Dan Atkinson: Build back better – conferences

26 July 2021

Digital conferences can now serve us well but they can’t replace the engagement and learning opportunities that physical events provide, suggests Dan Atkinson head of Technical at Paradigm Norton Financial Planning and chair of the CISI Paraplanner Interest Group. But maybe we can combine the digital with the physical. What are your views?

The people who organise conferences, workshops and seminars are starting to talk about gathering again ‘in person’. We have a tremendous opportunity to rethink how we demand conferences to be delivered. We are the delegates. We are the audience. Now is the time to shape the future.

As Chair of the CISI Paraplanner Interest Group I’d like to hear what you think. Here’s my reflection on the last year’s conferences and what I’m looking forward to in the future.

Looking back

One of my key reasons for going to conferences is to pick up new ideas. The speakers and content is important, but I find the chance to learn and share with other people incredibly valuable. By engaging in discussion with people I can gain fresh insights about best practice.

I’ve missed the human contact that seminars, conferences and workshops bring. However there have certainly been logistical benefits – not least the ability to get on with work during less interesting sessions!

The most interesting conferences I’ve been to have sought to include a kinesthetic element by shipping packs to delegates. They’ve even recognised the reading/writing learners by sending notebooks and pens. The people behind these haven’t just switched to a webinar format.

Conferences have become international too. In the last year or so I’ve been to conferences with delegates and speakers from Australia, South Africa, the USA, and beyond. They’ve shared their insights and experiences.

As an auditory learner I find it helpful to talk through what the presenter has shared. Some conferences have made great use of breakout rooms or virtual tables to facilitate this.

Whilst there are things that I have missed, there are definitely aspects that have been even better than being together in person.

What about the future?

I am looking forward to attending events together with other paraplanners. There’s only so much engagement you can get when most of the attendees have their cameras switched off – or there are so many cameras that you can’t really see anyone. I look forward to the conversations with the people sat around me and feeling that we are all ‘present’.

I’m looking forward to those occasions where you stay overnight at a conference. This gives informal chances to talk to peers over breakfast or a coffee when you are less rushed. The investment makes me up my focus and seek out the golden nuggets more intensely. However, it can be harder to pitch to your employer as you are out of the office for longer.

I will be very disappointed if we shrink our pool of delegates and speakers back down. Aside from the international contingent it is not always practical to travel within the UK, your circumstances might not allow it, or your firm might not support it. I’m not sure how this will work, but here are some ideas:

• Perhaps we will have virtual attendees in the room (like bidders on the phone at an auction)

•  Maybe we will all don headsets and join certain sessions via Zoom

• Maybe we will have conference sessions in the evening to cross different time zones and include international speakers or delegates?

• Maybe we will record and stream the sessions delivered in person and have a follow-up discuss event or best practice groups curated by the conference organisers?

What do you think? What do you want out of these learning opportunities? Have virtual conferences made you more selective in what you consume? Do you look forward to ‘in person’ conferences resuming? As chair of the CISI Paraplanner Interest Group I’d love to hear from you: [email protected]

Professional Paraplanner