The worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus has put a damper on a number of events – both large and small. Sports stadiums are empty, while the South by Southwest conference has been cancelled for the first time in its history. Meanwhile, WordCamps across the globe, including Asia and Washington, D.C. have also been postponed.
Obviously, this is serious business. And, while the cancellation of such popular events is difficult, it’s also the right thing to do. Stopping the spread of the virus and keeping everyone healthy should always come first.
But one trend I’ve seen in the web design community is a bit troubling. Some have suggested that perhaps all industry conferences become virtual. The argument goes that, because of the nature of our work, we don’t need to be physically present.
In the short term (and during a crisis), maybe they’re right. But there are still reasons why showing up to a conference is beneficial.
A Shared Experience
Virtual conferences aren’t a new thing. And many, like WordCamp US, have had both a physical and virtual component for years.
But while watching from afar can still help you understand new concepts, it’s just not the same experience. Being in a room full of people who work in the same industry brings a sense of connection that can’t be duplicated.
This is especially important for those of us who work from home. In my case, I very rarely get out to client meetings anymore. Most of my communication comes via email – which is convenient, just not very personal.
Therefore, the opportunity to get out to a conference means a lot. It’s a chance to connect with new people and catch up with old friends. These are things that can’t be replicated by staring at a screen. And besides, we do enough of that in our daily lives. An in-person event helps to give us some relief.
An Opportunity for Growth
Meeting people face-to-face is often a better way to expand your network. This is especially so if you’re looking to book new clients or establish partnerships with other freelancers.
A casual conversation between (or even during) conference sessions can do wonders. It may lead to a swap of business cards, which could in turn result in working together down the line.
An in-person meeting is just better on so many levels. It helps to establish a rapport and trust. It provides a chance to get to know each other in an informal environment. And there is the chance to discuss things in-depth – which is not always easy during the workday.
And, quite often, the experience is more pleasant than the old-fashioned cold call. The parties don’t feel bothered or like they’re stuck in a sales pitch. Instead, they’re making a more personal connection.
A Chance to Gain a New Perspective
Beyond the camaraderie of attending a web design conference, there is also something to be said for getting away from the office.
For one, it can be a great way to fuel creativity. Whether the conference is down the street or in a distant city, there is simply a different energy at one of these events. It may lead to new ideas that can benefit your clients or your business as a whole.
But even if you don’t come away with an amazing idea, just the act of being out and about can have benefits. It’s a nice break from the daily grind and the stresses of work.
Plus, when you return to the office, you may just feel like a whole new person with a fresh perspective. This provides the motivation you’ll need to tackle whatever challenges come your way.
Something to Look Forward To
Perhaps most importantly, these conferences are something to get excited about. I can attest to that personally, as I look forward to the various WordCamp events I attend each year. It’s truly something that shakes up my routine in a very positive way.
So, while I don’t believe we’re in danger of losing in-person conferences, it is worth reiterating how beneficial they are. The sense of community they provide are something human beings need. It’s also something that is hard to come by in our industry. That is not easily replicated via a live video stream.
My hope is that, once the worst of COVID-19 is behind us, those cancelled events come back in their previous form. Sure, having the option to “attend” virtually is nice. But the value of actually being there far outweighs modern convenience.