It’s been about three weeks since events have started being cancelled or postponed on a regular basis because of the spread of COVID-19. From giants like Mobile World Congress, Google I/O, and WWDC, to indie conferences like Cloud Native Rejekts, GopherCon, or any kind of meetup, no public gathering has been spared.
And despite this situation’s inevitability, dictated by the dire circumstances, this has left thousands of event organisers suddenly at a loss.
As an event organiser, I should know very well. After almost 10 years spent working long hours with the sole purpose of gathering people together in the same venue at the same time, I’m now forced to rethink not just the format but the whole mission of my job.
Now, I like to think that my team and the thousands of event organisers around the world are a tough bunch. After a quick research, I can see that the Event Coordinator is still on the Top 10 of most stressful jobs (number 6!). It’s like we are addicted to adrenaline (and stress, apparently), we need to solve problems, and have to keep things under control.
And clearly it doesn’t matter in which shape or form we deliver events. We simply do, especially when our business (or pockets) needs it.
That’s why I’m not surprised at all to see hundreds of remote events blossoming around me, dozens of them appearing on a daily basis, sometimes replacing existing physical events, sometimes being launched from scratch because why not.
While I feel quite proud of being part of such a resilient community, I also asked myself how to keep up with an exponentially growing number of new events, how to keep my team and myself focussed, and how to differentiate our products from the ocean of brand new webinars, online meetups, remote conferences, and virtual summits.
To make things even more interesting, if the pace of this industry was fast before, during these times of crisis it has become manic, hectic, erratic—with the demand to make things happen yesterday even more intense than before.
And yet, despite physically feeling the level of stress increasing every hour, constantly fertilised by worry about the virus itself, my team and I have learnt so much in so little time.
Here are our main takeaways, in the hopes of making your job a bit easier as well.
Listen to your audience.
As just mentioned, the pace of the industry has reached warp speed (allow me the Star Trek/Asimov reference). However, now more than ever, listening to your audience becomes crucial in effectively delivering what they need.
Moving your physical event to an online platform might not be enough. Keeping the same format might not work. But most importantly, the world has changed now. What you were planning before might not be relevant anymore.
Here at Container Solutions we are quite lucky to work with the incredible tech community (the best one in the world, in my opinion). Maybe our clients would rather focus on improving their remote-working culture than on embarking on a massive cloud migration at this stage. Or maybe they need a Cloud Native transformation now more than ever. We cannot know unless we ask! Keep the dialogue going, keep your eyes and ears open.
Use these dire circumstances as an opportunity to be more creative. Now that you hopefully know what your audience would like to learn, here’s your chance to deliver it in a unique way.
The current limitations are no small hindrance and you cannot really throw that amazing boat party you were planning for months. That doesn’t mean that your event is doomed and that it’s going to be yet another boring webinar. If your attendees cannot snap that selfie with the famous keynote speaker, maybe they can appreciate an online meet and greet, where they can ask for the tips of a lifetime.
Do not try to reinvent the wheel.
Yes, be creative—where and when you can. At the same time, there’s no point in trying to revolutionise everything you’ve always done. Some formats have been and kept being used not because event organisers are lazy, but because they work.
People still attend conferences because they want to learn from the best experts in the field. Because they want to learn what’s new in the Cloud Native ecosystem, or any ecosystem. Because they want to connect and network with their community. This is simply going to happen online rather than in person, but it must happen.
Do not forget your values.
Yep, still moving at warp speed here. Your 10 meetups have been cancelled; now they need to be moved online. In the meantime, you were also supposed to run a conference, which is not happening anymore— but guess what, why don’t we launch an online one instead?
I’m pretty sure that the majority of the event organisers, no matter which stage of their career they’re at, have worked hard to deliver events that are not simply smooth and seamless, but also reflect the core values they believe in.
For me, for example, is to always deliver top-notch content, as well as a diverse lineup of speakers that represents our diverse society and community. To always guarantee inclusion and psychological safety for every single participant, speaker, team member, and volunteer.
These times are difficult, we are all under a lot of pressure and we might need to agree on more compromises than usual. Just don’t forget your values in favour of a hasty delivery, and keep fighting for them.
Help each other.
Not every event professional is as lucky as myself to work for a company committed to keeping everybody’s job during this economic and social crisis. The truth is that there are many event freelancers and vendors out there that are in real trouble because hundreds of online events mean no venue hire and fewer personnel needed.
At the same time our clients, speakers, trainers, and attendees are experiencing similar difficulties and might not be able to afford a professional event service. Once again I think the tech community is a great example of kindness, generosity, and understanding. They’ve been naturally behaving by these values for years and we can learn from them.
Let’s help each other if we hear of potential opportunities. Let’s try to work together on sustainable payment plans. As I said before, we are a tough bunch and I’m sure we’ll come out of this even tougher.
Hope this has offered at least some form of clarity and direction to navigate this unprecedented situation. I’m also here to help as much as I can. Do not hesitate to reach out, and stay strong.
(I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Event Coordinator job moving even higher on that Top 10 this year.)
Container Solutions is running or co-sponsoring a number of online events to help the community stay connected during the crisis. Check out our Events page for updates. And click below for some tips on coping in isolation.