Virtual events still sound a little futuristic, but they have been happening since 1993, when the world’s first live stream brought us the exciting webcam footage from a coffee machine at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. And yes, you guessed it, millions of people tuned in to watch. If we fast-forward to today, developments in technology and social media have opened the doors to new ways to connect online, from baking tutorials to home-schooling and even Parliamentary debates. We have seen the cancellation of all group gatherings… festivals, sporting events and business conferences, all of which is putting virtual events to the test on an unprecedented scale.
These mass cancellations also mean that many organisations are having to rethink the ways in which they co-create, engage and connect their employees to their vision, strategy and purpose – without getting together in person.
And for that, we have good news.
Reflecting on a recent business leadership conference we co-hosted with Phoenix Group, the largest life and pensions consolidator in Europe, it is clear that a virtual conference requires the same care and attention to detail as a live event. This particular conference was meant to take place over two days in an idyllic Scottish hotel with their top 70 leaders, but due to C-19 we had to rapidly adapt it to be run virtually as a dynamic digital experience. By keeping the energy levels up and having a jam-packed agenda, this highly-interactive conference was still filled with networking opportunities, collaboration and breakout sessions.
It was a very successful two-day offsite, produced and delivered from the comfort of our homes. We were able to break participants into smaller groups for discussions by using the great breakout room function on Blue Jeans. We were able to synthesise and play back live data and feedback to participants in real time. We played inspiring films and presented slides for them in to engage with in a dynamic, pacy way. And we were all able to keep connected in the background using WhatsApp.
This virtual conference enabled participants to fit in some home schooling, have breakfast, lunch and dinner with their families and it significantly reduced the environmental impact of hosting a large conference of this nature. And we still even had a virtual drink at the end of the second day.
And so, while many companies are cancelling their conferences, roadshows and town halls due to COVID-19, we ask why? To all those who have their reservations about hosting a virtual event, to those who are worried about the technology or it not being as engaging and exciting or for those who are concerned that you won’t get the great attendee insights that are normally generated at events, then you are mistaken. The impact of the event extended well beyond the computer screen, and the feedback speaks for itself:
- “A hugely successful remote conference”
- “Future model for conferences”
- “Highly engaging and inspiring conference”
The value of face-to-face interaction will never go away, but there are times where going virtual has never been as essential. This is a time when clarity, focus, a sense of belonging and the need to energise and galvanise now-fragmented teams is needed more than ever. Now is not the time to cancel your meetings, but to lean into the virtual world that offers so many amazing technologies that can make a large-scale meeting a truly wonderful digital experience. Don’t be overwhelmed by the technology or push back any key milestones in your calendar for fear of losing impact. Make the connection with your team when they need it most. It really does work.
Is your company ready to get digital?