Key learnings on taking events into the virtual space during Covid-19 – insights of an experienced event planner

Key learnings on taking events into the virtual space during Covid-19 – insights of an experienced event planner

This blog was prompted by us participating in a Delegate Wrangler* livestream event discussing the response of the events industry to the Covid-19 crisis. The honest truth is, we would not have attended this livestream event, Sally Kevan and our paths would not have crossed, and we would not be writing this blog if it wasn’t for the current crisis.

Whilst, the crisis is having a profound impact on the events industry, as the situation evolves, we are keen to highlight the creativity and learning that is emerging in the events industry through a series of interviews over the coming months in our blog, including perspectives from event planners, producers, suppliers and clients.

So, back to the Delegate Wrangler livestream, Neil and Dominic who host it, were discussing the response of the events industry to the crisis. Sally Kevan, a freelance event planner, who specialises in events in the gaming industry, was telephone interviewed on the livestream on the basis that she had been tasked by a client to take an event virtual from a planned in person event in a very short time period – 3 weeks to be precise post lockdown. She spoke compellingly about the process, the challenges and opportunities.

As a result of the insights Sally shared, I reached out to her and asked her if I could write up some of her experiences and share them in the form of this blog. I hope Sally won’t mind me mentioning this, but she is dyslexic. And having had substantial experience of neuro-diversity (James has ADHD which is why I take the lead in writing our blogs), I was keen to get this valuable experience and insight onto paper and shared with as many people in the events community as possible – so this is the outcome.

When Covid-19 struck, like many of us, Sally lost 50% of her work overnight. What made her respond the way she has and continue to serve the clients that she can in the best way possible, is her tenacity and give it a go attitude. She is fortunate, she recognises as she had several clients who were tech savvy and courageous as well as demanding enough to keep going themselves – jumping into the virtual space with both feet and taking an event for 200 delegates, 160 speakers and 25 sponsors virtual in a very short period of time in the three weeks immediately after lockdown.

Sally’s view based on her experience is that: “The new normal or the next normal is going to require us to try many different things in the events industry, to push our skills and understanding of systems, technology and processes to the limits but recognising that there is a period of extreme experimentation going on and clients are more forgiving in this period as we try to collaborate to find the solutions. However, there will come a point when this will no longer be the case. It is therefore critical, that we figure out how we can take our businesses forward now in collaboration with clients and members of our events community – collaboration and not competition are the key currency currently. Closely married with experimentation.

Critically, and we concur with Sally’s perspective, that: “Relationships and people are what will get us through this crisis and make the event industry survive and thrive – to some extent this has always been the case in events – but now we need to develop skills and approaches to manage 100% in the virtual environment at least for the foreseeable future.”

So, what varies when it comes to planning and hosting virtual events including activities and workload and is it more or is it less? Sally’s perspective is that: “Some activities such as venue and supplier negotiations are considerably less but these have been swapped or replaced with technology research and testing what will work which can be very time
consuming. Content is still key as is user experience but don’t get bogged down in the tech! Less is ultimately more. Remember that the first summit I ran post lockdown was entirely delivered via Zoom with a supporting meeting system app. For those organising events, my top tip here is to insist with any tech supplier that you participate in a live event they are hosting and not just go with a supplier demo to really see how the tech and participant experience works.”

Through our discussion, one of the key points we thought would be interesting to gauge is whether there will be a shift in perception of the event planner role? Would it increase in value as clients through this process become more aware and/or for a period of time individuals with the right experience and skillset of taking major events online could be in short supply? Is there an opportunity for the events industry to possibly reposition and rebrand some of these roles as higher value? Also, for those potentially feeling scared or anxious about their ability to take their skills and experience into the virtual space, Sally’s advice is clear: “Be honest but don’t be too modest either. Do not assume you cannot do this but also know what you may need to do to up-skill or bring in other expertise – again
this is where the events community can help through collaboration and support.”

When it comes to clients who will have appetite and budget heading through and out of this crisis, there are definitely some growth or hot sectors in Sally’s experience such as communications, technology, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, e-sports, and the public sector to name a few.

We also discussed whether events will be mainly hybrid (face to face with livestreaming) or localised face to face once we come out of lockdown? Interestingly, Sally’s view is that many will stay 100% virtual: “Clients are finding that the virtual experience works well and that some of the benefits (like reduced carbon footprint) offset some of the perceived losses.” She is not so convinced on the hybrid option (largely due to cost and margins). We concluded with Sally though that the business model for virtual events has been proved and that there is no going back to how things were!

Finally, we discussed managing our energy in all of this. In the virtual event world, we are even more reliant on asynchronous methods of communication and this can severely deplete our energy resources. “It is therefore critical that we ensure we manage this before it exhausts us!” Sally concluded that: “Those businesses who will survive and thrive in the events industry are the ones who are facing the challenges with bravery, tenacity and a growth mindset”. We are sure that Sally will be one of them!

If you are interested in speaking to Sally and learning more about her experience and services, please feel free to reach out to her at sally@sallykcoordinates.com.

As always, we would love to know your thoughts and experiences on taking events into the virtual space, so please do feel free to reach out to us and discuss further by emailing or calling us.

*Delegate Wranglers is a vibrant community bringing together different players in the events industry – you can find out more information on their facebook page or youtube channel.

Rebecca Hill is a principle consultant at HaslerHill Consultants. She is currently collaborating with a number of organisations providing consulting services focused on virtual and in person meeting facilitation and event design and content curation. She also runs her own consultancy Wise Sherpa specialising in executive coaching, business mentoring and consulting on strategy and change. For more information and how you can hire her, contact rebecca@haslerhillconsulting.co.uk or call 0044 (0)7860 805528 



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