There is nothing like being there in person! That is one of the most important things I learned by going to Columbus, Ohio for this year’s COMMON NAViGATE 2021 conference. Don’t get me wrong—it has been great to have online options like Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams during the pandemic. Without them, we could not have kept business moving as we did. However, in Columbus, I was reminded of why the in-person experience is so different from being online.
When I first got to the registration desk, I ran into Carol Kamper from American Seating. She was looking for the room for her first session. Since I had already checked out the conference layout, I was able to show her where to go. On the way, we talked about what she was doing with her IBM i, her efforts to learn and adopt new technology, and some of the challenges she was facing. Had I not been there in person, I would have missed this chance meeting and the opportunity to expand my understanding of the IBM i world (not to mention meeting a truly lovely person). Carol showed just how false the idea is that IBM i users are not interested in learning new things.
On the expo floor, I was able to have in-depth conversations with several vendors about the solutions they were providing and how they could help Eradani. In a very short period of time, I was able to learn more than I could have from hours of phone calls. When you talk with IBM i vendors, you realize how committed they are to the IBM i community.
As a vendor, I had the opportunity to meet customers at our table and informally during the lunch breaks and cocktail hours. In online meetings you seldom get this kind of time to get to know people personally. In something special you certainly can’t get online, Chris Fuller from Mainline brought some amazing whiskey samples and held an informal tasting after the expo closed one evening.
As a speaker, it is so much easier to present to a room full of people. You learn a great deal from watching faces and from reading body language. It helps you understand what people are following and when they are getting lost (or bored). You can adjust your content to your attendee’s reactions to ensure you are focusing on the issues that have their attention.
As an attendee, being at the conference allowed me to spend 3 days talking to my fellow IBM i users, learning from the speakers and updating my understanding of where the IBM i is now and where it is going. Being there removed the distractions and interruptions of my regular work schedule and allowed me to focus on learning. What I absorbed will certainly pay significant dividends in our IBM i development efforts over the coming year.
And as an attendee, I also had the advantage of being able to talk directly to the in-person presenters after their sessions. I was able to get my questions answered and to even schedule some follow up meetings for more in-depth conversations during the conference.
The COMMON staff did an incredible job of organizing the event. Although I am sure it was very complex to set up and manage a hybrid online and in-person event with over 250 sessions, everything ran smoothly. And for those of us there in person, the food was fantastic and the social events were very special.
I am looking forward to the upcoming conference in Virginia Beach in the fall and am hoping more IBM i users will leave their COVID-19 concerns behind and join us in person. You will be glad you did!