Reinventing Industry Conferences Is More Essential Than Ever

Reinventing Industry Conferences Is More Essential Than Ever

By Jasmine Glasheen
July 2020

How do you keep a community connected during a pandemic when staying connected has never been more important? Meetings and conferences have traditionally brought business leaders together to share best practices and strategize how to get through challenging times. It’s pivotal to have a platform to share insights and outcomes. But all of that was turned upside down by Covid-19. We have had to reinvent the whole idea of a meeting and ways to stay connected over the past four months. The good news is that we have quickly adapted to many positive innovations.
The importance of conferences is especially critical to the fleet industry because it is evolving quickly. Keeping up with technology, risk management and operational challenges has always been important. Now with the impact of four months (and counting) of dealing with a public health crisis, exacerbated by an economic crisis, business leaders can use all the insights they can find.
New issues have emerged that need overnight solutions. As nonessential businesses face a potential second round of shutdowns, last-mile delivery is once again stepping into the limelight. While some fleet leaders may need access to a pipeline of available talent to meet the demand surge for last-mile delivery drivers; others, such as government fleets, will remain relatively unchanged except for increased vehicle sanitization protocols. And long-haul delivery agencies will need to put strategies in place to protect and sequester drivers should they fall ill.  
How do professionals access solutions from peers and experts?  Typically leadership events that bring people together. Which is why now, more than ever, fleet leaders need to connect with others in their industry to share guidance on how to conquer the challenges that emerge from the second wave of coronavirus shutdowns.

Strategize with Fleet Leaders  

The most clear and present challenge for fleet is the sustained coronavirus, which is hitting different regions at different times. Because of this, fleets of the same size in other states have valuable experiences to share with their cohorts from regions that may not yet have been affected similarly. Conferences give fleet professionals the opportunity to talk with thought leaders who have access to statistics they don’t, learn optimized risk management strategies, and hear firsthand experiences outside their own regions, including crisis response­, what to expect from consumer demands in different lockdown phases and implementing sanitization protocols. At the same time, professional meetings and conferences help attendees deal with ongoing, everyday issues and planning for the long-term future.
Jay Domeseck, Fleet Director for the Town of Greenwich, says, “One of the biggest values (of conferences) is the ability to meet people from similar size fleets (often presenters are from large, well-funded fleets) and find out that they are experiencing the same issues that you experience.”
But getting guidance from seasoned fleet professionals isn’t the only reason to attend trade shows and conferences. Domeseck says that conferences are a great place to see what services are out there and to evaluate your own company’s offerings. “Having numerous vendors in one place showcasing their new products allows you to see products that may aid your own fleet and you can do on the spot comparisons,” Domeseck adds.

Networking Provides Opportunities

As essential as conferences are to the organization, they’re also an asset to individual leaders. At conferences, fleet leaders are exposed to professional advancement and networking opportunities that they would not have access to otherwise. Conferences help individuals make the connections to further their career––whether that be through achieving advanced certifications, serving on boards and committees, or even making the contacts to identify advancement opportunities within their own agencies.
Jody Smith, Regional Manager at AAA Heathrow, in Heathrow, Florida, says that the value of conferences ranges from education and innovation, to synergies and networking, “and the list goes on and on.” 
“As with any convention and meeting within a respective industry,” Smith says, “the attendee is provided an extended amount of potential resources to better their contributions and make their employers’ performance stronger. I often say, ‘networking is the greatest takeaway value of every convention,” Smith continues. “These relationships established and/or fostered (can) carry on far after the conference, creating opportunities to further develop and share best practices.”
There’s no way to quantify the value of building a network, but many of the most resilient companies in the industry swear that it’s what’s makes their businesses unshakable. Author Michele Jennae said it best in her book, The Connect Worker: A Business Parable That Elevates Networking to A Whole New Dimension. According to Jennae, "Networking is not about just connecting people, (but also connecting) people with ideas, and people with opportunities."
In this way, conferences can provide a lifeline for fleet leaders that may be looking to identify strategies, tactics, innovations and solutions for day-to-day operations. Domeseck adds that a professional network is the best way to get assistance. “And a convention gives the ability to greatly expand your network to outside your local area.”

Stay Ahead of the Curve

Fleet technologies that were visionary a decade ago have become mainstream: from wider adoption of autonomous delivery vehicles to electric trucks and big rigs. There’s no way one fleet professional can stay up to date on all of the latest fleet technologies––or to see real-life demonstrations to determine which technologies are viable and which are far-fetched––without attending industry conferences to see the products in action.
Conferences are also an effective way to gain a multifaceted, unbiased glimpse into the mechanics and ideas that are shaping the industry today.  Jody Smith cautions against writing off conferences due to the expense or time commitment.
“Conventions are often looked at as a burden from both a cost and a time perspective,” Smith says. “The value potential/ ROI of attending these conferences far exceed the expenses incurred both financially and non. The burden is on the attendee to create/recognize the value and prosper.”

Virtual Conferences

In light of coronavirus developments, most meetings have pivoted to online and industry conferences have opted to go virtual to protect their speakers, vendors, and attendees. We have adapted to a new Zoom culture quickly and effectively. Participants may not be able to touch and feel new technologies or physically shake hands, but studies show that virtual conferences where everyone has an equal seat can actually be a highly effective alternative in creating attendee engagement. The fascinating aspect of reinventing the conference is how creative we can be in designing the experience.
Harvard Business Review recently did a study comparing 200 face-to-face attendees with 200 attendees of a virtual conference and, when the virtual conference is executed correctly, the 86 percent of virtual participants reported as high or higher levels of engagement than those who attending the conference physically. During the time of the pandemic, necessity breeds invention.
One of the smartest things you can do for your business is to reach out, listen up, share your story and continue fostering the connections that make your fleet agency a success. There are also benefits to participating in conferences virtually, as it levels the playing field and can expose you to industry leaders you may not have had access to before Covid-19 outbreaks forever changed the way we do business.

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