Where we go from here?

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!