I have occasionally been told that we are living in the "Era of Not Showing Up." 

People can reach each other so easily online, so why should they bother to go to a completely different city, with all the attendant travel time and expense, to rub elbows with a bunch of strangers at a conference?

I'll tell you why--because there never has been, and never will be, any substitute for being face to face with people.

At a conference, whether a general business-oriented gathering or a focused set of meetings in your particular industry, you can take a giant leap forward in knowledge and connections. You can also grow your own brand and enlarge your footprint by teaching or speaking at a conference. And then there's the fact that it's undeniably healthy and just plain fun to hang out with like-minded people and get to know them.

Every ambitious person should have a schedule of "can't miss" business conferences to attend throughout the year. Let me save you a little time on that task. 

Here's my list of the ones you really should find time to attend--some or all--this year. Most of these are conferences I've had personal experience with--as an attendee, a speaker, or both. I like them because they have the magic combination of valuable content and great people both on and off the stage--and they're great fun, too.

To be clear, the conferences are listed in order of event date and not quality of content.

1. City Summit and Los Angeles Venture Capital Fast-Pitch Conference

At this event you can hone skills in raising money and getting a startup off the ground, while also benefiting those in need. It's a "socially conscious business acceleration experience," organizers say. Proven business leaders model marketing, innovation, lead generation, brand awareness, and--I love this word--"hyper-growth."

The related City Gala, which the conference funds, assists nonprofit organizations that operate worldwide to solve real problems from hunger to the need for mentorship.

2. Secret Knock

This event is, as the name implies, by invitation only, but you can apply. It's billed as the "most exclusive and high-level business networking event in the world."

The conference's founder, Greg Reid, is a motivational speaker, and he gathers together leaders from sports, business, politics, entertainment, and entrepreneurship. Past speakers have included former Mexican president Vicente Fox, motivational speaker Les Brown, and the founders and inventors of such popular products as Pictionary and Constant Contact. Secret Knock also has a unique book-signing tradition where all the authors in attendance sign and give away their books for free. So, you may want to bring an extra suitcase. 

3. Franchise Unconference

This is an event for "emerging franchisors." Held at a ski lodge, it has a spring break feel--and a clever logo featuring a rabbit and crossed skis--but don't let the informality fool you. The organizers are dead serious about helping franchise leaders up their game.

The organizers, a trio of marketing and advertising professionals, say on their website that they " have been to more meetings, conferences, seminars, trade shows, and events than you can shake a stick at" and from that, have learned that you have to mix in some fun with the training time. They're offering up "more than 300" franchise executives with real world solutions and growth strategies to share--plus fun in the snow.

4. CEO Space International

The event offers several forum-style conferences per year to members of its organization. "High-achieving business owners and vetted subject-matter experts" gather regularly for mutual encouragement and deep, practical business learning. This group is a longtime promoter of the power of networking--it was founded back in 1985--and promotes what its mission statement calls "Cooperative Capitalism, where everybody gets to win." And you know I'm all about that, too. So much so that I'm on the faculty, as a matter of fact.

5. Springboard

Springboard is all about franchising. Are you leading one, thinking about starting one, helping one emerge? Experienced franchise experts will help you with that. "Avoid the pitfalls that plague all emerging brands," the organizers offer. Who doesn't want to do that?

Here's how much I believe in the power of conferences: I produce one, too (the Extreme Leadership Experience), inspired to keep it going by feedback from participants, who report being, well, inspired. This year's theme is "Love Is Just Damn Good Business." 

What's also damn good business? Getting out there, showing up, and making as many valuable new connections as you can. Don't let the weather, inertia, or laziness stop you from doing the same.

Published on: Jan 16, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.