With the impact of COVID-19 on social gathering over past year, the “virtual conference” has become the new norm in small business conferences. Advancements in technology have made it increasingly more affordable for many small business activities to be conducted online, including web-based meetings, project collaboration, virtual demonstrations, training and so much more... all without ever leaving your office.
Although the “virtual meeting” has been a necessary alternative, there is still no substitute for live, in-person conferences, when done safely. If pressed, I am sure any one of us can come up with at least a hundred reasons to never attend a virtual conference again. Here my top five reasons to attend live, in-person conferences, trade shows or other live networking events that are relevant for your business.
Today’s ever-changing business environment increases the need to stay current on technology, business best-practices, tax laws, and any area that will give you a competitive edge. Attending an educational conference provides the opportunity to improve your knowledge base, and while learning something new is one of the biggest draws for most business conferences, it is also one of the surest ways of re-invigorating your business plan. Over the past twelve plus months, there have been myriad of small business conferences held via the Internet, and many more will take place through the end of 2021 and beyond. While there are benefits to attending these types of events, there are some vital educational benefits you may miss out on unless you are in a live, face-to-face setting.
When attending an instructor-led presentation during a live event, there are nuances, like body language that you pick up from the instructor, the emphasis on one topic over another, and the overall atmosphere of the group. You can also take cues from other attendees, and even have small side discussions to elaborate on a topic being discussed. This can add a new level of learning that is not easily achieved through online events.
Another benefit of attending in-person conferences is the ability to network with others in your field. The opportunity to experience new learnings with peers, develop strategic partnerships and connect with old friends is an integral part of a live, in-person event.
While these activities are still possible with a virtual event, face-to-face interaction is often essential in making deep connections.
Networking is not limited to just the attendees of the conference either. When attending an in-person event, connecting with presenters, conference staff and even exhibiting sponsors, you can ask questions, gain varying perspectives and expand on what was covered. These informal connections that take place outside breakout sessions can be extremely valuable.
Study the Competition
Whether you are attending as a conference participant, or as an exhibitor or sponsor, you can bet that your competition will be attending for the same reasons. Live conferences give you a chance to meet your competitors first-hand and find out about their business strategy, marketing, customer retention, etc. They may not share all their trade secrets, but in the right kind of environment, business owners know that sharing information can be beneficial for both parties.
Engage your Target Market
As stated above, you may consider attending as an Exhibitor or Sponsor. Depending on the type of business you run, your potential clients may be other exhibitors, as well as the attendees. If you attend with colleagues from your company, you can benefit from dividing your team, allowing some to attend the educational sessions, where another level of networking takes place. Exhibiting/sponsoring also gives you the opportunity to market your products and services to your ideal customers and clients.
This level of direct marketing and promotion to your target audience within this learning and networking environment is nearly impossible to obtain through virtual-style conferences. You will also benefit from the ability to conduct market research and learn more about your target audience in a live setting.
Work ON your Business, not just IN your Business
We spend so much time with planning and executing and marketing and selling, that we rarely get a chance to take a step back and analyze where we are. Or, more importantly, to determine if we are on track to get to where we want to go. While most entrepreneurs have a business plan, many will take their plan out at the end of the year and either be pleasantly surprised or realize that they’ve got a lot of work to do.
Attending an in-person conference at least one time each year provides many benefits. It gives you a break from the day-to-day operations of your business, provides an often much needed change of scenery ripe with educational and networking opportunities, opens the door to new strategic relationships and gives you the time to develop creative ideas and new innovations.
It may seem a more efficient use of your time and money to attend a virtual event because of the minimal impact on your schedule and the lower costs. And, let’s face it, with all of the deadlines, meetings and other obligations already on our plates, virtual events just seem like a more appealing alternative.
However, the benefits of attending a live business conference are far greater. When you make the investment to attend a live business conference that offers opportunities for in-depth education, networking with peers and clients and the ability to market and promote your products, you can rest assured that you will return to your business with new strategies, new and stronger relationships and an invigorated energy that will keep your business thriving for years to come.
And you will have enjoyed a much needed change of scenery.