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The Engineer : Conferences and free money

Most of the business activity at conferences occurs away from the tradeshow floor at after-hours dinners and networking events. The benefits of in-person networking cannot be downplayed.


October 25, 2020
By David Heska

We are full swing into autumn and life is starting to settle into a more typical routine. It’s been six months since the first wave of the pandemic hit and many of us have now returned to a different-looking office or plant facility. This month I thought I would share my thoughts on two trends I have seen, which I’m sure you’ve also observed.

First, let’s talk about virtual conferences. I understand how important conferences are to non-profit associations. Sponsorships keep these organizations afloat and too often the value of these associations is minimized. I also do not want to only throw stones at virtual conferences, especially when I’m speaking at one next month. So, I thought I would highlight some of what I’ve seen virtual conferences can and cannot do. Of course, virtual conferences will appeal to more people, save businesses travel time and money, and, if you are an analytics geek, you’ll love all of the data that the online conference platforms can offer.

But virtual conferences fail to provide the much-needed captive audience that our sales teams long for. Most of the business activity at conferences occurs away from the tradeshow floor at after-hours dinners and networking events. The benefits of in-person networking cannot be downplayed. Have any of you seen an online platform that can provide an effective way of casually, bumping into new and old faces? I didn’t think so.

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Online, everything needs to be planned, programmed and scheduled. Have any of you tried to participate in an all day, eight-hour, virtual conference? I tried, but failed. To be honest I’m not sure that it can be done. But when someone gets on an airplane and travels to a conference, they are committed. With a virtual conference you’re in and out all day. If I was to guess my own level of engagement in virtual conferences I have attended I’d say it’s less than 50 percent. So as soon as our health care professionals give us the green light, I’ll be joining the chorus of people calling for a return to in-person conferences.

The second trend I’ve seen in recent months is the idea of free money. Budgeting is on my mind right now both at work and through my involvement with a non-profit organization. In both spheres, income needs to match or exceed expenses. Sure, there might be a year here or there that’s out of line, but profitability matters and you won’t have a sustainable future without it. I was recently talking to a small business owner about how she is managing the uncertainty of these times. She reminded me of the Canada Emergency Business Account.

Small businesses with payroll less than $1.5 million are eligible for a free $10,000. It’s not worded exactly like that, but that’s what it is. Businesses are eligible for interest-free loans of up to $40,000, and up to $10,000 is eligible for complete forgiveness. Who wouldn’t sign up for that? I’m thankful our federal and provincial governments have dug deep into their pockets to get us through the depths of the pandemic. Now, as we ride this out, our businesses need to turn back on, find new efficiencies and rebuild our vibrant economy.

So, if you get that extra $10,000, invest it wisely.


David Heska, P.Eng. is a director with WSP’s building sciences team in southwestern Ontario. He oversees the operation of the Hamilton, Kitchener and Windsor offices. David has been involved on window simulation projects as well as the design and replacement of windows in commercial and residential buildings. He can be reached at David.Heska@wsp.com.


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