This last week I was on vacation in Southwest Florida. We stayed at a full-service resort with conference facilities. After the Memorial Day weekend crowd departed, a large non-profit group came in who had bought out the rest of the resort for an in-person event. It was wonderful to see people getting back together to converse, share ideas and innovate. I could feel the energy even though I was not part of their group, some of that may have been the fun parties we could hear on the lawn! We spoke to a few attendees, and they shared that they had not been together for 18 months and they were so excited to be back together in person. There were still COVID-19 preventative measures in place throughout the resort including daily screening of each participant prior to entrance, the wearing of masks for non-vaccinated attendees and social distancing amongst tables and chairs. It is possible to return to the in-person events we used to highly value and still stay healthy. Not only is it possible but I think it is imperative to get back to building strong business relationships and even friendships.
The event this week was the second in-person event I got to witness since the beginning of the pandemic. Recently I also got the opportunity to participate in a professional development conference. It is one that I have been to many times before and this was my sixth conference with the organization. The event organizers were courageous and offered a hybrid design conference – both in person and virtual attendance options. I applaud them for taking a risk and want to share my experience and why I think returning to in-person events is a good idea.
When I showed up there were less than 100 of us on site. I understand why more than 10 times that number showed up virtually – differing feelings about the pandemic, travel bans, and so on. I get it. With that low of number there was no problem with social distancing and the venue was great about enhanced safety. After having attended in person, I’m happy I went on site for a few reasons:
- Professional Development – When I am on site at a conference, I am able to focus on the content and really absorb it, think about it and make plans to apply it. In the virtual conferences I’ve tried to participate in, there are too many distractions at the office, from emails, phone calls or people stopping by and it’s too easy to multi-task and drift away. It is hard to stay focused. For me, attending conferences on-site aids in my absorption.
- Networking – Even though there were a small number of us, I met about the same number of deep conversational leads that I would have had everyone been on site. There wasn’t as much hustle and bustle so we could sit together a little longer and really understand what the other person does in our industry. I ended up meeting three people from current customers or in positions at prospects that were great business introductions. I also got to catch up with some past industry connections, go out to dinner and strengthen our relationships. I have even met new connections for lunch a couple of times since the event. Completely worth it.
- Disruption & Innovation – The on-site event was a disruption in my “normal” routine. When we are away from our normal day to day we make pathways for new ideas, new ways of working and new experiences. There is something about getting out of the office (or your home office) that brings excitement, encouragement and dreaming of the future. After a year of the pandemic, this is what I needed most. Mentally the year has been exhausting and I needed the change in scenery to reenergize me both personally and professionally.
- Self-Reflection – In this case, I had to travel to Dallas and even though there are lots of professional development sessions and events, there is always some down time. For me that is most often in the morning – if you didn’t already know, I’m naturally a morning person. I could get up, not have to worry about anyone but me and there was no commute. I had a couple of hours to think about my life, my work, my family, and our future. I love my family and I am a better person when I’ve had time to stop, pause and take some time alone.
I realize that our country is still in various phases of opening back up. States and cities are in varying stages depending on where you live and work. I’m sharing my experience to remind us of the value of getting out to socialize with others in different environments. Each of us must make the best decision individually, based on our values and beliefs but I want to encourage you to consider going to on-site events. They can happen while still staying safe and bringing all the other benefits of engaging with others in person. I also know that mental health has been challenged throughout the pandemic and getting back to some of the experiences we used to know and enjoy can be an excellent thing for us mentally.