This Year’s ACUI Conference & My Return to In-Person Conferencing
Last month, I travelled from California for the Annual ACUI (Association of College Unions International) Conference that was held in Chicago in March. This would be my first in-person conference I’ve attended in 2 years due to the pandemic cancellations. California had some of the wider reaching “mandates” in place but those had been repealed weeks prior to arriving at the airport where I masked up again and plunged back into a cautionary world of not catching or spreading a virus.
I recalled the multiple documents I signed promising I didn’t feel sick, made sure I had my proof of vaccination required by the conference, and thought to myself maybe this wasn’t a great idea; not because I was worried about contracting the virus but because I thought the overall experience of the conference would be dampened by the protocols, restrictions, and attendee apprehension. Afterall, we have been told for months to stay away from other people, especially bigger groups, and just do things remotely; the so-called, “new normal”. However, my curiosity of how the conference would go ruled the roost and the cabin door closed.
When I arrived at the conference venue, attendance at the conference was down, but what I experienced, almost immediately, was not the reserved gathering I had envisioned. instead, I was welcomed with the full, enthusiastic return of a vibrant community. I exhaled and knew at that point this was going to work out fine.
Conversations on the conference floor flowed freely and spontaneously, engagement levels were high, ideas were shared and challenged with collegiality, introductions and re-introductions were made without ever entering a single meeting ID into a computer. From an exhibitor perspective, facetime with customers is more personal, access to information and demonstrations from a wide range of solutions providers is just a short walk away. The focus is squarely on the community at the moment.
The pandemic fueled shutdowns of the last couple years went a long way to pressure test technology to try and maintain communities. I think many of us saw the good and not so good effects of using video conference software as a replacement for traditional in-person engagement. Just talk with any teacher or any student that was treated to 6 plus hours of boxed heads each day. Technology excels in providing platforms to share information more efficiently but there is simply no-contest on the effectiveness of an in-person meeting experience over a “virtual conference” experience and this year’s ACUI conference easily proved the point.
The contrast between a live and remote experience, for me, underscored the importance and reaffirmed the purpose most of our customers pursue daily which is the critical need to provide physical spaces for communities to come together to engage, share, create and advance while technology provides the platforms to enhance the capabilities of these venues.
By my measure the conference was a success and I departed feeling good about the experience. Thanks again to all our customers and ACUI for keeping your existing communities together through the most challenging of times and maintaining your facilities in good order to emerge stronger from the pandemic with a reaffirmation of purpose. We look forward to continuing to provide the technology solutions so that you can maintain your communities a little bit easier.