March 2020 – a month we’ll never forget
In March 2020, the COVID_19 virus hit our industry, and hit hard, globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic, and large events around the world were put on hold. Our lives, and careers, were thrown into uncertainty. Most began the self isolation life, to ensure they, and those around them, stayed safe and healthy. The annual Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) events that would normally be held worldwide, whether by individual associations, or a collaborative effort between associations, would no longer be held in person. Those that could, would switch to virtual events. On March 13th, Anh Nguyen sent out a tweet that would change the game for 2020. #GMIDGoesVirtual was born.
Anh tweeted, industry colleagues and friends were definitely on board, and thus began the planning for GMID Goes Virtual …set to happen in 30 days. Event professionals with crazy timelines and goals? nahhhhhhh.
We hopped on board with company support, the week after the initiative was in the works, as we at the office dealt with getting everyone sorted to work remotely. To be able to help keep the website updated as people hopped on board, was the small part I could play to help take tasks away that planners could be better spent on the virtual event itself. Plus, with all this extra time on our hands, what better to do than collaborate with your industry colleagues from across the world, to bring GMID to everyone while attempting to break a world record.
But let’s focus on GMID during a pandemic instead of why we got involved.
The thought behind GMID Goes Virtual, is that we would gather industry professionals from around the World and be able to show our support for each other, and the industry itself, in times of uncertainty. I myself, have had a lot of ups and downs throughout this whole pandemic.
If you were to ask anyone that I work with, I can be a little crazy when someone sounds like they’ve got a cold, as in 2019 I had myself had two infections. Bronchitis kept me from GO WEST 2019 (insert sad crying face here) and pneumonia had me sidelined for a bit in November/December. My goal for 2020 was to be a little less …crazy at the possible thought of someone with a cold. I did what I could to downplay the virus [in my mind] that was starting to arrive in other countries, including our own. Not only for my own sanity, but for the industry as a whole. #positivevibes
Working within this industry over the last 6 years, I see just how how much impact we have on economies worldwide. Not to mention, people’s careers are in jeopardy. No conferences = no income. I was at an event for PCMA days before the events ban came down, and the air was different. There was definitely a feeling of uncertainty – hotels that are affected; suppliers that are affected; event planners that are affected. An overall general concern for what is going to happen over the coming weeks, months, year. Will there be any live events? Will there be any travel? Will I still have a job?
The impact was felt quickly and the decline from busy to standstill, felt like it happened overnight. Maybe it just felt that way, since we’re all usually running at 120% this time of year.
Working on the GMID Goes Virtual project, helped keep me occupied and had me feeling like I was helping make a difference. I am grateful enough to be working, but had the freedom to help as much as I wanted with GMID goes virtual without worrying about my work that needs to get done aka no long hours – it gets done when it gets done. Anyone and everyone was free to offer suggestions, and being the type of people that work in this industry, we definitely did offer suggestions. We’re also very good at critiquing during dress rehearsals; who knew?! 😉
In the days leading up to GMID Goes Virtual …
First of all? What did we all ever do before we had slack? The amount of slack messages, was unreal, but necessary since we are not all in the same place rather we are spread out across the world, and we’re opinionated, professionally of course. There were weekly zoom calls, and of course there was the dress rehearsals but still, putting on an event – virtually – in less than a month is a little crazy and did require all hands on deck. No one seemed to be bothered by any work that was thrown out for someone to grab, and helping hands were always around if something came up.
When you’re working on an event like this, it does require a certain amount of trust with those that are on board to help you. With such quick turnaround time to put this event on, everything needed to be dealt with quickly and diligently. I am not an event planner myself, but my sense is that this was more stressful than putting on a face to face event, or perhaps a different kind of stressful. Think back to post-secondary days, and working with the groups you had in your 4th year compared to your 1st year.
I awoke on April 14th, with so much energy! I channelled that energy into an early morning 5K run, as to release some of those endorphins so I could focus. Is this why a lot of event planners don’t drink coffee? You’re all running on a natural endorphin high?! Don’t kid yourself though; I still went to our local coffee shop that is still open (bless) for a caffeine hit. No one thought I needed any caffeine, but they were overruled. I got my computer setup, and got Brie setup with an iPad just after 8:30 so we could be there for the pre-event, as well as the main event. Yes, you read that correctly; I did indeed setup the dog with an iPad to watch along. She mainly napped, but she did love that introduction / countdown to the main event.
Seeing so many people interact with our polls via Sli.do was great to see. See how many different countries were represented was so cool! When it comes to virtual events, it is much harder to keep someones attention as they’re distracted by what is going on around them – kids, dishes, spouses, etc., so having these interactive polls helps us keep attendees involved and participating.
My favourite part of this entire event was the video from Brett Culp of Stage Story. The video was powerful, and hits home – a video that gives all the feelings.
Want to watch it again? Head on over to the GMID Goes Virtual website, and you can relive the experience.
The future of F2F events
I don’t know where this pandemic will take our industry, but my sense is that with quarantining and self isolation, the need for human interaction is going to be high. I do also know that there are going to be a lot of cuts to travel and education expenses in the near future. We’ve all been doing a lot of online learning, and communicating (the zoom burnout is real) so while we adjust to live after COVID, I think we’ll see a combination or hybrid of events, as budgets to put on and attend events, makes a comeback. But in the meantime, we should adapt and learn how virtual events work, and how to keep attendees engaged. No longer will you be able to have an all day conference – there’s no way you’ll keep an attendees attention for that long – but you’ll have more frequent and shorter sessions.
A perfect example is is the EVENTPROFSPIVOT which is being put on by Liz King Events. There are sessions spread out over 12 days, and are short in length. Life seems challenging at the moment, and that feeling of deflation as the pandemic continues, and wondering if you’ll ever put on events again, but this is the opportunity to learn about what our post covid professional lives look like. You can learn more & register here.
We need to look at how and what will keep your attendees engaged virtually. I personally don’t believe that anything will ever replace face2face events, but life looks a little different right now. Virtual only for right now, and hybrid down the line.
You’ll hear us roar once again. We are resilient people and we will come back from this.