None of us are strangers to the weight of responsibility in this line of work. We are entrusted with the financial well-being of investors. The choices advisers make have a real, material impact on the lives and future of others. But in my career, I have never been confronted with the type of decision that faced us this year — committing to an in-person conference in the third quarter.
So why did we do it?
In the end, it came down to answering two questions. The first and obvious question: Can we do this safely? We knew we had to reach an answer through facts and concrete data. There is too much at stake for a conference organizer to rely on “gut intuition.” Depending on the success of your locality’s COVID-19 response plan and your individual life circumstances, the reality of your pandemic experience might be very different from mine.
We looked at which COVID-19 safeguards were most effective, safety regulations in Arizona, the site of our conference, the trajectory of vaccine distribution, the willingness of advisers and our own employees to travel, and a host of other factors to make our decision. We’re optimistic that by the third quarter, the U.S. pandemic response and our own precautions will create a conference that is as safe as possible for attendees.
I should say that “safe” in this case does not mean “safe to be careless.” We will monitor the pandemic conditions in the months leading up to our conference and will make changes as necessity dictates. The health of conference attendees has to take priority over everything else.
Sanitary measures, physical distancing and reduced venue capacity all mean a conference in 2021 will look very different from one in 2019. We want our attendees to be as confident as possible that we are looking out for them. But no matter what any conference does, there will still be people who hesitate to make the trip, for any number of very valid reasons.
That leads to the second question we had to answer: Can we give people a virtual conference experience that is just as good as in-person attendance? Could a virtual attendee learn, grow their business and find just as many valuable networking opportunities as they could from a face-to-face experience? After a year of digital innovation borne of necessity, I’m happy to say the answer is a resounding yes.
I expect robust virtual support will be table stakes for any serious industry conferences, even after the pandemic recedes. In-person guests will rub virtual shoulders with digital attendees, and 360-degree live-streaming setups will become common sights on the conference floor. Millions of people have spent months learning how to cultivate and maintain digital relationships. You can’t unring that bell. In terms of accessibility alone, why would you want to?
But here in the present, as our industry eyes a cautious return to in-person events, the hosts of these events cannot take the safety and comfort of their attendees for granted. It’s on us to earn the trust of our on-site guests by taking every possible precaution. And it’s on us to create experiences that are just as valuable for the careers of the professionals who will join us from afar.
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.