Online conferences allow you to learn about major issues and chat to fellow professionals from the comfort of your office chair – with no hangover the next day … Phil Clark stays at home

The droves of professionals that made their way down to Cannes this week for sun, networking and perhaps some light refreshment are testament to the continuing power of face-to-face events in business. Shindigs such as Mipim are now printed in the industry’s diary next to Good Friday and Easter Monday and it would be fanciful to imagine that new forms of networking, such as online conferences, could eclipse them. Anyone for virtual Mipim on Second Life?

In spite of such misgivings it would be foolish to ignore the potential that the web offers for events of a different kind. Technology now allows you to visit a so-called virtual conference hall, then click on subject areas you’re interested in or peruse a virtual booth set up by a company or organisation.

Users can download information, reports and data, link on to industry websites and even communicate with other visitors via the instant message facility in booths or in a lounge area (no alcoholic drinks, but this will perhaps be a relief for those coming back from the south of France).

Contact-building exercises they may not be, but an online conference can be a great opportunity to mug up on an issue. As diaries get ever more cluttered, the ability to access them from your work PC or home is a great advantage.

Building is planning such an event on 1 and 2 July, called Sustainability Now. This will offers those grappling with environmental legislation an opportunity to learn more about issues that the industry is gradually coming to terms with.

The show will be split into subject areas, such as energy performance certificates, the Code for Sustainable Homes, energy, water and waste. It will take place over two days and, like a live event, will include a programme of live debates, online seminars, Q&A sessions and streamed videos and audio recordings.