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Canning the conference

As software companies are forced to find new ways to get their products in front of accountants, face-to-face interaction still plays an important role.

Canning the conference
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  • Contributed by Richard Sergeant
  • May 15, 2020
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Face-to-face events in the accounting world have served an important function by providing firms with the chance to explore new products, and to get to know the people behind the tech. With industry events such as Accountex and the new Digital Accountancy Show postponed until at least the second half of 2020, vendors are taking the opportunity to engage even more with accountants online.

A seamless move to the virtual world

Many software companies organise product roadshows, or collaborate to explore issues such as how to become more cloud-enabled, or improve client cashflow.

Recently, however, these have continued almost seamlessly as virtual events. While this might be seen as a turning point, it’s actually more of a natural progression, with software vendors developing a considerable appetite for presenting and hosting webinars generally. 

Trent McLaren, head of accounting and sales at Practice Ignition, is already well known for delivering online material. “It’s hardly a new thing, and they can be a valuable way of getting not just the message, but the detail of how your product can provide good client service – and accountants do like to see the detail. Online provides the way to do this at scale.”

However, he believes that physical events still have an important part to play. “You can’t replace seeing people up close. You can have better one-to-one conversations, get to know people more for who they are and what their businesses are trying to achieve. As vendors we also gear up our content, planning and resources around these events – so it’s not like they exist in a vacuum.”

Given the impact of coronavirus on how business is able to be done, and with unknowns around the impact of social distancing on events and the willingness of people to travel, the use of tools like e-learning platforms may become the new normal.

E-learning at a time of social distancing

Sage University is an interesting case in point. A purely online environment off ering detailed how-to guides and videos on Sage products and thought leadership topics.

Chris Downing, director of product management at Sage, is clear of its advantages: “We developed Sage University as an online learning platform that would allow accountants to learn anytime, anywhere.

“There are hundreds of easy to navigate courses, with details of the latest product developments, and CPD points where available. Feedback has been that this is a great tool with clear training paths for all experience levels, which sits nicely alongside the professional culture of continuous learning.”

Sage University shows how readily information can be consumed by placing product and training content together, but what about where feedback and interaction are important? 

Coaching and professional development

Developing an online programme for training, underlined with remote coaching, is at the heart of Della Hudson’s professional development business. “I have courses with fixed, pre-recorded elements where I can cover lots of common ground, but there is still a need for the one-to-one element, which I do with telephone coaching,” she explains.

But even with this scalable model that fits perfectly the current imposed norms, Della reinforces the need for real world interaction. “I still want to meet up at least once. It’s important to have the emotional connection that you can’t get when it’s just all online.”

This emotional connection, and the casual and surprising networking that often happens, is one of the reasons why Hudson believes that the larger events will be around for some time yet.

“Big events moving to online can’t replicate face to face networking, which is why they will bounce back. The need for personal contact is strong.”

The future of the big events

A case in point is that even though some of the industry events are now trying to deliver more online, the digital content pioneer AccountingWEB launches a physical event in December.

Tom Dunkerley, CEO of Sift, the organisers of AccountingWEB Live, explains why:  “It’s a logical extension of our digital values into a physical environment. We know that online content, when done correctly, can deliver huge value to accountants, but this allows our members to also get face-to-face with their connections and suppliers. The two together work hand-in-hand.”

So, while the acceptance of online through enforced isolation is providing a boost to a new age of digital conferences and presentations, it’s also apparent that human contact is perhaps more valued than ever.   

Richard Sergeant is a freelance journalist and MD of Principle Point

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