Why do we attend conferences should be a very easy question to answer and I was quite surprised when I was asked this question at this year’s cPanel Conference (though I think I will call it Bootcamp since that sounds far more fitting) in Houston. The logic follows that we have dozens of tools for instance communication to just about anywhere in the world. We have networking sites, voice and video phone, instant messenger, forums, micro blogging, hundreds of methods for delivering and receiving information of others so why for all that is wholesome and wondrous in the world, why oh why do we need conferences?
Okay so the question wasn’t asked quite like that, but work with me on this one.
There are three basic answers that you will get if you ask attendees this question. They are honestly fairly boring answers and can probably be rebutted with some piece of technology. They are to learn, to network, to be a part of a community. Well here is an easy reply:
To Learn: Buy a book, get a DVD, watch a webinar. Chances are you will learn more from a book that provides you with say 40 hours worth of information then a conference session which gives less than an hour.
To Network: You want to be a part of a network why not use LinkedIn, use Facebook, bombard industry blogs and even try to get hired on as a blog writer. Then open dialogues using Skype or IM and have a blast.
For Community: Spam the forums, get a blog. Pay attention to others in your industry and help out where ever you can and you too will be a part of the community.
Technology’s answers to conferences, have fun, see you later….
But then again I don’t give easy replies. Let me be blunt, if you are not going to ask questions of a speaker during a session, if you are not going to try to get hands on one-on-one face time with experts; you are seriously wasting your time. If all you are going to do is passive learning during training sessions, buy yourself a book and save a few thousand.
However, there are things you can do at a conference you simply can’t do online. Sure you can pop on a few of the network sites, but how is the interaction? You can of course participate online at all sorts of community websites, but the opportunity for light conversation, the type of things you talk about over dinner or a beer, well you can just forget about.
One of the problems with online conferences is that you lose the small talk side of networking. And some people may consider that a waste but I beg to differ. It is small talk that builds the personal connection between you and someone else and forms the basis of all successful business networking opportunities.
Another thing people lose with online conference is the added energy you gain from being at a conference. Let’s face it conferences are located in tourist areas cause they are like mini-vacations. I find myself working a great deal at conferences, lots of writing, preparing, etc., but even for me the change of scenery does your mind good. I find some of my best ideas come during or not long after a conference. In fact, they leave me energized even though I am completely worn out and tired. There is a level of inspiration we can gain from conferences as well. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I was getting a bite to eat with fellow attendees and we began discussing something mundane that ended up translating to technological practicality and before you know it the conversation becomes a full blown debate as to how automation will actually increase the amount of employment opportunities in the IT field.
Online conferences and networking opportunities often feel rather clinical to me because of the lack of, well that sense of connection. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy cPanel’s Bootcamp. cPanel gives you the sessions, all quite good if you want technical detail, but the networking events are extremely good.
So why do we attend conferences? There is an element of interactivity when it comes to learning, but the big reason why conferences work is because of the connection, the personal touch that can only be gained through face to face contact.