By Jason Oxman, CEO of ETA and TRANSACT 14,

Technology now facilitates meetings between businesses and individuals anywhere in the world. The internet is a constant flow of company information and emails deliver instant personal interaction. Yet despite such a successful digital business world, the conference & trade exhibition appears timeless.

Every year in the US alone 225M attendees participate in around 1.87M conventions, conferences, congresses, trade shows and exhibitions. These numbers are still growing and the popularity of attending industry conferences continues to rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of conventions and events are expected to expand by 44 percent from 2010 to 2020, a trend likely to be shared the world-over.

So what makes the industry conference such an enduring phenomenon? Throughout history like-minded people have gathered at forums and meetings to share ideas and nurture innovation. This "meeting of the minds" and educational principle is still firmly at the core of many conferences and exhibitions. The best conferences are content rich, featuring seminars, training and providing a crucial platform for the launch of new products and services. For example, ETA's upcoming annual event, TRANSACT 14, offers four times more educational opportunities than last year; we are providing 60 sessions on 8 distinct tracks carefully designed to meet the needs and interests of our attendees.

But in an era juggling the efficiencies of digital business interactions with tight financial constraints, conferences have to deliver even more value. This can come from a strong seminar program and enticing keynote speakers, but it's the opportunities to meet face-to-face and network with industry peers that are the most significant. Securing time face-to-face is a rarity in the digital age, however there's still no better substitute for meeting in person. Whether it's simply an introductory handshake, catching up with customers, engaging prospects or securing a business deal, conferences provide the ultimate meeting environment. Where else can you interface with all of these people in one place at one time? When it comes to time and cost of business meetings, it really doesn't get much more efficient than investing in attending an industry conference.

Powering the Industry
The conference industry is a formidable force, powering local economies, creating jobs and generating revenues for local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. However, they also power the industries that they're dedicated to.

Tradeshows are genuine hubs of technological innovation. They provide a forum where ideas are hatched, where partnerships are formed and where new products are revealed maximizing visibility. The payments industry has enjoyed a significant period of dynamic change over the last 50 years, expanding from traditional payments systems to include areas such as loyalty and couponing with the advent of mobile. These changes are reflected in the content and format of TRANSACT, the payments industry tradeshow, with diversified spaces for education and showcasing new technology.

While specialized exhibitions and conferences can deliver value, it's the shows run by trade associations and the not-for-profits that are particularly important for industry growth. This is because they are the only truly neutral platform for conducting business, launching products, sharing ideas and educating the industry. The interaction between trade associations and the attendee is longer term, delivering value from the annual meeting and beyond to provide ongoing support to the industry. ETA is the voice of more than 550 global payments technology companies, facilitating connections within our industry and advocating externally for our collective interests.

In my experience, conference attendees really do want to mix business with pleasure. Attending exhibitions is an investment, so the action doesn't stop in the seminar room or on the show floor. Secreted away behind closed doors or relaxing at a cocktail party, networking at conferences is the lifeblood of business deals that create new customers, build partnerships and deliver cutting-edge technology that can shape the direction of an entire industry.

When planning TRANSACT, it's always a priority that the networking and venue match up to the quality of the conference program. This year we're based in Las Vegas and are holding our best networking event yet at the Mandalay Bay's Shark Reef Aquarium. It's essential that we create a well-rounded conference experience that people can enjoy, as they simultaneously gain real business value.

Missing out on a conference can mean losing out on vital education, the launch of new products and a crucial chance to network with industry peers – seriously damaging your own and maybe your businesses' competitive edge. Against all odds, as the digital world grows and face-time becomes an ever more precious commodity, we can expect the popularity of conferences and value they deliver to boom.

To find out more about attending TRANSACT 14 visit: http://www.electran.org/events/transact14/

Oxman brings two decades of technology and policy experience to ETA, the global trade association representing more than 500 financial and technology companies in the electronic payments industry. He joined ETA from the Consumer Electronics Association, owner of the International CES®, where he served as senior vice president of industry affairs.