We were super excited to be back this year for Black Hat USA’s hybrid event. We’d arranged to have a booth on the floor of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas as well as a virtual booth in which visitors could stop by and request a live product demonstration.
Our theme was built around our SASE for Superheros eBook (definitely worth a read!). We took a fun and light-hearted approach, in true Black Hat style. It was also well-suited for coming out of our Covid-induced hibernation.
We had a caricature artist at the booth to transform security pros into organizational superheroes as well as some great swag, including wireless earbuds, wireless speakers, and cool stickers (an homage to one of our founder’s first startup as a nine-year-old kid).
Preparations for the exhibition and travel plans seemed fairly normal. It felt good to have Covid behind us. But then, bit by bit, the Delta variant was all over the news. It started to cast a shadow over the whole event, but we were hopeful.
Then on August 1, just days before the show, the organizers announced that exhibitors and visitors would need to wear masks inside and that the requirement would be strictly enforced.
Would this reduce attendance?
Black Hat 2021 was nothing like the pre-Covid days with tens of thousands of visitors. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. The hybrid combination of having a virtual and in-person event was smaller, but attendees were much more ready to do business.
The Delta variant—and the show’s mask mandate—may have kept the tourists away, but IT pros and CISO who came to see the best technology on the market and hear from industry leaders weren’t disappointed. And they were ready to do business. Leads were lower but more serious and interest in demos was high. With ransomware on the rise, interest in SASE and Zero-Trust Network Access is high.
Having a parallel virtual event was good, but it didn’t offer the same dynamics as approaching a passerby on the show floor.
Despite the challenges, Black Hat 2021 was indeed successful. Virtual attendees said that they hope to attend in person next year, but it’s clear that Covid still has a major effect on events. This is especially true with the sudden outbreak of the Delta variant.
Like the hybrid workplace, hybrid events are here to stay for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. It’s challenging today to plan for exhibitions because changes can happen in an instant.
The bottom line is that you need to stay resilient—like your network.