was an exciting experience to see how the mecca of corporate conferences does it, but I have to admit that while I was mostly impressed, there were plenty of learning opportunities as well.

It should also be noted that OTC as a conference has been declining in attendance in the last few years for many various reasons with 2018 being the lowest attended year. The attendance is due to a variety of factors related to the oil and gas industry and certainly not due to the planning or execution of the event.

HOW OTC NAILED IT

A Seamless Check-In Makes for a Stress Free Start to the Day

Every event planners biggest nightmare is CHECK-IN. Whether you have 50 people or 5,000 people, something is bound to go wrong at check-in, creating long lines with frustrated attendees that make your event look unorganized or unprofessional. Thanks to many event technologies, software and apps, check-in has never been easier for fast execution and accurate attendance tracking. Smaller events may still use a traditional check-in table with smiling faces greeting guests and scanning a QR code or asking for a last name. However, at a conference of 61,300 people such as OTC, the check-in process has to be scaled up, efficient and with minimized issues.

Check-in process was one of my priorities to “see how they did it” since it could go way wrong if poorly executed. However, I was completely and thoroughly impressed. OTC had many check-in stations at all entrances of the conference center. Each station had anywhere from 10-20 kiosks for self-check-in that took no more than a minute to complete and was then followed up by a station attendee who handed me my printed badge and badge holder. Then I was out and free to roam!

The whole process was so seamless that not only was it quick once I got to the kiosk, but I had no line to wait in to even observe the process for too long. As I continued walking around, I noticed the many stations that were free of people clutter, free of paper clutter and overall a quick in-an-out process. All maps, magazines, tote bags, etc. were positioned nearby but not quite at the check-in as to avoid confusion or delay. The longest lines were the ones of people who had not pre-registered online and needed some additional assistance.

For a conference of 61,300 of people, I was VERY impressed at the efficiency of the check-in process. Props to OTC event planners!

conference check-in, registration

One of the many check-in stations at the OTC conference.

Luggage Check Everywhere to Help Those from Far Away

As previously mentioned, this conference brings attendees from literally everywhere in the world from 100+ different countries. Everyone spoke English to each other, but I would say that English was the primary language for very few. Of course, local Houstonians attend the event as well, but the conference is a huge melting pot of cultures, degrees of education, impressive titles and varying job roles all within the oil and gas offshore industry.

Have you ever been to an event where even a coat check was impossible to find? Or maybe you’ve been to an event where they do not allow bags over a certain size and you have to travel to the other side of the world to find a bag check or purchase a locker? For some reason, event planners forget this detail and make it next to impossible for attendees to leave their bags somewhere.

A great example of bag check gone wrong is the Tennis U.S. Open in New York where walking to a luggage check will rule your feet out for the rest of the day if you’re wearing anything other than tennis shoes. Then forget about finding that same bag check again as you search for the right shuttle to take you to the right entrance of the correctly colored parking lot (since not all of the entrances have a luggage check).

OTC nailed it with the luggage check. I didn’t even have luggage and noticed the signage everywhere. It looked painless and easily accessible to all guests regardless of where you entered the conference. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of checking into their hotels upon arrival to the conference, and OTC event planners had them top of mind – very important for an international event!

Communication is Key

From registration to post event, communication was an integral and impressive part of the entire conference experience. Beginning with detailed (but not too many) registration emails, I had all the information that I needed to complete my registration online for an easy and efficient check-in process upon arrival.

Emails also reminded me to download the OTC app on my phone to have access to everything and anything I could possibly need for the conference. It included maps for every venue of the conference center with detailed floor plans of each exhibitors location. It had guides for finding food, mapping out special events, locating and planning technical sessions, chatting with other attendees, accessing contact information for every single exhibitor (organized by name or category), daily schedules, alerts for saved events, etc. This event app was one of the most thorough I have ever seen, and I was certainly impressed!

In addition to the app, they featured printed conference “Dailies” that showcased the day’s events, speakers and sessions while highlighting different companies or leaders of the industry through interviews or articles. Each “Dailies” had opportunities for companies and brands to buy advertising for additional communication and impressions with attendees.

If the app isn’t your thing, they provided the schedule, maps and an overview of OTC complete with exhibitor contact information in printed versions as well. I am a 100% supporter of all things digital and technologically advanced; however, I did find the printed maps more useful than the app when lost or looking for a particular exhibitor. I loved having both options.

At the completion of the event, I received a thank you email for my attendance and shortly after a post-event survey with a month to complete. The survey was painless, quick and given with ample time for submission.

event apps, otc communication planning

The OTC Mobile App was very approachable, thorough and informative.

With Everyone Trying to Capture Your Attention, You See Some Very Impressive Booths!

There were 2,300 exhibitors from 44 different countries at the Offshore Technology Conference this year covering 585,000 square feet of space. With approximately 6,300 attendees to span over 4 days and physically across five large event and conference spaces at NRG in Houston, it’s hard to grab everyone’s attention! I spoke to someone who gave me some first-timer advice: “Never spend more than two minutes at a booth or you will never make it to all of them.”

When you think about that then account the fact that some booths of interest will certainly take longer than others, attendees’ attention span is VERY limited and VERY divided. So how do you capture their attention and keep them at YOUR booth longer?

One word: EXPERIENTIAL.

Each booth was different from the next with some much, much bigger than most while others were very small and unimpressive. The busiest booths were the ones with the coolest designs, interactive components, sitting areas, giveaways, live speakers, coffee stations…you get the point. The busiest booths that captured people for the longest went well beyond a traditional trade show booth and incorporated interesting elements.

One company displayed a large demo truck that you would enter from one side and exit on the other, allowing attendees to experience their product rather than just hear about it. Many of the booths featured VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) components to either place the attendee on the offshore rig and experience their technology hands-on or to showcase the breadth and depth of the AR/VR technology capabilities. Other booths had AI (artificial intelligence) speak or present their product demos. AI is the future of not only the O&G industry, but many other industries as well. Attendees watched robots conduct demos as they would offshore.

Another wow factor as you enter the floor is the magnitude of trade show booth displays and décor. Some spaces featured two levels, mini-theaters, cafes with luxury seating areas, mini conference rooms to conduct business and overall high end finishes and furniture. Of course there were also the booths with the traditional backdrop on the 10×10 space handing out flyers with a candy jar on the table, but who wants to visit those?! We can come up with creative experiential components for even the smallest budgets, so there should be no excuses!

Offshore technology conference booths at trade show

The exhibits ranged in sizes, looks, experiences and types activations.

WHAT WE THINK OTC COULD IMPROVE

As with any great event, there is always room for improvement. I was quite impressed with the event considering the magnitude of it, but the following are takeaways to be noted for any future conferences.

Shouldn’t a Conference Full of Professionals Offer Wifi and Workspaces?

To my knowledge, there was no Wifi offered at the event, and I certainly looked for it. Maybe I missed the communication for it somewhere, but that just means it wasn’t well-communicated. I would think that with a conference center full of executives and salespeople all carrying laptops, they should offer some sort of paid or unpaid option for Wifi, as work still needs to be conducted throughout those 4 days. Something tells me that not all attendees coming in from Africa, India and China have working hotspots on their international cellphones.

In addition to the Wifi, there was very limited seating throughout the conference space. People were sitting on the floor eating or working due to a lack of table space and power sources.

Huge Takeaway: Offer Wifi and increase work stations, laptop power sources and cellphone recharge stations throughout the event space. While attending the conference and visiting exhibitors is number one priority, working professionals and executives will definitely need to take care of business during a 4-day span. 

Wifi, chargers, meeting place

Workstations are also great for collaborating while catching up, but don’t forget to offer power sources!

Help! Where is the Shuttle? – Signage Clutter Misses What’s Important

Signage was EVERYWHERE, but similar to Times Square in New York, you couldn’t really see anything specific or at least not what you were looking to find. With advertising opportunities at every corner – the floor, the columns, the walls, the ceilings, the booklets, the maps, etc. – simple signage for things like SHUTTLE PICKUP were completely lost in the clutter.

As an event planner, I saw every single sign as a money-maker. Every sponsor paid various levels to have various level of visibility for additional impressions. However, I cannot remember a single on that stood out to me. Was the spend worth it for that company? Did anyone leave the conference thinking about one vendor over another just because of their extra sign on a column?

In my opinion, the signage was way too cluttered and created a lack of visible directional signage. I personally had trouble finding the shuttle pick up areas or figuring out exactly where I was to reference in the map.

Selling advertising space to sponsors is a longtime contributor to the bottom line of an event, but with budgets decreasing and ROI tracking taking more of a front seat on event recaps, advertising space should be sold more creatively and cautiously allowing each one to make a bigger impression.

Huge Takeaway: Overselling advertising signage creates clutter and leaves little room for effective and impactful event signage to direct attendees and make the experience less stressful.

Advertising Space NYC

Too much advertisement signage creates clutter and lacks any one message. Don’t let this happen to your sponsors who pay to be visible!

Isn’t This a Networking Event Too?

People travel from far away once a year to attend OTC. The conference is physically massive guaranteeing aching feet by the end of the day, even if you don’t get continuously lost like I did. By lunchtime, people are standing in long lines to get food from food trucks or various food tents after walking from every side of the conference. Unfortunately, there were very limited tables and seating (not to mention that most were outside where it was quite hot). People were sitting on planter edges or waiting for someone to get up just to sit in their spot while holding their food and drink awkwardly.

The conference definitely could have benefited from more seating for eating and socializing. The awkwardness of people waiting for a seat made it to where everyone would rush eat and get up quickly to go back into air conditioning and allow others to sit. Very few people socialized with each other during lunch.

Additionally, while there were a few “networking events” on the schedule, there were no cozy places for attendees to relax and maybe start socializing while resting their feet or catching up on work.

The booths were arranged by country on the floor, but there were no “meet ups” by country or by industry segment to find like-minded people.

Huge Takeaway: The event needs more areas for relaxing, eating, unwinding or catching up on work, especially with like-minded people that would naturally allow more socializing and networking. When I think of the attendee from a small city in Africa who knows no one and is sitting alone in a corner on the floor eating quickly, I feel that the conference has missed the boat on a very important factor of getting everyone in the offshore industry together from around the world.

desk areas, tables, group seating

Provide ample seating of various sizes to give attendees a place to rest and also network.

OTC EVENT SUMMARY

The Offshore Technology Conference truly exceeded in expectation on delivering a quality event by delivering on the following:

  • Seamless, efficient check-in process

  • Luggage check for our traveling visitors

  • Effective communication through pre- and post-event emails, a thorough easy-to-use app and on-site printed materials

  • Eye-catching, impressive booths with extravagant décor and experiential elements for attendees

     

Some of the opportunities for improvement for the conference that serve as takeaways for any future events are:

  • Providing Wifi, power sources, cell phone charging stations and work stations for the professionals attending the event is important in helping them stay on track with their work while enjoying the event

  • Too much advertisement signage creates a visual clutter and might as well act as no signage while directional signage was too minimal and forgotten

  • Provide networking opportunities for guests with seating areas for lunch, rooms for meet-ups or spaces that are inviting for attendees to take a break while meeting like-minded people

     

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