I’m starting a series of blogs on the future of conferences. Last year was a difficult one for the meetings and conferences industry, and as we start another year, it’s good to take stock. What is the state of conferences today? What does the future hold? What should the industry be doing in order to stay ahead of the game and continue to provide worthwhile activities for organizations thinking about sending their employees away from the office for a day or more?
I invite everyone to join in and share your ideas for what makes a worthwhile conference, what you wish conferences would do differently, and what you particularly like about them. I’ll be talking to some knowledgeable industry watchers to bring in their perspectives, and I’d be delighted to include yours.
I’m going to kick off the series with 5 reasons why we still need conferences. Although the industry took a hit last year, and trends like virtual meetings and videoconferencing gathered momentum, it’s still important both to get people out of the office and get them together. Why?
1. Conferences offer work teams and individuals a change of perspective.
Organizations that never get out of their usual ruts run the risk of missing the trend, the rival, the new market that could change their business or their mission forever. If you don’t take active measures to continue to scan the horizon for what’s out there, it’s going to get you. Conferences are a good way to get out of your rut.
2. Conferences offer organizations and their employees the opportunity for powerful face-to-face encounters.
Because of the way our brains are constructed, with mirror neurons that fire with the emotions of the people around us, we get important experiences from face-to-face meetings that we can’t get virtually. Organizations that are experiencing change – or wanting to make change happen – simply can’t motivate their employees as strongly via webconferences and phone calls. As I’ve said before in this space, the only significant things that happen between people happen in personal and intimate space. If you’re an executive, you owe it to your people to give them an opportunity to have these experiences with others beyond the immediate office environment.
3. Conferences offer people a chance to focus in an information-saturated world.
Many industries and professions use conferences for various forms of continuing education. It’s a good use of everyone’s time. In an information-saturated world, there’s no way that most busy employees can keep up with their industry and professional changes from year to year. A conference allows you to ensure that your team or organization knows what’s current and what’s developing in their particular areas of expertise.
4. Conferences offer busy, stressed-out employees a chance to think about the office away from the office.
When you don’t see your way out of a particular issue with an employee, or you’re stuck in some unhelpful work pattern and can’t seem to break it – or if you’re just so busy you think you’re becoming immortal because the CEO will never let you die until you finish everything – then you desperately need a couple of days away to get some distance on your problem. Paradoxically, the best way to solve an intractable business problem is often to put down your tools and go away.
5. Conferences allow you the chance to create new coalitions and alliances in a neutral setting.
It can be hard to approach a potential partner, joint venture participant, or even a prospective employee if you have to do it formally, in a meeting set up solely for that purpose. It’s often better to approach the person or group in the casual-but-focused context of a conference or meeting. You’re already there, you’ve got a natural reason to talk about the industry, or the topic, or the trends in your field. What better way to get to know someone, find out how much they know, and gage their interest?
What reasons beyond these do you see for conferences? Let me know. Next time, I’ll talk about the current state of the industry.
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