Our broker dealer partner, LPL Financial, has offered an annual conference for continuing education, networking opportunities and a gathering of up to 8,000 financial advisors for years.  Last year the conference was virtual, and I really enjoyed it.  This year it was virtual again, and they turned what was good into something great.

Although gathering with 8,000 other people is not something that I enjoy, I do like learning and staying ahead of industry trends.  Often, Tammy would go in my place as I have other conferences that are available to me.  I do really miss traveling to a cool city, meeting new people, and buckling down for some intense learning but the virtual conference this year had the best of what conferences have to offer without any of the travel hassles.

What I enjoy about attending conferences are the general session keynote addresses featuring national and international leaders and influencers.  I enjoy scanning the catalogue of choices for breakout sessions that I can align with my interests and yours.  For example, one of the most fascinating ones I attended about six years ago was on cognitive decline and Alzheimers.  I learned so much and have been able to apply what I have learned with clients who are facing these difficult issues.

I enjoy networking and seeing friends from all over the country to hear how they are handling their practices and how they are serving their clients.  These are people with whom I have developed trusting relationships and I truly value their insight.  I also enjoy hearing from the leaders of LPL on how they are improving the experience for our clients and the advancements they are making in technology to help us better serve you. I usually bring a brand-new Moleskin notebook and will have it filled by the end of the conference with the notes that I have taken.

Being virtual these last two years, one would think that it would be impossible to re-create the same learning and interactive environment.  Through the advancements in technology, I am happy to report that I was wrong. There is a conference website that I log on to each morning, in which I have carefully curated and signed up for the breakout sessions I want to attend.  The breakouts sessions are all live through a video experience.  At the conclusion of the speakers remarks, the video is still running, and we can ask questions through another piece of software called Slido.  Once you have identified the correct Slido room you can type in your question and other attendees can evaluate your question by giving it a thumbs up.  If your question is deemed valid by enough people, it bubbles up to the top in short order and the moderator will ask the question.  In person or virtual, I will usually ask a question, so I really enjoy this feature.

After breakouts, it is back to general sessions which is all live.  After general sessions I can navigate to the expo hall and learn more about different companies which may help us better serve you.  The vendor booths will be operated by several people, and I can peruse their info just like at a normal booth or I can chat via the chat feature.  I do not like chatting this way, in fact, I can’t stand it.  It is so impersonal.  So, there is another feature called “Let’s meet.”  By clicking on this button, I am instantly transported to a private video room to have a face-to-face conversation with a representative.  Last year when I used this, I became so comfortable with what I was learning that we have since implemented two new initiatives to help our practice run more efficiently.  In addition to the ability to easily communicate I could easily grab articles, research reports or product information from the booth and store it in my virtual briefcase, which allowed me to save or print them and read at my leisure.

Finally, there is a virtual café which creates an opportunity to meet and talk with other people at the conference.  It is a ten-story virtual building complete with tables and chairs to meet with others.  You could sit at a grouping with five other people, three other people or just another person.  Once you click on the chair at the table which you are sitting, you are instantly transported to a virtual room where you can now see and talk with the other people at that table.  I happened to have several conversations with other attendees who were brand new to LPL Financial and answered several of their questions.

All in all, I would consider the virtual conference a win.  I had zero travel delays, no long waits at the airport and didn’t even have a suitcase to unpack upon my return.  I am hopeful that this option will still be available in the future pandemic or not.