There are certain world/U.S. events that you can recall exactly where you were when they happened.

The first in my upbringing was the attempted assassination of President Reagan. I was walking up to our front porch after getting off the school bus when my mom told me about it.

The Space Shuttle tragedy: I was in school that day. If my memory serves correctly, we had a grainy TV on that was on one of those huge school AV carts.

The O.J. Simpson Bronco chase: I had just finished umpiring a baseball game and was soaked in sweat (I mean soaked from a hot, humid summer early evening), yet sat on the couch for hours in most of my umpire uniform watching the events unfold.

9-11: I was driving into the office, getting off an exit off one of Chicago’s expressways when I heard a shock jock at the time break character and deliver the news. We then attempted to watch other news reports on a ramshackle television set (not hooked up to cable, by the way) in someone’s office before being told to go home for the rest of the day.

And then there is the COVID-19 pandemic: We were at the last WIT buying group meeting in Dallas in March of 2020 and you could sense something was up — signs were posted during the meeting that handshaking would not be happening.

The following week (I think it was the following week) at the final meeting under the Embassy umbrella in Miami, that’s when the tide really turned with people being pulled off the road during the meeting. One person from a manufacturer came to ASA’s table and said the only reason the company was there was because he lived in Florida and was able to drive over.

We left Miami to come back to Chicago on a Friday and by the following Tuesday we were all working from home. In what seemed like the snap of a finger the world had greatly changed.

A year later, live events have returned. My journey started at the NCWA regional conference in Pennsylvania this past June. I think ended up attending 8-10 events in the last half of the year.

ASA returned to live programming with our Emerging Leaders’ EMERGE conference in Nashville in August that was well-attended/well-received. We followed with our ASA Central annual dinner in suburban Chicago that drew a near-packed house, and we concluded with more than 700 attendees, including more than 80 member distributor companies, in Vegas for NETWORK2021.

At all these stops in 2021 there was a common theme: People were itching to get back to live networking events. I remember checking into the hotel for one of the summer buying group events and folks getting out of the line to wait to check in to go run and greet an industry friend walking through the door.

I think it’s safe to say we all adjusted to the online/Zoom environment that quickly became part of doing business during the pandemic. Who would have ever thought we’d become proficient/experts with something called Zoom?

But there is no substitute for live interactions with industry colleagues and friends. Reaching back to my former life for a second…interviewing someone for a story over the phone is fine and you generally can write an excellent story by using that method of intel collection. But going to a distributor’s headquarters and sitting down with folks live takes things to another level. Again, it’s that face-to-face human interaction.

Heading into the new year here, ASA has you covered and then some when it comes to live networking/educational events.

  • Our SouthWest Pacific Distributors group kicks things off with its 2022 Leadership Conference March 31-April 1 in Indian Wells, California.
  • ASA’s Women in Industry division has a dynamite program scheduled for its ELEVATE2022 conference in Louisville April 20-22.
  • After ELEVATE2022, it’s time for ASA’s Emerging Leaders group to take center stage in New Orleans May 16-18.
  • ASA’s Northeast group is reviving its annual conference, the 2022 ASA Northeast Summit, which takes place June 14-15 in Philadelphia on the grounds of the Philadelphia Stadium District.
  • That flurry of activity leads into the industry’s biggest event of the year, NETWORK2022, Nov. 9-11 at the Fairmont hotel in downtown Chicago. ASA’s annual Central dinner will be part of the front end of NETWORK2022 this year.

With the hope that we return to even higher levels of normalcy, here’s to getting things back to even more normalcy when it comes to our industry gathering in person. There’s nothing like it.

Happy New Year everybody.