Like many of you, your FICP team has postponed and cancelled events, transitioned in-person events to virtual experiences, and added virtual education and networking activities to the calendar in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our need to serve our community during this unusually challenging time.
We know the uncertainty, rapid pace of change and re-work that comes with these changes can cause frustration. The silver lining is that we all learned a lot, in a short period of time, that we can use not only to enhance FICP events in the future, but also to save you a little time and effort too!
Because I imagine you have all been subjected to a wide range of virtual networking games and icebreakers in recent months, I've borrowed the "Two Truths and One Lie" concept to outline what our team learned when shifting our 2020 Annual Conference to an all-new virtual event, FICP: Reimagined.
If you'd like to "talk" to us about the event and lessons learned, I encourage you to use this thread on TheNetwork to ask questions and share your experiences for the benefit of our members as well.
- Your event is not your platform or location
Before you start scheduling virtual platform demos, it is essential for you to have a discussion with your key stakeholders about the reason you're having an event, and what you ultimately hope to accomplish. You may have agreed upon goals for the original event, but it's likely much has changed at your organization since then. Make sure you understand if any elements of the event strategy have changed with the transition to a virtual experience. Give thought to how you can incorporate some of these same elements to accomplish similar objectives as your in-person event, and what you may need to adjust based on a virtual delivery of your event.
- You are planning a completely different type of experience
We all know Zoom calls can drain your energy. To help prevent virtual event burnout, create interactive opportunities through a variety of tools and disperse them throughout your event. We added the networking tools Remo and Icebreaker to the offerings available within the Pathable platform to increase and diversify the much-needed opportunities for attendees to connect and provide them in different ways. You can also add elements for attendees to do on their own, off their devices, that complement your event, such as CSR projects or at-home activities (cooking, cocktail-making or crafts). A care package – pre event or post event, doesn’t have to cost a lot, but adds a fun twist. This care package can fuel a morning coffee break, virtual happy hour or lunch break, and is a great way to incorporate sponsors or other important recognition.
- LIE: You can pack the agenda!
See #2 above. An eight-hour (or longer) day at an in-person event may fly by. That won't be the case if someone is sitting in front of a computer screen. Shorten your agenda accordingly! Consider four-hour days with a mix of different presentations, activities and platforms. Shorten presentations as well. No one has the attention span for 45 to 60-minute PowerPoint presentations without opportunities to interact. And just because someone's at home doesn't mean they don't need time for breaks. It's probably even more important if they're dealing with urgent work matters or family matters on the side.
- Your village has never been more important
There is not yet a wealth of expertise about hosting virtual events during a global pandemic -- all with your kids, pets and life partners in your personal space. However, there are early adopters with success stories, and they are here to help. Find peers and suppliers who have had virtual events and pick their brains! They can start you down the right path. You probably don't know the full extent of what you don't know, so lay the groundwork for a few follow ups and keep a running list of questions. Don't be afraid to engage others on your team in these Q&As so you can have someone else to absorb information and ask questions from different perspectives. Make sure you are in agreement about your strategy before you start your outreach to make the best use of everyone's time.
- Maybe you did go to college for this after all
No one with a role in your virtual event is doing the job he or she originally signed up for; however, every single contributor has crucial responsibilities and everyone adds value. Lean into your team for help and support, and ensure they have the resources they need to succeed. With new roles that are completely different than the ones you could do in your sleep, establishing clearly defined roles is essential for your success and your peace of mind. Define roles for your internal team and partners, and know your own role (vs. platform provider, production company, or DMC) in terms of building out the platform. If you’re building it out, expect it to take a lot of time! And remember, there are still a lot of logistics involved with a virtual event! They’re just a different kind of logistics.
- LIE: Virtual events are temporary
Without question, there is no suitable replacement for in-person interactions (ex. talking face-to-face, seeing a destination in-person or even getting a massage). We know there is pent-up demand for travel (we feel it too!), most people are eager to return to their offices and isolation has long-term detrimental effects on peoples' health. But to my point in #1 above, a meeting or event is a means for achieving a broader purpose -- like education or recognition. There may be some meetings that can be held virtually in the future. It benefits all of us to learn about this option and know how to leverage it as just one option in the meetings professional's tool box.
- Over communication is key
With any type of event, effective communications are integral to its success. This is especially true if you're postponing the event or transitioning to a hybrid or virtual experience. Be transparent and communicate regularly, through different channels, to increase the likelihood your stakeholders get (and read or listen to) your message. You may think you've told your stakeholders what they need to know, but in this time when their lives and routines are disrupted, they may have missed or deprioritized your emails. Clear and frequent communications will remain important through the conclusion of your event. You will need to increase customer service-oriented communications and support, provide Q&As, and monitor all of your platforms for feedback and requests for help.
- Train your attendees in advance
How-to video tutorials or webinars of the platform or other new virtual tools can enhance the experience as well. When creating these resources, think like an attendee (or remember how confused you were when you first saw the tools)! When you “live” in a platform, you learn shortcuts and the best way to use the tool. Your attendees on the other hand, do not! Always put yourself in the shoes of the learner – what instructions do you need to provide so they don’t have to “think”; they can just enjoy.
Director, Event Services