An Alternative Celebration - 2020 Graduate Shows

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Champagne was popped. Music was blasted. Friends and family were admiring the talent of the graduating students. The summer Graduate Shows were finally here – only this time in a very different format. With a global pandemic still putting a stop to larger gatherings, this year’s shows took place online. 

The annual Graduate Shows at the University of Brighton has been one of our yearly highlights for as long as we have been involved in organising them. Every summer is marked by first the School of Media and Arts Undergraduate Show, followed by the School of Architecture and Design show, and finally rounded up by the Postgraduate Show. Every year we are left in awe of the students’ talent and creativity, but this year they were particularly inspiring. The students have shown extraordinary resilience and creativity, having to produce their final projects in a world under lockdown. Stories have emerged of students turning their bedrooms and gardens into studios, their kitchens into dark rooms, working with whatever was available to finish their exhibition pieces.

“I think we have embraced the new online era of art,” says Laurie Morley, a newly graduated BA(Hons) Photography student, who exhibited her work in this years’ graduate show, “I felt an obvious disappointment not to have a physical show where I can celebrate my achievements with my family, friends and course mates. People worldwide had to come to terms with how corona affected us, and in the grand scheme of things we had it easy, so we all made the most out of it and saw it as an exciting opportunity. 2020 graduates were the first to showcase our work online, and in our favour, it reached a big audience through the power of the internet. Despite the elders of my family finding it impossible to understand the function of a website, it was a great space to see a huge variety of beautiful work, all in one place. Although unconventional, it was enjoyable, and the hard work put in to making it work was certainly worth it.”

The Technical team at the University of Brighton created amazing websites for the online exhibition on which the work of the students was showcased creatively and accompanied by personal artist biographies and links to the student’s socials, making it easy to contact them for potential buyers or employers. The launches of the online exhibition webpages were accompanied by live DJ sets, award shows, and panel openings, followed by an array of online events in the following month. We got to learn about the crafts of the art and media students through guest lectures, student panels, film screenings, Instagram Live events, and much more. Everyone from student to staff to the audience adapted to the challenges of moving celebrations and events online beautifully as also the prize-giving ceremonies had to take place virtually this year. Although very different, this year’s Graduate Shows were still a huge success and, in particular, showed the immense resilience of the University of Brighton students and innovative solutions everyone has had to explore in order to make this year’s shows possible.


From us at Southcoast Conference, we want to say thank you to everyone involved in making these Graduate Shows possible and a massive congratulations to all the graduating students. We are incredibly proud of you and wish you the best of luck with your futures – wherever they may take you!

The Future of Events Post Corona – A Conversation

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The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of the world, and it can be difficult to grasp how things will change because of it. I sat down (virtually, of course) with Laura Williams, the Event Service Manager at Southcoast Conferences, to get some insight into how events could potentially be run post-pandemic.  


Q: How do you think the corona-virus situation will affect the events industry long-term? 

A: Long-term obviously would be social distancing measures and how we can keep delegates safe and comfortable in the event spaces. It’s not just about how big the spaces your events are taking place in are; it’s more about the psychology behind the delegates who will be attending. For example, we don’t expect everybody to be flocking to music festivals and large group events once the lockdown is over as there will obviously be a level of caution and trepidation still prevalent. I think as event organisers there is a lot of responsibility on our part to make sure that if and when we are able to run live events that we are very mindful of that. This can be down to the way event spaces are set up, the layouts of rooms, how we manage the social spaces. It’s clear that in order to bridge this gap, we will see a rise in hybrid events that mix live and digital events. One of the Webinars I’ve attended had an academic from the University of Westminster who studies crowd-psychology and how that affects events. The statistics are that 70% of event partners are looking at running hybrid events post lockdown, which I totally understand.  


Q: Can you explain what a hybrid event would look like? Is that part online, part in person? 

A: In its simplest form, it is using video conferencing in a way to bring the event to more people. Traditionally, our events are asking people to travel in person to a certain location for a set amount of days. However, a hybrid event would mean that we are not asking everybody to come to a place, it’s more bringing people together online. A really good example of a really successful hybrid event is TED talks. TED talks are lectures, but they are then broadcast out, which reaches a much, much larger audience than any live event could. 


Q: Right, so it would, for example, be the case of people who live super close to the location of the event could go and watch it with social distance measures in place, but the event would also be broadcast out so people wouldn’t have to travel very far and get hotels? 

A: Absolutely, and I think what you’re saying about getting hotels and travelling, that’s a really interesting point. We are always very mindful of running green events and our responsibility as event managers to make sure that the events we do run are sustainable. I think one thing that we all have seen with the lockdown and the travel restrictions being very tight is that actually moving back to live events, to how it used to be… is that really the preferred method when we know we can run rich, engaging talks without the airfare and impact on the planet? It’s an interesting question and one that I’m not sure I know the answer to yet! 


Q: The only question would then be how to get the more human aspects of live events to work virtually. Obviously, a big part of a lot of the events we run is networking sessions and social programmes. So the question is how to move that online. 

A: I think that is a really good point. I’m not saying for the moment that virtual events are going to replace live events. There are just some elements of live events that you can’t replicate in a virtual sphere. Networking and the social aspect of it are difficult to replicate online. So that is an important point – as much as we can run virtual events, it’s never going to give you the same experience as a live event, and I think any event manager would tell you the same. But certainly, while we’re in the lockdown phase, some excellent practices are happening out in the industry of how to try and replicate that networking and bringing that social element to virtual events. Let’s say, for example, you are attending a conference, and there is a coffee break. You’ve got that time to chat and network with peers and colleagues, whereas that is quite difficult virtually. But some professionals have come up with an idea of making their virtual coffee breaks a sensory experience. The event manager might send sachets of different coffees to all the delegates that are attending this online event, and then they have a virtual coffee tasting. So there is something quite tangible and sensory about the coffee break. I think it’s a really great idea, and it’s adding extra value to the virtual event. It is trying to give that live event feeling in a virtual space. For example, an online drinks reception or pub quiz would have drinks. There are ways to partner with businesses to send out craft ales or some local wines to delegates and holding the networking in a virtual space but actually giving those delegates who might be sat on their sofa at home something sensory, something physical, to supplement the experience. 


Q: Are there any other big challenges to hosting virtual and hybrid events? 

A: Trying to keep delegates engaged and measuring these levels of engagement is tricky. We all know what it feels like to be sat for long periods of time at a computer. For example, where I’m sat in my home office is really in my kitchen, so whatever is happening on my screen needs to stop me from reaching behind me, opening my fridge and grabbing some chocolate. There are tools out there that we can use to help with this like polls and Q&As and so on. Some sessions I’ve done have brought in engagement through social media, which I think is a great idea. For example, one session I attended asked us all to take a picture of the view from our home-office. We were all dialling in from different locations across the world. We would share the picture on Twitter with a particular hashtag, and it’s great because it’s content for the event, but it’s also really nice because you can see where people are and what it looks like outside their window. So it’s just a nice way of engaging with your fellow delegates, but it’s also the added bonus of content for the event itself. 


Our Best Tips and Tricks on How to Work from Home

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These are weird times – to say the least. While most of us are getting accustomed to a completely new and unfamiliar day-to-day life with Facetime hangouts and daily walks, we also have to get used to the brave new world of working from home. After a month of trial and error, we at Southcoast Conferences feel like we finally got the hang of it and are here to share our best tips and tricks on how to stay productive and focussed while working from home.

Structure your day from the get-go

The most important thing is to remain structured. While Erika loves long to-do lists and sets herself one daily project to stay creative, Louise prefers splitting her day into chunks of 1-2 hours, dedicating each chunk to different tasks and projects. It’s about finding what works for you, but also most importantly: sticking to it.

Keep to a daily routine

Laura always makes sure to get fully dressed in the morning. Lounging around in her PJ trousers all day just doesn’t increase motivation. Laura also makes sure to keep to a morning routine to start the day off right: “I'm getting up at the same time in the morning, making my pot of coffee and having a listen to the radio before I fire up the PC for work.”

Keep active

Keeping active is vital in keeping your head clear and your motivation high, making working from home just a little bit easier. Louise suggests taking your daily exercise right when you finish work to separate your work day from your evening. Laura also highlights the importance of moving throughout the day and likes the get out from behind her screen once every hour to move about a bit – she has even resorted to running up and down the stairs in her apartment building: “I look like a crazy person but it works for me.”

Stay in touch

Yasmin’s favourite tip is to make sure to break up your day with social interaction like you would in the office. If you are lucky enough to work from home with family or friends, take the time to chat over a cup of tea. If you are alone you can call a friend or loved one for a chat during breaks. And of course, stay in touch with your colleagues, whether this is over a platform like Microsoft Teams, email or Skype. Checking in and talking about life for a moment with your co-workers will provide a sense of normality which is more than needed these days.

Have something to look forward to

It is so, so important to make sure your day has more content than work and bare minimum house chores. Make sure you have something to look forward to when the workday ends. This can be a new episode of a Netflix show you are obsessed with, a delicious dinner or simply just a great cup of tea in front of the window to wind down and relax.

And finally… Coffee

Lots and lots of coffee.

Where we go from here?

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While the current Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the events industry, we are still here, working from home, and evolving into new ways of doing what we do best – bringing people together. Below, our lovely Event Service Manager Laura Williams has shared her thoughts on how this crisis has impacted the events industry, what we can learn from it, and, most importantly, where we go from here.

Here we are… going into week three of lockdown and it’s been a challenge on so many levels; some personal which I’m sure we can all empathise with but also for businesses. The events industry that we work in has been turned on its head by the restrictions against mass gatherings, our venues have been shut down and many of us are now getting to grips with working remotely from our home offices, kitchens, spare rooms, living rooms and so on. It’s easy to feel anxious about the direction of our industry – people are our business, after all. Events, by their very nature, need people and it’s our jobs as Event Managers and Conference Coordinators to build engaging events that connect delegates from all over the world, bringing them together to network and share ideas. Take people out of that equation and we’re left with a seemingly impossible challenge.

Rather than getting down about the situation and packing up our bag of tricks (which is the affectionate name I have for my event kit), I’d like to share the vast amount of positivity, ingenuity, innovation, and resourcefulness that I’ve encountered through my professional network and work colleagues. More locally, colleagues around the university have taken to remote working like ducks to water – using Microsoft Teams to engage with colleagues, teach our students and carry on the Brighton spirit.

Across the industry, I’ve seen a spike in webinars encouraging event professionals to engage with each other to share ideas and to share the challenges that we are all facing. I know what you’re thinking – sounds like a bit of a moan-fest – but that couldn’t be further from the truth! I’ve attended webinars about how to support your team with remote working, how to move events online and an array of wellbeing webinars on looking after yourself and your colleagues’ mental health during this time. Professional bodies have forgone any membership registration and fees in this time to ensure that they can reach out to professionals to empower them to keep on carrying on which has left me with a rather warm and fuzzy feeling.

Being an Event Manager in the higher education sector is an interesting little subset to the wider events community which is one of the things that I love about the job. But it does bring with it its own quirks and challenges, so it’s been fantastic spending this time talking to my colleagues in different universities. We’ve started up a mailing group for us to share ideas and best practice and also to see how each institution is dealing with how the lockdown is affecting core university activities and events.

As they say, the show must go on and indeed it will – we have been busy looking at moving planned events and conferences into the virtual sphere which has been a real eye-opener, to say the least. Online events are not a new occurrence by any means; virtual events take place all over the globe and have been the preferred option for event planners as a way to cut down on ozone polluting travel and minimize their carbon footprint. However, moving events to online platforms isn’t as simple as getting a subscription to one of the many video conferencing software that are out there – if that was the case, us event managers would be out of a job! Moving events and conferences online requires a deeper understanding of the objectives, purpose, and audience – what do we want the attendees to get out of this? Who is our audience? How can we keep levels of motivation and engagement up? After all, we’ve all been sat in that online meeting that’s gone on a half an hour too long whilst we’re stifling a yawn in what we think is a convincing manner. We can’t simply expect our event plans to translate to a virtual realm so we need to be asking these questions and really getting to the core of the purpose of these activities.

I love a good brainstorm as much as the next person so donning my imaginary Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat, I’ve been investigating some of our regular events to see how we can best advise our clients when looking for online solutions. The result of this investigation is difficult to share in words so I thought I’d share my brainstorm/ brain dump/ incoherent scribbles to demonstrate my point… creativity is still very much key.

One of the things I love about events and the people that work in them is the originality and creativity that we exhibit through our events. Moving events online, on the face of it, sounds like it’s a job for the audio-visual boffs and tech teams – but event teams, fear not, do not put down your paintbrushes of imagination, your creativity wings will not be clipped. If anything, the online route of running events needs more imagination and creativity than physical events. How do you keep an audience of delegates across the world engaged in the content that they are removed from by miles and screens? How can we replicate the networking activities so valuable to physical events in a virtual realm? How can we best support our keynote speakers who thrive on audience engagement? I don’t have all the answers yet but I’m sure I’m only a few brainstorms away!