Why Professional Conferences Matter

I’ve heard a lot of discussion recently that professional conferences aren’t needed anymore because of the inter-connectivity afforded by the Internet. Why is it reasonable to spend hundreds or even a couple of thousand dollars to attend a face-to-face conference?

Over the last week, I’ve been part of the leadership teams for and attended two conferences, the STC Rochester Spectrum regional technical communications conference and the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference in San Antonio. It’s been an incredible experience.

Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Spectrum provided an opportunity for me to meet face-to-face with people I’ve been talking to via social networking for almost a year. This is important because I was able to have indepth conversations with key leaders about critical issues affecting our profession. These conversations wouldn’t have been viable in social media. They may have been doable through Skype or phone, but the ability to read the nuances of a conversation when you’re not together is really difficult.
  • Spectrum also provided STC Rochester an opportunity to showcase our abilities (and to have those abilities affirmed by other community and society leaders.) It was important for our chapter to understand our connections and I think our membership was “blown away” that international leadership would attend. We were truly honored.
  • Spectrum provided state of the art content in technical communications. In the sessions I facilitated, Kristi Leach was able to test a usability session with peers and gain invaluable feedback and Hannah Morgan provided a fresh look at the importance of social networking in your branding and in your career.  Other speakers presented key information about current tools and the future of our profession.

The Security Professionals conference allowed me to see (way too briefly) colleagues that I speak with on conference calls and work with, but from a distance of thousands of miles. We’ve become friends and it’s great to be able to unwind with a team that’s worked hard together all year.

  • The Security Professionals conference gave me the opportunity to present with a panel of fellow practitioners that are remediating private information at our respective universities. It gave our audience an opportunity to hear how four schools are tackling similar problems and the “unvarnished” truth of the stuggles we’ve faced and inroads we’ve made. This was invaluable to our attendees, because they could ask questions and establish the networking contacts that will save them time and dollars as they tackle similar problems. We become resources for each other.
  • The Security Professionals conference also allowed me to work in tandem with Cherry Delaney of Purdue University, my former co-chair of the Awareness and Training Working group. We were able to share with a group of ISOs, information security practitioners (and even a CIO) the steps needed to create a holistic strategic Security Awareness plan and share examples of how we’ve approached the task of educating end users. We were also able to work with them in small groups to develop specific steps and put together the beginnings of an action plan.

The interaction at a professional conference is one of the key enablers to moving forward in your profession, becoming “unstuck” when you’re out of ideas, and establishing a network of contacts to help each other.

This interaction was helped by the fact that the conferences were of a size (120 and 350) where you could actually see the same people in several venues. Large conferences don’t always allow for that.

For me, professional conferences matter.

What do you get out of them?


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  1. Sarah Hollenbeck Baca

    My first conference was the STC Summit in Sacramento in May. I consider it one of the most educational and fun experiences of my life. I met some amazing people and I sincerely believe that it helped me land my dream job right out of college (I start Monday!). I believe that they are very important!

  2. Derek Tonkin

    I just wanted to thank you for the post-conference session again and state that I for one found the SPC conference greatly encouraging and left with a new energy and enthusiasm for doing what can be rather dreary work at times. Hopefully next year I’ll be presenting on the great success of our efforts to stop our users from getting hooked by spam. Thanks again!

    • benwoelk

      Thanks Derek. I was very pleased with the post-conference session. I look forward to hearing about your efforts next year and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.

  3. Rob

    I agree wholeheartedly Ben. I’ve attended numerous virtual conferences and while I got the information I was seeing, I didn’t make any connections with like minded people. It’s the in-between discussions with fellow conference attendees is where I get the most value.
    Thanks for the helpful advice for our security awareness program. I’m sure by next year, I’ll have some good stories to tell.


    • benwoelk

      Thanks Rob. It was an honor to be able to work with the group at the seminar. Cherry and I both found it refreshing and really enjoyed it. I look forward to your stories.

  4. Shannon D. Smith

    Great post, Ben! Networking for the networks crowd…I love it! Great conference and great tweeting with you! Shannon Smith (@smithstorian) at EDUCAUSE

  5. Career Sherpa

    Thanks for referencing my presentation Ben!
    I agree 100% that meeting people IRL (in real life) is an invaluable learning experience.
    What STC created was an amazing forum for like-minded experts to come together to learn and share!

    • benwoelk

      Hi Hannah,
      I hope readers take the time to visit your website. You have a tremendous amount to offer and I’m looking forward to our collaboration.

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