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Just Back from CES

by Mark French

I’m just back from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and wanted to share some thoughts on how it might be relevant to your next event.

Every year we try and get out and see the “best of the best” in association and corporate events.  This year, in addition to CES, we will be at TED, SXSW, and dozens of other best-of-class association events. We attend these events to learn and help our customers retool their events to drive strategic objectives and engage members.

CES set another record with over 160,000 attendees this week. It’s a citywide convention with education and trade show activity spread across the Las Vegas Convention Center and some of the major hotel properties in Las Vegas. It seeks to engage attendees and CEA members, foster a community, make news, advance the CEA brand, and influence thought-leaders and policy makers.  I’m impressed by how well it succeeds given the huge complexity of staging a meeting of this scale.


At Leading Authorities, when we think of meetings, we think they should be strategic, forward looking, and outcomes-focused, while also serving as a media platform. CES gets high marks in all four categories.

General sessions at CES are well attended and organized. The content is forward-looking and the format is aimed at dialogue, not a monologue.  Almost all sessions combine outside speakers with industry experts, and most all of the sessions have good moderators and facilitators. The pace is fast and the visuals are outstanding. There is a high level of energy, and the content is solid. Interestingly, there is no one blockbuster speaker as much as consistently top-quality thought leaders throughout the event. And most of the content is presented in the way of interviews and conversation.

All of CES’s “keynote” sessions incorporate video. The theme of most of these videos is “innovation,” which directly relates to the content and theme of the sessions. They promote CEA as a force for innovation and as a proactive catalyst for new thinking in a highly dynamic industry.

The keynote sessions are often a combination of multiple speakers sharing the stage in a highly coordinated way that creates a consistent, compelling message. For example, CEA CEO Gary Shapiro introduced CES’ first keynote, featuring Ford Motor CEO Mark Fields. Gary’s introductory comments connected the keynote session with CEA’s larger purpose and set the tone for the conference. Mark Field’s presentation highlighted Ford’s 24 innovation projects around the globe and played into a larger of message of not just making great products but making a better world. Fields shared the stage with several of his associates, and the result was similar to a well-directed symphony with all members synchronized to the same music.


Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend two keynote sessions, one with a panel of leaders including CISCO’s John Chambers, and another with CBS’s Leslie Moonves. What’s clear from these sessions (and others) is the value of a strong, well-prepared moderator and a group of panelists with something interesting to say.

The CES trade show floor is also an amazing experience. I was surprised that so much of the show related to automotive and the home. There is a huge amount of data that sensors related to automobiles and home appliances will be gathering in the years ahead, and this will present huge new opportunities and challenges. 


The trade show exhibitions were not only eye-catching, they were highly educational. You could not attend CES without feeling smarter and more confident about the future. While not every association will have the exhibitor base or be able or willing to spend as much on trade show exhibits, almost any organization can apply the same principles. CES exhibits are interesting, fun, engaging, educational, and conversational. They are like an energy blast! 



Leading Authorities aims to apply the principles we learn at shows like CES, TED, SXSW, and others, to help our association customers better engage members and tell their stories. We do this by bringing great design and production to meetings and by producing visually-appealing, fast-paced graphics that pop! Here’s the lesson from CES: Meetings can be educational, promote your brand and strategy, and also be a lot of fun. If CES proves anything, it’s that meetings are very much alive and economically viable if you are willing to be creative, learn, try new things, and reimage what you are doing.

CISCO’s John Chambers said at CES that change will drive 60% of the Fortune 500 out of business within 10 years. But that’s really true for all of us, including our meetings – if we fail to make the needed adjustments and changes. Chambers went on to say, “Long-term planning at CISCO is now three years…Innovate everything. If you don’t innovate, you’re in trouble.”

If you are thinking about innovating the way you connect with members through your live events and communications, we have some ideas we would like to share. Leading Authorities is working with the most progressive associations on new approaches for engaging members, driving core objectives, and generating revenue. We are seeing better content, design, production, and visuals – including video – making a major difference. Submit the form below – We would welcome a conversation!

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