Alison Taylor, Managing Director

2020 has been an extraordinary year in so many ways and for me, personally, one of the important realisations has been that so much more than I would have imagined can be achieved, virtually.

Prior to March, I estimate that I spent at least half of every working week, and often more, either at meetings and events, or travelling to and from them.  Not only has the past six months shown me how unnecessary this was but it has also given me back a precious gift of time and, at the same time, I can honestly say that I have met more new people and concluded more successful discussions and gatherings than in any other six month period.

This is, I believe, evidence of the power of technology to widen access and diversity and, quickly and easily, introduce people to those they might never otherwise have met.  Research from Eventbrite shows that 62 percent of people attended five or more virtual events of one type or another in the past month.

It is, of course, devastating for the events industry that thousands of conferences and gatherings have been cancelled or postponed this year.  However, with every crisis comes opportunity, and the ‘rise’ of the virtual event has resulted in many exciting and innovative new platforms and packages, which now offer choices for events of all possible shapes and sizes, from small meetings, to conferences and exhibitions for many thousands.  Some of these solutions have been available for quite some time but it is only through necessity that more of us have become aware of and familiar with them.

In exploring available options for our clients to host large-scale professional development and networking events, I have been blown away by the scope and scale of platforms like iVent, Intrado and PGI GlobalMeet, which provide fully branded and interactive auditoriums, break out workshop spaces, exhibition halls and networking rooms.  They also integrate with booking, marketing and sales software, like Eventbrite, Pardot, Marketo, Eloqua and Zapier, enabling essential data capture.  Costs vary considerably but even the priciest will be more cost-effective than a full-scale physical event and the ability for delegates from outside of the usual pool to attend and engage are really exciting.  Even major technology companies have been surprised by the positive impact – The Harvard Business Review reported that Adobe was forced to cancel an annual convention but that the replacement online event attracted five times the usual number of attendees.

Schools across the country are now gearing up for online open events in September and October, many offering a combination of live and recorded tours, talks and performances for prospective families to enjoy.  And even our political parties have moved online for their events – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats’ autumn conferences have been replaced by online keynotes, free interactive sessions, policy discussion and training for party members.

So, what’s not to love about virtual events?  Some groups of people, in particular children, have really missed out this year with live team experiences, competitions and camps being shelved because they simply can’t happen while adhering to social distancing rules.  We felt the impact of this at Conscious Communications and made the sad decision to cancel our own charity event for school and college students, FXP Festival, which usually attracts well over 100 students each year.  We have promised ourselves and our students that next year’s challenge will be bigger and better than ever before!

There are other down-sides for remote meetings and events too.  We have run a number of virtual strategy workshops in recent months and, while successful in terms of final outcomes, I believe everyone involved would have benefited more had they been physically in the same room.  The main reasons for this, I think, come down to our ability to read body language and adjust our approach accordingly; and the benefits of being able to share creative and tactile materials, stick post-it notes on a wall or jump up and scribble on a flip chart are all valuable and enjoyable parts of our usual creative process.

So, while I hope that virtual meetings and events are here to stay, for these, and many other reasons, I’m also looking forward to being able to meet in person again and enjoy the comradery, professional and personal growth that comes from spending time with our colleagues and peers.

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