While there are obvious differences between seminars, masterclasses and conferences for this discussion we will look at all of them as one thing. They all constitute a gathering of professionals to focus, discuss and learn more about a specific, usually narrow, subject. They have been used to discuss entire industries, unpack new legislation and debate contentious issues. With so many of them being organised and rickets being sold at prices which range from questionable to outright laughable the question begs if these things are still worth it?
The upfront benefit
The obvious benefit of these engagements is the subject matter discussed. By convening deep discussion or unpacking with peers they provide an opportunity to gain deep insight in an accelerated learning environment. The nature of them facilitates the faster synthesis of the new material or ideas.
The other side of the coin
2020 brought with it a new scourge that many people rue, the video conference or virtual meeting. There has emerged a tendency to turn what could be an email or circular into an unnecessary video conference meeting. Seminars and masterclasses have not been spared this and as we will see later some of the advantages of the traditional seminar or symposium are lost in these. Ultimately this overkill has brought into question if the value is being realised in these meetings and if the value is worth the asking price.
Networking with peers is a big benefit of seminars. Rubbing shoulders as they would say with those in the same industry or those involved up and down the value chain cannot be underestimated. This is not as easy over video and may require some extra steps to achieve the opportunity to network. To be fair networking in person was never easy.
With most learning being done in these meetings being incremental the costs cannot always be justified. This is a bit difficult to gauge objectively because those closest to the subject matter may place a higher value on incremental learning as it may have a huge impact on their bottom line. It is also fair to say that pricing for these meetings is neither here nor there as the benefit is not tangible.
Our true currency is Time and these meetings can gobble up a lot of it. Assuming the discussion is both necessary and relevant you would still have to put in the time to make it to the meeting. The virtual meetings are not spared by this either though the considerations are different. Time is arguably at a surplus when people are locked down but the number of video conferences that have been interrupted by children or cooking speaks volumes. Time of course cannot be returned once lost and that is the real cost.
With Zimbabwe and indeed many parts of the world going into lockdown again, seminars and conferences are going to be limited to virtual for the foreseeable future. The upside of online is how easy they are to organise. Ironically that is also the downside of online seminars; how easy they are to organise. It makes it easy for anyone to put together a hurried seminar idea with an equally hurried price to match. I argue that just like meetings, many masterclasses should not even be happening. I attended a handful in 2020 and none left me feeling enlightened or mildly stimulated.
To save yourself from the fate of another disappointing seminar or conference you need to look at a few things. Firstly the subject matter itself. Pay close attention to the degree of depth the subject matter will be discussed in. These are strange times indeed for many industries and practices. The networking capabilities are limited but not impossible. The interactivity is somewhat compromised but still very much a feature of masterclasses. To answer the title question, they are worth it though results may vary.