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The decline and fall of in-person events

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Last week we talked about the decline of local associations and association chapters.

Many of my older subscribers agreed that this is a real phenomenon. Most of these regretted the loss but had no more of a solution than I did.

Some (presumably) younger subscribers didn’t see that this is a problem, as social media provide plenty of ways for people with similar interests to interact.

Here’s one beyond how they help satisfy the deep-seated need many of us have for human contact: With social media it’s a lot harder to know if someone I’m interacting with has actual expertise and useful experience of their own, or whether they’re Google/Wikipedia insta-experts.

I treasure the experts I know personally because I know the extent to which their opinions are worth paying attention to. Someone on social media? Not so much.

One more point in favor of in-person events: In side-bar conversations during an in-person event, you can ask for a locally-based colleague’s discretion. Social media have no discretion to offer.

Which still might not mean this is an actual problem. It might instead be a constraint, the difference being that problems can be solved. Constraints must be dealt with.

With this in mind, and also recognizing that problems can’t be solved nor can constraints be dealt with in the absence of root cause analysis, here’s my list of likely root causes for the decline in in-person professional socializing:

  • Heavy drinking stopped being funny. Or, for that matter, socially acceptable. Who’s going to want to stay after the formal meeting in order to listen to friends at their worst?
  • 45+ hour weeks became normal for professionals. And that doesn’t count the ones who wish 45+ was normal, because their weeks were longer. Enough already – they’d like at least some sort of life.
  • Going to meetings adds a stop. If I leave work to go home, I’m home. If I leave work for a meeting, that’s one more step before I’m home, and one that takes more energy than I can spare at the moment.
  • Less participation leads to fewer volunteers. Fewer volunteers leads to meetings with less appeal. Meetings with less appeal leads to less participation. As vicious cycles go, this one is easy to fall into and hard to break.
  • Local associations and chapters are competing with vendors. Vendor events are better-funded and better-orchestrated than what local groups can manage. With a limited in-person time budget, which are you more likely to attend?
  • There’s plenty of tangible information-sharing on the web. This adds to the competition for attention and participation. It also makes justifying participation harder when there’s work to do and your boss wants it done Right Now.

Bob’s second-to-last word: My metric for assessing the quality of virtual team meetings is how well they emulate in-person ones. For the time being at least I’m going to continue to apply this same metric to social-media-based professional interactions.

Bob’s last word: On this subject, thanks go to long-time reader and correspondent Sean Murphy for recommending Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. No, I haven’t read it (yet). Just the title sums up a lot of what we’re talking about in a mere two words.

Gotta love it!

Comments (10)

  • There’s a group that has been meeting virtually. I am a ham, an amateur radio operator. There are people with who I talk regularly nd will never meet in person. We get to know each other and share technical information about our hobby.

  • The combination of less (acknowledged) heavy drinking and driving to another place on the way home, which are drinking and driving, are definitely not cool any more. Was there a time when 40 hour work weeks were normal for professionals? I only have my father to judge by but 45+ seemed to be the norm since my childhood.

    You mention: “Local associations and chapters are competing with vendors.” What are these vendor events you speak of? Outside the major cities with national sports teams, where does one find a vendor event any more? I haven’t even heard of a sales visit in person in the last 18 months, and I can’t remember the last time… yes, I can, it was seven years ago that a vendor held an event that I heard about and was invited to in my city. That was right before I got my current job. My door prize from that event stopped working just this summer.

  • @Allen West: The “three martini lunch” was a thing. There was a time that “networking” was an expected part of white collar work. Often combined with service (Rotary, Lions Club, et.al.)

    Civic involvement was an expected part of leadership. And part of the workday. Rather than look to our job to provide this fulfillment, we looked to our jobs to pay the dues and membership fees…and time for this fulfillment

    As for vendor shows, in my experience, it fell off after the Great Recession and never really came back.

    As for online networking, check out Tech After Five. Phil Yanov figured out how to make online networking work.

  • @Bob: I have been discussing a similar question (on LinkedIn, of course).

    The question was if in-person employees will have the edge over remote employees in raises, advancement, and promotions.

    I pointed out this it was neither. It was whoever hung out in the bar with the boss after work.

  • I’m a member of a professional society and regularly attend the local chapter meetings. 20 years ago, we would typically get 100-150 members to attend the monthly meetings. Now its down to around 50. One of the reasons for the decline that I had heard was that many large companies stopped paying for association dues and meeting fees, especially around the 2008 recession.

  • Lack of volunteers is definitely a factor – many other associations are suffering from that.

  • There are definitely many factors at play. Just some data points:

    I was involved in a service club where I used to live, and what seemed to be a general truism is that the younger generation are not “joiners”. They’ll gladly help out at specific events, but they have no interest in being part of the team that plans the events in the first place. And I emphasize: I know this is a generality and not a universal truth!

    Over the years I have seen employers getting cheaper and cheaper where employees are concerned. They won’t pay for the organization memberships, they won’t pay for training, they expect people to not have personal lives. It’s all about the stock price, a very short-sighted view as far as I’m concerned (I’ll give my philosophy on that another time).

    I agree with the not going home and then going out to a meeting later. The only time I ever do that is if home is between my parking space and the meeting and I’m in desperate need of a bio break (much more pleasant to use home faciilities than public). I’ve been involved in outside activities practically all my life, though, so going to the meeting on the way home doesn’t seem like an imposition at all.

    People in general are less civic-minded. We can see that in the news every day. It’s all about “me” rather than about “us”.

    On the flip side I, too, belong to a few professional societies that charge dues and meet in person. Social media is worthless when it comes to mandatory Coninuing Education that needs to be approved by a governing body! Yes, we’re meeting online right now, but the meetings aren’t open to non-members after two visits.

    Is there a solution? I don’t know. I suspect it’s going to take some major societal mind shifts, both in upper management and in society at large.

  • Many, many years ago I was fortunate to attend the COMDEX event every year. This was the best vendor show going and a nice escape to Las Vegas for a few days. My employer paid for my trip and benefited from what I learned at the show. When the Internet became more encompassing the show died. Vendors used to put on shows occasionally in a few larger cities but those disappeared also. I retired years ago so don’t pay much attention to tech events to know if they are even being held anywhere close. Social media/internet appears to be the modus operandi today.

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