Survey results from a recent virtual conference hosted by NACE International for the Department of Defense reinforce the value of face-to-face meetings and the challenges presented when federal employees and private sector industries aren’t able to dialogue and exchange ideas in person.

Traditionally an in-person event, the DoD Annual Corrosion Conference was presented as a virtual conference for the first time last September as a means of allowing DoD personnel and corrosion industry representatives to hear presentations on a wide variety of industry topics from the convenience of their own computers. The primary purpose for the conference is to bring DoD employees together with corrosion industry professionals, other government agencies and academia to share best practices in preventing and mitigating corrosion.

While the content of the conference was deemed a resounding success, a post-conference survey of participants reveals the advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning versus a face-to-face conference: The virtual approach can be a convenient, cost-effective means of transferring information and sharing presentations, but the ability to interact with conference presenters and participants is lost.

Asked to rate the level of interaction with fellow participants at the virtual conference on a 5-point scale, with 1 being no interaction and 5 being high, nearly 60 percent of survey respondents ranked it a 1 or 2. Registrants also experienced connectivity problems due to government rules and restrictions on computer access. Many participants had to log into the conference from their home computers because of firewalls and other security restrictions on their work computers.

The value of face-to-face meetings was a key message of American Associations Day 2014, ASAE’s legislative fly-in held in Washington March 25-26. Current restrictions on travel and conference budgets have sharply reduced government attendance at many private-sector conferences over the past two years and hindered the information-sharing and necessary training that occurs at face-to-face meetings.