In our increasingly digital age, there are many social networks that claim to do the job of connecting creative and entrepreneurial people, replacing real human interaction. But if the industry conferences being developed and run by the major movers in media are any indication, sharing a live experience is still one of the best ways to stimulate fresh ideas and develop new connections.

The New York Times isn’t just writing for readers anymore — it’s inviting them to join reporters and sources to tackle big, burning questions about everything from what’s next in luxury to artificial intelligence. The Globe and Mail was recently looking for a bartender and a venue supervisor to staff its new conference space in Toronto.

What started three decades ago as a series of secret meetings on the future of music has become the gigantic conference/festival hybrid SXSW in Austin, Texas. TED — which launched in the ’80s as a conference about technology, entertainment and design — has ballooned into a library of 2,000-plus talks in 100-plus languages.

And at the eighth edition of C2 Montréal this year, May 22-24, over 7,000 creatively curious industry leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and other forward-thinkers will once again get together to develop the tools to take on challenges in their industries and unlock new business opportunities.

So, despite fears that we’re all becoming too web- and work-obsessed in an era of swipes, clicks and snaps, getting together in real life has definitely not gone out of style.

In fact, conferences are still king.

From big brands to small businesses, live happenings are having a(nother) moment. Not only do conferences allow us to get away from our screens and connect on a human level, but — from branding, networking, revenue and happiness standpoints — they are, quite simply, good for business.

Nothing beats a handshake

You might wonder why, in 2019, when we can all just Zoom, Skype or Hangout with each other anytime, it’s still worth it for some of the world’s busiest people to hop on planes and trains to actually meet.

For most of us, it’s pretty simple: at a gathering packed with diverse and engaged minds, you might hit it off with your next mentor, partner, best friend, or business soulmate. Never underestimate the places a good conversation can take you and your company.

It also turns out that we’re not as good at convincing people to do things over email as we think we are. A study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found face-to-face requests to be 34 times more impactful than email ones.

Science also says it pays off to literally reach out. Researchers at Harvard and the University of Chicago found — in four separate studies — that physically shaking hands bodes well for negotiations and is a welcome sign of cooperation to come.

Don’t underestimate the power of being there in person.

Experiences help us connect

Our wallets have spoken: people are collectively more keen to spend money on experiences than on things, and the business community isn’t immune to this. Cornell University’s Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology who studies happiness, explained to Fast Company that one of the reasons we’re all attracted to experiences over things is because we can share them with each other — they help us connect.

As Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington told The New York Times, even though digital may rule the day, “the need to actually be live and connect with human beings and listen to people in the flesh” is one of the paradoxes of our age.


Since most industries rely on building and maintaining relationships, in-real-life situations can effectively set you up to meaningfully meet other people.

Who doesn’t love a chance encounter?

It’s faster than an MBA

Another reason events are popular despite our increasingly time-strapped world is because they pack a lot of learning in. At conference events like C2 Montréal, talks, panels, workshops and, masterclasses are designed to teach participants something tangible that they can bring back to the office, and to generate those elusive “ah-ha!” moments.

Walking through someone else’s creative process, prototyping or problem solving are fine ways to get synapses firing and to make important intellectual connections. It offers you a chance to skill-up without going back to school. And the takeaways are pretty great. Once a conference is over, you can take what you learned from your experience and pay it forward for the benefit of your entire team — and it’s hard to put too high a price on that.