5 reasons social media will never completely replace in-person conferences

Social media certainly is a great adjunct to conferences, but there is an important role in-person events still play -- in richer interactions and more ability to focus.

Over the course of my career I've done my fair share of presentations, and in recent years, a large number of webcasts (or webinars, as they're often called). Webcasts are a very effective way to deliver presentations to a global audience, with no travel expenses incurred by anyone.

Panel at Composite Software's Data Virtualization Day, NY. Photo credit: Joe McKendrick

However, I have one beef with webcasts. I like to crack a joke or two, and in a webcast, my jokes are met with absolute dead silence. So I don't know if I was funny or not. (Probably not, but go with me on this.)

So, that's at least one good case to be made for live, in-person presentations. Webcasts, teleconferencing and social media have taken away the need for many in-person meetings and conferences. Granted, there are a lot of costs and time commitments that go with traveling somewhere to attend a conference, so in terms of cold economic calculus, hosting a meeting over the Internet route makes a lot of sense.

But there still will always be a need for live, in-person events. In my previous post , I pointed to some of the ways social media enhances and extends the conference experience. Enhance and extend, but not necessarily replace -- here's why:

1. Richer interaction: Session speakers can readily see and hear feedback, and interact and chat with participants before, after and during presentations -- which is very limited in webcast settings. (And they can try out their new punchlines to see how people react.)

2. Fewer distractions. When attending online meetings from their desks in their offices, participants still have their day's work sitting in front of them – plus ongoing interruptions by coworkers. At a live conference, participants can focus more, and more fully immerse themselves in the event, forgetting about the office hub-bub for a while  (though they still be tethered to their mobile phones).

3. More serendipity. At live events, participants will encounter and meet one another in settings and situations they may not have anticipated. Chance encounters and unexpectedly productive or enlightening conversations may occur when a group assembles for lunch or dinner. Yes, social media has some serendipity built in, but nothing as rich as a live gathering.

4. Change of pace. Live events are simply a good reason to get out of the office for a while. That's a healthy break in the routine for anyone.

5. More inside “dirt.” At in-person events, you're more likely to catch “buzz” going across your industry, things people won't talk about over electronic connections. You're more likely to catch wind about layoffs somewhere, someone leaving their job, new product launches or changes in business lines. I also found that often at tech conferences vendors will show off new features well before they are officially announced.

(Thumbnail photo: Ray Wang presenting at NetSuite 2012.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com