Last week, we held our 19th annual Connect Users’ Conference. It’s a humbling experience to have hundreds of attendees converge at our Seattle venue. Many traveled from across the country to spend a few days with us learning about our software, so we worked hard to make the experience worth everyone’s time, effort and expense.
Reflecting on last week, one thought in particular stuck with me. With the communication technologies we have at our disposal today, and, ironically, the technologies we discuss at our conference, there would seem to be less and less reason for people to go through the non-trivial trouble of traveling across the country for instruction. Yet every year a sizeable proportion of our clients do just that.
The reason why becomes clear after just a few conversations with folks who attended the event. Technology can be used to transfer knowledge but it cannot impart the human connectionthat occurs when folks sharing a common interest get together and share food, fun, and face time (no, not on their Apple or Android devices).
By far, the most valuable thing that folks tell us they get out of the conference is the engagement with others. Sure, excellent courses are necessary for a successful event, but they aren’t sufficient. They serve as the medium in which the real value of human interaction can be realized. Walking through the halls and lobbies between classes, one would hear countless snippets of conversations such as, “We do that using a custom field by,” or “It took us about three weeks to get everyone,” or “You can just upload that from a spreadsheet and.…” I realized we had an event with hundreds of instructors, not just twenty.
But it goes beyond just the number of folks talking together. It is the simple fact that when they are talking—they are really engaging. I’m not an expert in educational principles but I am fairly sure we are wired to learn best when we are engaged with others—when feedback can be immediate, when conversations are in person and where communication takes on the added dimensions of a smile, a hand gesture, or a joke.
We call our conference Connect for a reason. In addition to lending itself to a nice logo, this moniker carries real meaning. I had the privilege of watching hundreds of people make meaningful connections and learn better by learning together.
Maybe someday technology will be able to replicate the connections we feel when we engage each other in person. Until then, I’ll still go to live concerts to listen to music, still go to the corner café for a cup of coffee and conversation on the weekend and still get excited when I get that unexpected letter in the mail from an old friend.