Practically every profession, from law to medicine to retail, has its professional conferences.  It’s a worthy investment to increase visibility in the field and expose professionals to new ideas that they can bring back and use.  But the cost of attending a professional conference can be a great strain on company resources.  Hotel, airfare, registration, meals, and transportation add up to a not insignificant sum.

Conferences are one of those costs with a return on investment is a little nebulous.  The accounting department can never truly calculate in dollars how much a company benefitted from employees attending a conference.  You may not know until years down the line whether it was worth investing in.  You may never know.  Generally, a bad conference is a waste, and a good conference is priceless.

105939356Some professions are seeing relief from these costs in the form of virtual conferences.  To attend a virtual conference, you need not leave your office at all.  No bag check-in, no hotel room mix-ups, no snoring neighbour on an airplane.  With careful program planning and good communication, virtual conferences can be well worth the time and (relatively little) money spent on them. As a result of their flexibility cost effectiveness, virtual conferences are increasing in popularity.


Getting smart: virtual conferences in the field of education

The education field has been using videoconferencing to provide classroom and coursework access to students for years.  So it’s only natural that educators are pioneers in using video conferencing technologies to educate themselves.  The EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, one of the most highly attended conferences in the education sphere, is a prime example of how educators see virtual programming as the new frontier of professional development.  Attendees can get access to keynote speakers, panels, and presentations both face-to-face and as webcasts.

200309838-001The organizers of EDUCAUSE understand the time-pressed schedules of teachers from P-12 to college and beyond.  Lesson planning, classroom time, one-on-one tutoring, and overall commitment to students take up the majority of educators’ limited hours.  Teachers are known to have some of the busiest and most rapidly changing professional lives as new government-mandated education plans are developed, student populations expand, and number of teachers to fill classrooms is not enough.  And the profession isn’t known for having bottomless pockets, either.  Virtual conferences are the innovate solution that teachers need to keep up with continuing education while being able to meet the demands of their work.


Time and money: universal barriers to opportunity

In their own ways, other professions are experiencing the time and budget crunch as well.  Since the recession, although economic outlooks have generally been sunnier, businesses are still being conservative about spending where it’s not absolutely essential.  This can mean lost opportunities for professional development.  Taking a day to attend a virtual conference for $60, versus several days for a $1,000 conference, is a huge difference where time and money are concerned.

tracksalesVirtual conferences not only increase the possibilities for the attendees and their company sponsors – they also help organizations that run conferences save money.  This means that, potentially, more conferences can be held – both by organizations that already put them on and those who never before could afford to.


Not the same old thing

There are, of course, aspects of attending a conference in person that you just can’t get with a virtual conference.  You’ll be eating your lunch by yourself or in the break room as usual instead of grabbing a bite with new acquaintances at a fancy restaurant in the destination city.  Swag bags aren’t usually passed out via videoconference, so you’ll have to get your own pens and reusable grocery bags.  But many people are quite willing to forego the unique experiences that come with attending a conference in-person for the efficiency and convenience of a virtual one.  For many, attending a virtual conference would be a brand-new experience in itself.  When multiple technologies are integrated to deliver topic information in innovative ways, each conference can bring something refreshing.


Far from the new norm, but closer to normal

expertsThe top conferences in any given profession will likely continue to host in-person events.  Appearances by top experts in the field and meaningful networking connections are often best made face-to-face – at least traditionally.  Some would argue that the full-on shared experience of meeting with other like-minded professionals is lost in a virtual conference. There will always be some resistance, if only for the reason that traveling to a conference is an excuse for a company-paid pseudo-vacation from the daily grind.

Unwilling attitudes have been taken about nearly every new technology intended to replace old methods of communication.  Yet people find ways to adapt to these technologies for the same familiar reasons – time and money (and, just as often, pure enjoyment).  Virtual conferences are here to stay, and have the potential to open up learning opportunities to many more people than can be reached at major conferences.  If you hear about a virtual conference in your profession, give it some serious thought.  Bring up the time and money factors, and your boss might just say yes.

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Posted by Agnes Jozwiak

Agnes is the Brand & Communication Director at ClickMeeting.

Time to move your events online. Do it with ClickMeeting


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