Virtual conference to provide insights and opportunities

Appearing in In The Black Digital, July 2020

2020 has been a tough year for everyone but especially for CPAs in public practice, as they are asked to advise clients on how to manage the pandemic environment while keeping their own businesses afloat. At the same time, they have to continue with the usual tasks of upgrading their skills and staying current with information and issues.

In previous years, the Public Practice Conference has been a key event to fulfill these needs. It will be essential this year as well, but with face-to-face (F2F) gatherings impossible a virtual event has been designed. It is a one-day event that will take place on 8 October, with the theme ‘Build the Firm of the Future’. Registration is through the CPAA website. The cost is A$120 (including GST) for members and $220 for non-members. The Virtual PPC  provides nine hours of CPD.

The content in the program will examine the current climate and give insights on how to navigate the challenges faced by accountants in public practice. Speakers include demographer Bernard Salt, senior ATO executive Deborah Jenkins, and transformation specialist Alan Fitzgerald. The head of New Zealand’s tax agency, Naomi Ferguson, is also on the list.

There will also be an important panel discussion dealing with ‘The Firms of the Future’.

“We know how difficult business is at the moment so we have designed the event to be job-relevant and cost-effective,” says Tiani Bradilovic, Product Development Executive, Conferences & Events at CPA Australia. “The event is web-based so there is no need for additional software. The conference will provide all the key elements of a F2F conference. There will be the opportunity to attend sessions, ask questions, to communicate with your peers, and view content – all from your office or home.”

There will be 20 sessions available on the platform. Some speakers will have Q&A during or after their talk. Others will go to a moderated chat room to answer questions from conference participants.

 Planning pays

Graeme Beattie, Partner in Worrells Insolvency and Forensic Accountants, has ‘attended’ several virtual forums and he sees a range of benefits in online events.

“You can learn and network without having to factor in travel time, transport options and accommodations costs,” he says. “But it pays to ensure the mechanics are right. Check your Internet connection is working properly, have your contact information ready to distribute to people, and prepare some questions to ask presenters.”

A virtual conference offers flexibility but getting the best from it requires focus. Dedicate the whole day to it, with all other work put on hold. Decide which conference events are most relevant to you, but recognise that all the material will be archived so there is no need to frantically take notes of a speaker’s address. Ensure that any follow-up material is collected.

While Beattie notes the high calibre of the PPC speaker roster he is particularly interested in Bernard Salt’s address, ‘The Future of Work: Planning for Tomorrow’s Workforce’.

“As a business owner who is constantly looking for talented employees to manage our workload, I’m interested to hear about future employment trends and opportunities,” he says. “Like many practices our ability to grow depends on the success and happiness of our people as well as our ability to attract new staff.”

He suggests that any CPA who has to convince a sceptical employer about the value of a virtual event should highlight the breadth of topics that will be presented at the conference. They might also emphasise that professional development opportunities as comprehensive as this event are uncommon at the moment. And he makes the point that, now more than ever, it is important to be aware of new developments and to network with other finance professionals.

Connection model

Conference participants should also prepare for a different form of networking. While there will not be video capability at Virtual PPC, participants have the opportunity to connect with people they otherwise may not have known were in the same room in a F2F event. Delegates can email each other (without seeing each other’s email addresses) and connect via Linked In if the information is provided. These methods of connection can take some getting used to but at this stage nearly everyone is in the same boat, so do not worry if there are some awkward moments as people get used to the technological intermediation.

“The biggest challenges for me in the current environment are the social isolation as well as finding the time to think Big Picture,” Beattie says. “This conference offers a break from the usual daily activities, providing the opportunity to take a step back and reflect while absorbing the lessons offered by respected experts. It is also the first time I will be able to network with a group of other accounting professionals in this style of event, something I’ve missed in recent months.”

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