Virtual Events: The Pandemic Pivot

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Virtual Events: The Pandemic Pivot

This time of COVID-19 has been a ‘pivot’ in nearly every way including how and where we work, live, engage with our communities, and dress when we leave the house (when/if we leave the house). There’s an intense amount of information coming at us impacting nearly every aspect of our lives. For those of us in the live events industry, there’s been a complete disruption to our profession. We’ve spent endless hours/years/decades honing our skills, flexing our execution muscles, and defining best practices for live face-to-face events. Now a pandemic has stopped us in our tracks, challenging us to try and establish, with the same amount of precision and perfection, a way to execute the same thing–but doing so VIRTUALLY!

At times, it feels the wind has been taken out of our sails, the gasoline stolen from our tank, and we’ve been challenged to reinvent the wheel. The concept of transitioning successful in-person events to a virtual platform can feel complicated and jarring, and that’s okay. There is no equitable substitution for a live face-to-face event, and this pivot to virtual platforms is only a temporary solution to fill that void. 

In the first few weeks of this pandemic, our team here at Next Level Event Design felt many of these same things. After spending endless hours participating in webinars, reading articles and blogs, listening to podcasts and hearing many of the same things over and over, we realized the reason there is so much noise and very little direction is because we might be looking too deep, thinking too hard, overcomplicating the situation–not seeing the forest for the trees.

So, let’s take a step back and see if the forest still remains, or if we simply need to choose a different path during this pandemic. Whether it’s a product launch, sales conference, awards ceremony, or even a wedding or anniversary party–all events are trying to convey a message to an audience with the intent of engaging them in some sort of dialogue or response. During this time of a pandemic, the messaging doesn’t stop, we’re just challenged to shift that engagement from a live face-to-face experience to one that doesn’t require person-to-person contact or the easy spread of a biological virus. It’s a temporary change of venue, not a change of intent. So, to answer the question–yes, the forest still remains.

Therefore, the need to communicate, celebrate, and come together as a community remains necessary, arguably more so now than pre-COVID. We’re scrambling to keep the status quo going, looking for some way to keep a sense of normalcy–whether it’s regular team meetings via Google Hangouts or Zoom happy hours with friends and family, drive-by graduations and birthday celebrations or drive-in movies and concerts. Some meetings easily translate into a virtual platform, celebrations are taking on a fun and innovative twist this year with the hopes of only being temporary, while other occasions are more of a stretch, and arguably may not be able to fit within the parameters of the pandemic pivot.  

Should your Event go Virtual?

If, like us, you’re challenged with creating a solution for executing an event during a time of social distancing, our first piece of advice–return to the fundamental basics of event design and examine or (re)define the goals and objectives of the event. By doing so, you should be able to answer the question of whether the goal of the event requires in-person face-to-face interaction amongst the attendees, or if an alternate means of communication could work.

For many in-person events, the goal is to create a sense of community and connectivity which is very difficult to accomplish through a screen. These events may need to be postponed until it is safe to meet again. However, don’t lose your audience–engage them in the interim. Send a custom puzzle or activity kit that aligns with your brand. For the couple postponing their wedding/anniversary or the family celebrating a graduation, send your favorite snacks or drink recipes with a note saying you hope this will hold them over until you’re able to celebrate together. Share videos and photos to keep a sense of community going so that everyone is able to share in this place-holding experience.  

For those meetings, conferences, and events in which the goals/objectives will allow for a virtual pivot, it feels like the “Wild, Wild West” out there. Don’t let the uncertainty of this new ‘virtual landscape’ distract you from knowing how to get the job done. Whether it’s in-person face-to-face events or virtual ones, the building blocks remain the same. Events continue to require a multi-faceted, layered, complicated planning process that includes everything from branding, content, registration, venue selection, and even catering and accommodations when viewed through a virtual lens; all while ensuring your message is getting across to an audience who is ready to receive it.  

If you take a moment to pause, reset and (re)define the core reasons behind what you’re doing and identify the goals and objectives, you will be well on your way to getting unstuck and determine if you need to postpone or pivot. It may become easier to see through the ‘pivot lens’ if the new virtual platform is simply considered similar to a venue, with careful examination to ascertain if and how it will fulfill the event’s needs. Similarly, catering seen through the ‘pivot lens’ may become that box of goodies delivered to a participant’s home to enjoy during the event. Accommodations seen through the ‘pivot lens’ could be providing a ring light and noise-canceling headphones to ensure guests are in an environment conducive to participating.

At the end of the day, as the same powerhouse events industry we’ve always been, we’re still doing what we’re really good at. We’re problem-solving, getting creative, and strategically planning events to push through and make the seemingly impossible happen. 

So, take a deep breath. Exhale. Release the frustration and doubt, the grief of what was, and the fear of the unknown that has rendered you “stuck in your tracks.” Inhale. With this fresh new air, embrace your incredibly honed set of skills, trust your innate ability to problem solve, lean into your critical thinking skills, flex your creative muscles, and recognize you aren’t being asked to create something new, but rather, being challenged with forging a new path in doing what you’ve always done–plan excellent events.