Why Conferences Matter

More than a standalone, live events provide lasting impressions and ongoing opportunities

27 August 2013
Marie_Hunter Photo: Marie Hunter

Marie Hunter is the senior director of IEEE’s Meetings, Conferences and Events (MCE).

If you were to close your eyes for a moment and imagine the best event you ever attended, what would it be? Is it a wedding, a concert, a conference with an inspiring keynote speaker, or a charity fundraiser? We would all have different answers but they would have one thing in common—great events evoke emotion. That is because events are about bringing people together to connect and engage on common ground. Events are fundamental for supporting and building community.

For much of my career I have been involved in producing events, meetings, and conferences, and managing related businesses. Prior to joining IEEE, I was responsible for producing more than 50 000 live events globally, including conferences, product launches, trade shows, sponsorships, special events, and much more. Working for companies such as American Express, Lehman Brothers and as an independent business owner, I have had the opportunity to create engagements with global financial organizations such as The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and The World Economic Forum with world class sports organizations such as the Olympics, World Cup Soccer and with countless, cultural, corporate, government and non-profit groups in more than 100 countries. My favorite part is working directly with people to create and execute a common vision. I am grateful for the opportunity to work in so many countries and with diverse cultures. Everywhere I go people are fundamentally the same in their drive to convene and connect.

Since joining IEEE in November 2011 in my current role as the head of IEEE Meetings, Conferences and Events, I continue to be an evangelist for the power of events, and I am not alone. The global community of engineers flock to IEEE to co-create world-class events focused on technical research and scientific discovery. IEEE sponsors about 1400 scholarly conferences a year in more than 80 countries with over 400 000 people in attendance at an IEEE conference somewhere in the world—and that was just in 2012!  It is an honor to work with my dedicated team and an army of committed volunteer organizers.

Watch the first video in the series “Why Conferences Matter” featuring IEEE community members and colleagues discussing the significance of in-person events on their work and professional relationships.

We have been working across our communities to understand and articulate the value of conferences and as a first step, produced the above video featuring IEEE Management Council member Mary Ward Callan, managing director of IEEE Technical Activities.

Some of the key takeaways from the first video are:

  • Breakthroughs occur in real time as ideas emerge at a conference. 
  • Communities self-organize at conferences to address problems facing that community.
  • Conferences foster diversity of opinion where people from around the world gather to explore ideas from the point of view of policy, technology, application, and reclamation. 

This idea that a conference is not a “one-off” transaction, but rather part of a continuum in an engaged relationship is an important trend in the field of live events. Coupled with the ubiquity of mobile devices, free collaboration tools, and technology to support virtual engagement, we are seeing a trend towards keeping the conversation going before, during, and well after the event. 

Conferences are organized with support and sponsorship from IEEE societies, geographical chapters and sections, IEEE Organizational Units, as well as over 1000 prominent institutions around the globe. This effort contributes significant revenue and opportunity for IEEE. 

One important element of IEEE conferences is the by-product—the conference articles (over 200 000 of which were acquired in 2012). Authors who are accepted to present papers at one of our conferences have the opportunity to get real-time feedback on their work from leading experts. They also have an opportunity to explore interdisciplinary boundaries. Their work is published as part of the event and usually acquired for inclusion in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library. Through publication, their ideas are presented to the scientific community. The eagerness of some authors to be published and included in the library, particularly those authors from emerging markets, is a testament to our brand’s reputation, our leadership position, and the high standards that have been set for our peer-review process.

In the second video in the series “Why Conferences Matter,” you’ll see how conferences have played a major role in developing communities for technology professionals such as software engineers and biotechnologists.

Conferences and other events are important for a variety of IEEE’s strategic, financial, and mission-driven reasons. As part of the IEEE Technical Activities team, our mission is to “Inspire, Foster and Empower Technology-Centric Worldwide Communities.” Events are a critical element in building these communities. As a partner to the IEEE Member and Geographic Activities group, the area in charge of membership, we understand that conferences and events are among the most valued assets for members. Also, we work with the IEEE Publications and Standards groups to ensure our events are engaging, relevant, and influential.

Overall, IEEE events play a crucial role in helping us reach our five-year aspirations, including:

  1. Creating new opportunities for member and customer engagement.
  2. Ensuring our long-term future through increased financial growth, strength and stability.

All of this is driven by the passion of the community and the intrinsic value they individually and collectively create through live events. 

Do you think conferences matter? How has attending conferences and live events influenced your work?

Go to IEEEtv.org to view coverage of various IEEE conferences. Visit IEEE Conferences & Events for a listing of the more than 1400 IEEE meetings that take place worldwide each year.

Illustration: Taylor Hinton/iStockphoto

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