Recently, tens of thousands of people flocked to Omaha, Nebraska for “Woodstock for Capitalists,” also known as the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder’s meeting.
At this year’s event, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger fielded questions about everything from Valeant Pharmaceuticals to activist investors to Coca-Cola. If this sounds routine for the annual meeting, it is—except for the fact that this year, the event was streamed live for the first time.
Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett had previously pushed back on streaming the event live, but finally came around to it after admitting that shareholders “should not need to come to Omaha to monitor how [Buffet and Munger] look and sound.”
Though official attendance numbers aren’t out yet, preliminary (albeit anecdotal) accounts suggest that the live stream had no significant effect on event attendance. This is despite the fact that prior to the event, a number of analysts wondered how much—if at all—having the event available online would keep folks away from Omaha.
We’ll know more when numbers are live—last year’s event drew some 40,000 people to Omaha to see Buffett and Munger—but I don’t think it’s too early to take this as a statement about the value of in-person events. That’s true even in today’s highly digital world.
Undoubtedly, some of the event’s attendance can be attributed to the showmanship of the shareholders. But I also think it’s important not to discount the value and importance of being around real people.
There’s value to be had networking with businesspeople from around the world, bumping elbows with folks you might not meet otherwise. And there’s also nothing like seeing an event in person. If watching something on TV or online truly replicated an in-person event, why would anyone ever buy tickets to go see a sports game live? The same is true, I think, with a shareholder’s meeting, or a networking event, or any other business function.
For as much as social media and online networking have done to make us more connected as a global economy, they still haven’t replaced the allure of sitting across from someone and talking to them face-to-face—interacting with someone directly rather than through the glass of a computer screen. There’s still no substitution for a face-to-face meeting—not even a conference call or FaceTime.
How you choose to use in-person events to your advantage is obviously up to you and your business. In any case, it’s important to remember, as this Omahan anecdote reminds us, that there’s still room for in-person events even in today’s online-driven world.