Are Virtual Events New?

Let’s talk about virtual events; are they new, what have you seen works well?

The first virtual event I did was 1996, and we were working on the 11th international conference on AIDS. In order for us to do a virtual event, it was very difficult. We had to lay T1 lines between venues across 10 KM in order to do a virtual conference. That was my first experience and it was the steepest learning curve of all time. Now it’s easier. We have a robust internet that we can broadcast on that didn’t exist then.

In 2011 there was a series of events, that were meant to look at how we can look at this idea of virtual events and mobile apps to connect people. We created an event camp in Vancouver which had almost equal live and virtual participants and we found so many ways to connect them. We wanted to show sustainability there and that you could run a sustainable event. We had 2 winners, a live event winner, and virtual event winner. Our keynote speaker was very new age, Skyped in from Switzerland and Glenn on stage in Vancouver, and they had a conversation. I think it’s important to remember these have been around for a while! I wrote a white paper it’s 21 pages on what we did, how we did it, what worked, what didn’t work. When I look at it now and there’s all these experts on virtual events, I see that was a decade ago. Virtual events aren’t something we whipped up 7 months ago, can we do it better now? Sure there’s a lot more platforms and tools for doing it. Just because you can plan 1 kind of event, it is a different skillset. It’s taking. Technical skillset with a design skillset and figuring out how you can make that work.

How do you keep people entertained when they are sitting at home?

You know I wrote a book, intentional event design, how I look at everything is people-centric, purpose-driven. It’s thinking about who is going to be there, why are they going to be there, and how are we going to deliver what we are going to get out of this particular event? And then setting up a framework and letting the committee run with it and what they want to do with their community. As we tossed around what the theme was going to be, they had these words. The words were: adaptation, resilience, and transformation. Instead of trying to do all of those, do one per day. It’s a nice flow. *to see examples for each day listen to the episode*

What are some key takeaways you like to tell people as they are thinking about the beginning of 2021 and through 2021 and the events they have coming up?

We all hope we are going to meet live soon, but the reality is we are going to have quite a bit of time to go to virtual events. It goes back to those design principles. What would you want to experience as a participant? Nobody wants to experience sitting down and listening to an hour of Is my mic working? Am I muted? Nobody wants that. Figure out the flow of your event, keep in mind people learn in small pockets of time, we need and crave interaction and opportunities to do them at. To really set the ground rules, if people are going to come into an event and you want them to interact and talk with each other, make sure they check that box, I am going to arrive, engage, turn on my camera and contribute, or not. We know we need to be entertained.

What is your hope for the future of events?

My hope for the future is that we can successfully get back to meeting safely and can continue to grow our opportunities using hybrid tools.

What is your advice to someone starting out in their career?

Don’t be scared. Meetings and events have been around. Last year I had the opportunity to go to Turkey. We had an executive summit there and I stayed with my cousin and stayed with her family. We went to a place called Ephesus. As we are walking through Ephesus, it’s existed from 600 BC to 300 AD, was the capital of Turkey during its time. You start out it’s rubbly and you see where the hospital, the roads are made out of marble, you walk past temples and libraries, brothels, and shared bathing areas. It’s all being restored. They spent 60 years restoring, when you get to the very end the last piece they are restoring is a 25,000 seat stadium entirely made out of marble. Remember this is a city that has not existed since 300 AD and we were meeting then and having sporting and entertainment events for 25,000 people then, so… we will continue to have them and that really for me, gives me the greatest hope. We have always had them, we will always meet, and we will figure out how to do it.


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Event and Video Production

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