What’s the value of attending in-person conferences? Most of us have had to assign a monetary value to this question with training request forms and expense reports, and know the standard response for the reason we should attend: we’re there to learn new content, share what we know, network, and bring back content to share with our teams.
I’ve attended many conferences over the years, as an organizer, attendee, and presenter. Being in each of these roles has given me a unique perspective on additional “value” of attending in-person events; this is why I encourage participation and attendance. In my opinion, the true value lies with what is gained on an individual level, in the form of direct and indirect professional growth.
Direct professional growth: It is what it is
Direct professional growth will always be important and a necessity. Technology changes all the time, and our industry is experiencing major changes in the way we do business. It is imperative to learn new skills, streamline processes, and plan for future initiatives. We ultimately all want the same thing: to provide our clients with better, more efficient service.
How do conferences help us accomplish this? It’s all about the people! The opportunity to get to know people in real life and develop those in-person relationships is key. In-person professional collaboration strengthens relationships and allows for more open communication when we go back to our daily jobs, whether we’re working on project design issues or learning how to use a new technology/software to accomplish a task.
The benefits of in-person collaboration apply to all professionals: industry experts, trainers, and those who are the “do-ers.” These benefits also help internal teams attending conferences together. Recently, I and Mead & Hunt team members across five different states attended the Florida Local Users’ Group annual training event. We had an opportunity to develop that in-person, “real” aspect to our professional relationship and it added additional stability to our strong, established team. Whether external or internal, in-person collaboration gives us the opportunity to become part of a network of people that helps each other.
Indirect professional growth: More than meets the eye
While the direct professional growth can be more obvious, the indirect professional growth gained from attending conferences in-person is just as important. At conferences, you can be forced to break from your comfort zone and become immersed in new experiences. This can help you develop what I’ve heard referred to as “soft skills.” To me, this is just growing as a person. As an example, I spent a long time thinking I was horrible at the small-talk and icebreaking conversations. Through repeated exposure to these types of situations at conferences, I learned that acknowledging the awkwardness at the start goes a long way toward putting everyone in the conversation at ease. Realizing that everyone is human and probably struggled with this task at some point is freeing and allows me to be more empathic in professional situations. We’re all at the same event and in the same industry; in my experience, professional talk comes easier when there is real connection and real laughs shared.
Attending conferences in person gives us more than what we see at face value. Learning, sharing, and networking are obvious reasons for going to conferences. However, what may be a less obvious benefit is the opportunity to form real human connection. These opportunities are some of the most important for both direct and indirect professional development, and ultimately serve to make us better individuals and teams.