In March of 2020, faced with a pandemic of unknown impact, IECA made a pivot to virtual learning. There was no time for studies or polling, for research or opinion-sharing.

It wasn’t perfect but we realized that virtual instruction works.

But we have also learned that not everything translates to a virtual space.The joy of reconnecting with colleagues over coffee or wine. The excitement of seeing an old Summer Institute classmate. The ability to connect, even briefly, with 150 admission representatives. Finding yourself at a discussion group or lunch with nine strangers and walking away with nine new colleagues. None of that easily transposes onto a laptop at the kitchen table.

Unlike that moment 16 months ago, IECA now has a bit more time to contemplate the return to in-person events, and the role technology can play on an ongoing basis. And we can begin this November as we plan to gather in Tampa for the Fall 2021 Conference, working with the hotel on policies and procedures that will ease our way back into safely and joyfully meeting in person again. In a survey of members, fewer than 20 percent indicated an unwillingness to attend any live IECA event, and our admission partners were even more excited for in-person gatherings.

As we look to Tampa, research has shown us why face-to-face gatherings are still important. We’ll use these findings to design a program that emphasizes the value that in-person meetings bring:

  • Building strong relationships: research shows that people feel better heard and more appreciated following a face-to-face meeting. This allows for the building of stronger connections, both between IECs and admission leaders and among IEC colleagues.
  • A recent survey of business leaders by Motista indicates that being face-to-face and perhaps sharing a cup of coffee builds loyalty and trust at dramatically higher rates than connecting virtually (71 percent versus 45 percent).
  • In-person discussions at conferences are more focused and productive. In fact, studies have shown that being in person for a brainstorming or idea-generating session will produce 33 percent more ideas—and more useful ones.
  • In-person conferences allow for a continuation of speaker themes, ideas, and suggestions. Notice how at the end of a session at conferences, there’s a buzz after every ACE speaker or breakout session. This interaction, revealing the processing and internalizing of presentations, can’t be replicated online.

We will announce more details about our IECA Fall Conference in Tampa as our plans develop. Expect to see member roundtables expand to two mornings. Hear from two opening ACE speakers, rather than three, to plan more time for interaction, including a wine-and-cheese School Exchange at the end of the first day. We’re also planning a bit of a later start each morning—to encourage members to network and interact with colleagues a little more at day’s end.  

At the same time, IECA is exploring how newly enhanced technologies can enable attendees to view missed sessions, after they arrive home, and to give those unable to travel an option to see educational sessions.