Episode 103

 

Continuous Learning in the Age of COVID-19:
Real Learning through Virtual Conferences

The need for continuous learning remains critically important for treasury and finance leaders today. Host Craig Jeffery interviews Ernie Humphrey of Treasury Webinars on how virtual learning and networking is shifting in an era of social distancing with view to COVID-19. They explore what works the same, what works better and where are the gaps. Listen in to find out more on the latest developments in the virtual event space and the upcoming virtual forum, Treasury & Finance in the Next Normal.

Host:

Craig Jeffery, Strategic Treasurer

Craig - Headshot

Speaker:

Ernie Humphrey, Treasury Webinars

Ernie Humphrey - Treasury Webinars
Episode Transcription - Episode 103: Continuous Learning in the Age of COVID-19: Real Learning through Virtual Conferences

Intro: 

Welcome to The Treasury Update Podcast, presented by Strategic Treasurer, your source for interesting treasury news, analysis and insights in your car, at the gym, or wherever you decide to tune in. On this episode of the podcast, host Craig Jeffery interviews Ernie Humphrey of Treasury Webinars on how virtual learning and networking is shifting, in the era of social distancing due to COVID-19. They explore what works the same, what works better. And where are the gaps? Listen in to find out the last developments in the virtual events space and the upcoming virtual forum, Treasury and Finance in the Next Normal. 

Craig Jeffery: 

Welcome to the podcast, Ernie. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Thank you very much, Craig. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Craig Jeffery: 

Now COVID-19 has impacted all of our daily lives, our professional lives, where we work, what we do, dozens of Treasury events. Treasury conferences have been canceled through the spring, summer, and many even in the fall. Yet, learning needs continue. They‘re continuous. We have to continue to develop. And we’ve hit a significant bump in the road with COVID-19 travel restrictions and physical distancing, so we’re not attending those events. And I wanted to talk to you, Ernie, about the requirements for continuous learning. You spend a lot of time on continuous learning and development. But, maybe you could just talk about what you see the requirements for continuous learning for treasury, as well as AP and AR professionals. Is this a more pressing need than before? Is it the same level, just made harder? 

Ernie Humphrey: 

In some ways, it’s more pressing than ever. I guess people see a lot of bad things, but I think one of the good things is that people are seeing the value in making connections and communicating virtually. And so I think we’ve seen a little bit of a lag of people focused in community, in online community, so I think that’s going to come back. And so continuous learning I think is really what the treasury professional needs it to be. So I think when COVID first hit, some of us didn’t even know what to do. How do we function in this remote environment? And so I think it was helpful to maybe share some things on LinkedIn. But I think we’re going to see some online communities kind of come back, so I think it was important for folks to reach out virtually, whether that was LinkedIn, or email, and get on some Zoom meetings. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

And so I think people had to get a little bit creative, so I think that Continuous Education was always going to kind of migrate into a virtual environment. And I think that COVID has just kind of accelerated that. And so one point I would make is that no one should look for all their continuing education requirements from one source. And so just like I offer some continuing education opportunities, but I would never tell someone not to look out. Right? You offer some of the same Continuous Learning opportunities that I do, but I tell people to attend your content because it’s great. AFP has great content, so there’s a lot of great content out there. So I would say don’t feel like you’re going to be one stop shopping. Look for the best of the best, and look at these Zoom meetings. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

So we’ve seen more people do webinars, which is nice to see, however, you have to be a little bit careful. There is a little bit of an art to that. And then virtual events are great and Zoom meetings are great. But there’s a lot of people that are doing virtual conferences, which is okay. But I think you really need to understand on what you’re getting. If a virtual conference to you means back to back webinars, that’s perfectly fine. There’s value there. If it’s virtual webinars with some Zoom meetings, where you could interact, but there are opportunities to have more of a full blown experience where you can network. And so I hope that answers your question. I just think people need to be a little bit creative, need to reach out. And people need to take advantage of opportunities. And so Treasury Webinars is a member of the Treasury Coalition that your organization put together. But just the ability to contribute to surveys and see what other people are doing, I think that’s tremendously important in this virtual world. 

Craig Jeffery: 

Yeah. I wanted to follow up on one of the early points you made, like attending multiple events, whether they’re virtual, et cetera. And I always thought it’s better to go to more events as a consulting firm or research firm. We’ll often go to four, or five, eight, 10 events a year, so we have tremendous opportunity to get input. I think more treasury professionals need to go to at least one conference a year. But they should be continually learning, not just to meet the requirements for the CPA, or CTP, or other professional designation. You have to continue to get new learning in. And it just seems like this is perhaps pushing people to say, “I can learn more.” 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Yeah. I mean, my philosophy, I always say that learning is not a chore, it’s a way of life. So I think people are more receptive to that. But also, I think people are actually looking for more breadth to their learning, and so it’s not necessarily all about treasury. It’s about: How do I manage people in a remote environment? How do I function in a remote environment? How do I understand and make my business continuity plan? And so I think in some ways, it’s made people more curious, and I think that’s actually going to be a good thing for the treasury profession. 

Craig Jeffery: 

Now Ernie, I know you’re doing a virtual conference. But I really wanted to talk broadly about virtual events. And what is a virtual conference? And you talked to some of it, could be you put a string of webinars together. But there’s, when you go to a conference, there’s more dialogue, you have opportunities to meet people. There can be workshops or round table discussions. There’s exhibit halls. There’s a broader experience than just a one hour lecture driven element. So I think about the techniques you use to support learning in this distance environment. What are some of the things that work better? And what’s more of a challenge too? Because there’s some benefits of being remote because you can do it no travel costs, you can go to more events. And then there’s definitely some challenges, like you’re not actually in front of people all the time. So what are some of the benefits of a virtual conference or virtual meeting, versus some of the bigger challenges? 

Ernie Humphrey: 

As always, it’s almost like you want to try and get as much as you can out of your time. And so what I consider a full blown virtual conference is that you’re able to do everything that you’re able to do at an in person conference, other than have that face to face conversation. And so there are platforms out there that allow you to have video chats. There’s some interesting … And there’s ways to actually network better. And so one of the things that I’m doing for my virtual conference, and I think is a good idea, we are going to offer an online community that folks can participate in before the conference and after the conference. And so you want to make those connections and also keep them warm. But you can also network within the conference, and so this is a really cool feature. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Wouldn’t you love to be at a conference and be able to see who’s there? Because a lot of times, when you go to a conference, your networking isn’t effective as you’d like it to be. And so in some of the more overlooking platforms, you’re able to search and see who’s there, search people of like interests. You can connect with people, chat now, chat request, and there’s a lot of conversations that go on at a virtual event in these chat areas. There’s also the ability, I used to love to go to AFP and go to the round tables, so we had an industry round table. So maybe it was retail, and so there’s the ability to have breakout rooms, to have those round tables. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

And there’s also the ability to be more flexible. What I always say is that what I like about a virtual conference is you own your time, so you don’t have to be there all the time. You can do a little multitasking. If you network, you can network on your terms. So people like me like to talk a lot. Right? So if I corner Craig at the conference, and he’d be like, “Oh, here comes Ernie. There’s a half hour of my time gone.” And so there’s a way that you control your time. You can also control the way you’re, if you go to the exhibit hall. And so sometimes I want to go to the exhibit hall. Maybe I want to go and talk to Craig at Strategic Treasurer and learn all the great stuff they do. But Craig’s busy. The booth is busy. Someone got in front of me in line, so now I can’t get that done. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Well, with the virtual event, you can make those appointments. People can see when you’re at the booth. You can ping someone. They can ping you back. There’s all these things that you can do virtually. And then there’s also that you can have the same contests you have at the exhibit hall. You can have prizes. But the cool thing to me is that you can do all of these things at a virtual event. Again, you control your experience. I call it noise free, so you can consume the content, so it can be a round table. It can be more of a webinar or Zoom type session. There’s also the ability to have a shorter session, 10 minute sessions. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Again, you can find people when you’re there, see who’s there, start conversations. You can take conversations into your own chat room, and so there’s a lot of learning involved. But I think once people give this new paradigm a chance, I think they’re going to see that of course live conferences are always going to have a place, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. But I don’t think people, until they try, are really going to be able to understand that you can actually get much more ROI out of attending an event on your terms. 

Craig Jeffery: 

Now you cannot pick up tchotchkes in the exhibit hall. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Good point. 

Craig Jeffery: 

And you cannot get blisters on your feet walking around. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

That’s true. 

Craig Jeffery: 

But you can’t also sit around a table having a meal or something with someone, so there are some differences there. Some are good and some are not so good. But how does a virtual conference differ from a web meeting? Now you talked about some of those. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

There’s actually a virtual environment that’s created for the event, and so it’s in the cloud. And so there’s a website and everyone can log in, so you’re all in this. And it’s not like virtual reality. I don’t want people to get carried away and think that’s what it is. But you log in. You come into the virtual environment. It looks just like you’re walking into an exhibit hall. It’s just like an exhibit hall. There’s signage. You can go to the exhibit hall, or you can go to the session. You can ask questions. You can see the agenda. You can see the announcements. You can post on the board, and so you can do that. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

As far as the tchotchkes are concerned, that’s not really a tchotchke, but one thing that you can do is, a lot of times when I go to a conference, I’ll grab a lot of collateral, and then I’ll throw it away because I don’t want to take it on the plane. Now they have these digital bags, and so as you attend the conference, you can put items in a digital bag. But also, the exhibitors want to have these things. Now you can get really creative. Right? Maybe you want to give someone a virtual gift card. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Maybe you want to give someone the opportunity to win a custom bobble head doll, which I’m going to do. And so there are ways to do that. And so it’s really interesting how you can navigate. It’s getting as close as it can. It wants you to feel like you are live and there, and so you can click in and you can control where you go. And you can see the agenda. And any time you want to interact with something, or download something, that’s not going to be lost on your way out, and you don’t have to take it on the plane with you. 

Craig Jeffery: 

So when I go to conferences, I go to quite a few, and I’ll go into a room. If it’s not meeting my particular needs for that session, or it’s not addressing what it said it would do, sometimes I’m like, “I’m going to go to the one next door, this other one that was my number two choice, or my number three choice,” and so I walk out. I go to the other. Is that the similar type of environment is this virtual conference, you can, hey, this isn’t working, I’m going over to this other room? 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Yes. And some conferences, and I want to only focus on one in general, what I’ve seen is, yes, sometimes folks will have multiple tracks. And so some folks will go full blown. They might have three, four, five concurrent sessions running. And yes, you can absolutely leave a session and go into another session. But the other side of that is that I don’t want anyone to just attend for their CTP credits. It is going to be logged, so you have to add up your time between the two sessions and make sure you get your CTP credits, but absolutely. And plus, it’s not as embarrassing, like when you sit near the front and you want to leave the session, and you feel like you’re kind of held hostage in an event. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

And that’s what I tell people a lot with the virtual event, just sign up, see what it’s all about. You can log in. Sometimes you have to pay, sometimes you don’t. But you can just log in and see what it’s all about. If you find something that you like, that’s great. If you don’t, then remember for last time, and just go in. And really, this is still becoming defined. Right? What is best practices in a virtual event? I don’t know. I’m trying to help define them. And so I think it’s interesting for folks to just go and see what’s out there. And then maybe going forward, maybe next year, your next event, someone wants you to register. Say, “Hey. Can you do this? Can you do that? This is what I want to get out of it.” Then you’ll be more educated yourself because obviously, the most valuable thing is your time. Right? And that‘s why I never charge people. I know that their time is the most valuable thing. I always say, “A price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” 

Craig Jeffery: 

For the virtual forum, you’re putting on a virtual forum, when is that in the fall? 

Ernie Humphrey: 

We will be going from September 15th through the 17th. I originally had the event scheduled for April, but I moved that out. So my partners and I have been planning this event for probably 18 months. And so I thought about moving it out, but I knew that the event wasn’t quite ready. And this has given me a great opportunity to pivot more towards the office of the CFO and really talk about all the changes that have happened, and the next normal, and all the surveys. And so September 15th through the 17th is where we’re going to stay. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

And I’m glad I had my event scheduled because my event partner, who I consider one of the leading partners, he is now booked solid through next May, so there’s only a few platforms out there, and they’re kind of overrun. The good news is I have a personal relationship with the CEO of the platform that I think is one of the best ones. And I’m developing functionality with them. He told me, “I’ve never turned on all the engagement tools.” And I told him, “Well, we’re going to do it this time.” So you also have the opportunity to help define what your event experience looks like going forward. 

Craig Jeffery: 

For this event, the virtual forum, it covers multiple professions, not just treasury. Maybe you could just spend a minute or so outlining either the tracks or your design. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Right. Absolutely. So it’s not as much I would say as a functional design, more of a career success slant than people might be used to seeing. So we talk about the office of the CFO. Right? And that’s going to go beyond treasury. In some companies, accounts payable and accounts receivable reports up their treasury, so there will be some content in those areas. What does that look like? Of course, that falls under owning the cash conversion cycle. What we’ll also discuss this FP and A. That’s coming up through treasury as well. We’ll also talk about content that’s relevant to controllers and financial reporting. And so there’s a wide umbrella there as far as that part of it. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

But also, things that we’re covering are things such as: How do you leverage technology to achieve success in any business environment? One of the things I’ve been talking about is the social CFO. And I could make that the social treasurer, and so we’ll have a panel discussion on that. We’ll also review some survey results, and so everybody loves survey results. And then we’ll also be having sessions on how to be a leader, how to manage your dream team, how to succeed in a remote environment. And then we’ll have some career focus sessions. How do you build your LinkedIn profile? How do you build your professional brand inside and outside of work? So I think people will see that the content is something that they’ve all never seen in one place before. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

We’ll obviously hit kind of what we call the bread and butter, but this is more about making people successful in any business environment, and with more of a career focus and more of a slant towards this is a continuous process. We want people to come here, engage, learn. Okay, after this is over, let’s go to the community. And what happens next year? We start. What did we learn from last year? And then this is where we start. And so this event in itself becomes a community. And then we want everyone to work together to support the treasury profession, so people that want to contribute, people that want to put their shoulders by my event, I’m happy to have them help all of us help treasury get better. 

Craig Jeffery: 

I appreciate you giving some background on the virtual forum. I just find it interesting. And then kind of as we draw to a close, I wanted to talk about the future of events. And with COVID-19, that certainly makes physical gathering much, much more difficult. It certainly eliminated three, six months at least of the conference calendar. And it may end up impacting most of the year. But obviously, that’s given a boost to the virtual meetings, the virtual conference, the virtual sessions and virtual learning. Will this transform how people are learning in the future? In other words, will people just move from physical events to virtual events? Or will this represent a growth in the pie of, people will still go to physical events, but they’ll be able to go to more virtual events and increase their overall learning? What do you think will happen? I know we don’t know, but what do you think will happen? 

Ernie Humphrey: 

Some of it depends on how well folks like myself do in delivering these virtual events. And so if we’re going to promise people the world, we better deliver the world. Right? And so the reputation is at risk here. If there are providers and organizations that do this the right way, I think people will pivot to virtual events. But like I said before, I’m hoping that this adds to the pie for folks. And so I hope that people go to live events. But I think the live events will probably be more on a regional level, maybe, the face to face events. But I’d love for people to do both. I call it the best of both worlds. Right? So in my mind, I’d say for me as a practitioner, what I would think of is: What’s the best conference that I can go to live? And what’s the best virtual conference? And let me go to both, and then let me fill in with webinars as I have specific needs I need to address before the next conference comes along. 

Craig Jeffery: 

Yeah. Interesting. I always think that just attending 10 sessions a year is not nearly enough, given all that’s changing from career standpoint, risk standpoint, developments with technology, changes in how organizations require reporting. Across the board, it just requires a lot more content. And so I see this as a real opportunity to jumpstart more of the virtual to supplement. A lot of companies, maybe you go away every other year, or only one conference year. Now people will be able to take in a lot more. 

Ernie Humphrey: 

The other thing I think, which is great, is that I think companies and organizations have more of an appetite for collaboration, again, going back to the Treasury Coalition. So I think you’ll start to see organizations really cross promote. Maybe someone’s a bit of competitor, but I think we’re all seeing the benefits in collaborating. We all have overlap in our audiences. But we all have things that we do the best, and some things we don’t do the best. And so I’m hoping that this collaborative nature helps us all. And then how about we all come together and do an amazing conference together, and bring the best of the best? And let’s all let other people know what’s going on every month. And so I think that the whole idea of collaborating to serve the treasury professional, I’m really excited about what the future looks like in that arena. 

Outro: 

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Outro: 

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