How summer camp proves the value of in-person meetings and events (hint: it’s the experience).

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Why don’t they hold summer camp over Skype?

After all, you wouldn’t have to fight traffic to get there. You’d have to deal with fewer bug bites. And you’d probably save a couple of bucks off of room and board.

I was thinking about this the other day as I helped my 13 year-old daughter pack for her first weeklong summer camp. In this age of mobile everything, can’t you make the case for a virtual summer camp?

Well, if you’ve ever been to camp – you know that the idea of camp based on Skype, or Tumblr, or Pinterest is pretty ridiculous.

Because you’d lose the experience, and the experience is just about everything.

I remember my own camp adventure, jammed together with 90 high school students two decades ago. We pitched tents, slept on the cold ground in sleeping bags, hiked, sang ridiculous camp songs, and made our own meals. This week-long incubator full of fun and work taught us more about what it meant to be real people. It affected and changed us.

Lately, I’ve been hearing about organizations investing less in face-to-face events like National Meetings, and more in the virtual experience. To me, large scale virtual meetings sound almost as absurd as virtual summer camp.

Because you lose the experience, and when it comes to meetings, the experience is just about everything.

It’s just not the same. No opportunity to network, share best practices over a cup of coffee, role play and get immediate feedback on that new product, catch up with old colleagues, make new contacts, celebrate great achievements, or collaborate on new plans for the next quarter.

And if you look at it that way, why even meet in the first place? Like camp, meetings are about coming together and leaving an audience changed. It’s difficult to do that by email.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that summer camp can actually hold quite a few lessons for meeting planners. The events themselves resemble a national sales meeting.

  • Camp theme (meeting theme)
  • The environment and location (hotel, city)
  • Opening ceremonies (or what we call opening plenary)
  • The camp counsellor (meeting host)
  • The food, group meals (meals, breaks, dine-arounds)
  • Activities, crafts and games (training)
  • Outdoor adventure (teambuilding)
  • Final campfire and talent show (closing plenary, call to action and party)

Making life-long friends, learning new talents, networking, collaborating, over-coming challenges, trading stories, getting home sick, staying up too late, getting up too early – all the ingredients for a memorable experience, without all the distractions from home.

Now, imagine all that crammed into an email or delivered as a virtual meeting.

You are making an investment when you plan for a live meeting. But the cost of not bringing your people together for a shared experience could be even greater. Yes, technology can enhance the experience – it just shouldn’t be the entire experience.

Don’t underestimate the enormous value in assembling your greatest assets – your people, your ambassadors – to share company updates and plans, launch a product, learn new skills or celebrate wins. Feeling that you’re part of a team with a shared sense of purpose is a huge motivator for many employees.

You wouldn’t dream of sending your child to a “virtual camp” – which is exactly why you shouldn’t consider sending your most valuable asset to a “virtual meeting.”