Social networking sites offer a valuable opportunity to connect with other people who have similar tastes, interests and professions. Through these sites, I am in contact with friends and colleagues who I might not keep up with otherwise. And, for the most part, my life is enriched by these connections.

However, you can only get so much through e-mails, tweets and wall postings. Sometimes, you just have to meet a person in person. Our industry is all about personal relationships — between staff and members and also between you and other club operators.

That's why industry trade shows still hold their importance. Online social networking allows people to “meet” people that they may never have met otherwise, but conferences and trade shows have been doing this for years. It's just a matter of reaching out to the person sitting next to you at a seminar or the opening reception, introducing yourself and sharing information with them. At these events, you connect with others who share your same passions, profession and problems. Often, that personal connection allows for a deeper discussion and insights.

It also puts your situation into perspective, particularly with the difficulties faced during a recession. As the mother in John Steinbeck's novel “Grapes of Wrath” said (and I'm paraphrasing liberally here), when you are young, your problems are yours alone, and that makes it lonely, but when you're older, you realize that your problems have been experienced by many others, and that makes it less lonely. Conferences allow you to meet others who share your problems, but better than that, they allow you to discover their solutions and offer your solutions to them.

That's why I am excited about Club Industry's conference and trade show this year (and yes, I am a bit biased since it is our trade show). It's an avenue for much-needed personal connections.

The top priority for most trade show attendees is a visit to the exhibit hall. You can view equipment online and read about its specifications, but nothing compares to actually using a piece of equipment. And a personal relationship with your rep built over a beer in the evening can't hurt when negotiating prices.

The seminars and special events are just as important for creating connections. This year's roundtable luncheons allow you to share experiences with other club operators on certain topics. A brunch with industry consultants provides insights into this year's Best of the Best winners and how you can implement these programs in your facility. You also can meet face to face with consultants at the Ask the Experts booth.

And perhaps most exciting is the opportunity to hear from industry veterans and celebrities within the fitness industry and business world. You can connect with Saw Mill Athletic Club founder Curt Beusman, who is this year's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, as well as fitness enthusiast Richard Simmons and Bill Rancic, who translated his win in “The Apprentice” into a business career and reality TV shows.

The reality of our industry today is that social networking is now a big part of attracting and keeping members as well as staying in touch with others in the industry. But we must never lose that personal touch or those personal connections. And conferences and trade shows are prime examples of ways to keep the connections strong — in between the e-mails, tweets and wall posts.