As I sit at my desk on June 1, 2021, I seriously ponder why a person should or would attend an in-person conference. After all, it is so much cheaper to attend a virtual conference or training event. It certainly is hassle-free; no travel woes, getting up early to catch a flight, checking into a hotel, sleeping in a strange bed, packing, and hauling bags. And you don’t have to be away from your family (but you also aren’t away from your household chores.)
Your organization or employer certainly saves a lot of money by having their employees attend virtual conferences. I am an employer—why wouldn’t I love saving money by keeping my employees at home or in the office to learn? Companies also benefit from not having employees out of the office extra days for travel.
Back to my question: Why is attending an in-person conference more valuable than watching a live-streamed or recorded conference? Here are my reasons:
- Same routine vs. breaking away from the mundane. When you attend a virtual conference, especially if you are working from home, you are living your same old routine. That certainly can become boring. When you attend a conference in person, you break away from your routine. You become refreshed, re-energized, and re-centered. You don’t know what to expect so there are always surprises—usually pleasant.
(Resource: Psychology Today, Lisa Firestone Ph.D.) Whatever our personal habit patterns may be, it’s worth considering the ways in which they may be cutting us off from a more vital way of engaging with the world. A particular routine may make us feel more secure or unchallenged, muting some of our fears around uncertainty. However, it may also be closing us off to our sense of awe, curiosity, or excitement.
A common side effect of our routinized attempts to tune out is boredom. Think about how you feel on a day of vacation versus how you feel in the middle of a typical day at home. Usually, there is novelty associated with travel that’s invigorating. And while there is a sense of freedom and lack of obligation, there is also a complete shift to our routine. Instead of how we will tackle this day by new experiences and uncertainty.
- Distracted vs. focused. If you are viewing a conference from home or from the office, you can easily be sidetracked. At home, you can be sidetracked by household chores, family, neighbors, Amazon deliveries, or taking care of your pet. When you are away from home or the office, especially in another city or state, you are less distracted. You can completely focus on the event, speakers, learning, and engaging with like-minded professionals. When the sessions are over, you have free time—no family to respond to; no household chores; paying the bills; cleaning up the dishes. WOW!!! That sounds delightful. Personally, when I travel to a conference or travel to speak, I love having free evenings. I am so much more focused on myself and what I want to accomplish.
- Less tempted to multi-task. Let’s be honest. When people view sessions from the computer or some other device, it is tempting to multi-task. I’ve seen people do this many times. When you are at a live event, in the same room with the speaker and other attendees, you are less tempted to multi-task. We have held a conference for 27+ years for administrative professionals. I walk the ballroom. I watch attendees while other speakers are on the stage. Occasionally, I see attendees looking at their phones, but it is a small percentage. The majority of attendees are listening, laughing, taking notes, observing, and having discussions with their tablemates. When you multitask on a virtual event, you are not absorbing as much information. Of course, you might be saying, “Virtual is a lot less expensive.” That is true. But can you really put a price tag on your education and the ability to gain skills in areas that will carry you through the rest of your life?
- Maximized networking vs. minimal networking. Office Dynamics also hosts virtual events. Our conference in 2020 was 100% virtual. I saw many attendees interacting through the chat and a small percentage go into the live video networking room. When you attend an in-person conference, you have numerous opportunities to meet new people, share ideas and best practices, and question others about their current experiences in this ever-changing work world. There is great value in what is called the “side conversations or pool conversations or hallway conversations.” At the Office Dynamics’ annual conference, attendees maximize their networking through our Welcome Reception, breaks, lunches, our Gala, in the hallways, and in the Office Dynamics Success store.
- More sessions mean more learning. If you are in a different time zone than where the conference is being held, chances are you will miss some of the sessions. This was a problem some of our 2020 virtual attendees mentioned. Due to their mealtimes or family time, they couldn’t attend all the sessions. When you are at a live event, you have the opportunity to attend every session.
I sincerely hope that if you can attend an in-person conference or business event, that you will leap at the opportunity. It’s about the experience and the memories you create.