On 17 April I received an email from Ella at JLA Speaker Bureau confirming my place at the JLA Forum on 23 April 2020.
It’s fair to say that I was somewhat apprehensive about meeting with industry colleagues and being invited to say what our current thinking was on the ‘future of events’. The truth was that in our business we were sitting on our hands hoping that the then much talked about warmer weather would put an end to the virus and we could all get back to running conferences, events and award ceremonies again sooner than later.
With only a few exceptions the significant majority of the forum members confessed to being in the same boat, with little or no experience of virtual / online / digital events and limited ideas on where to start looking.
At the end of that first forum session I was already feeling encouraged by the positivity of the meeting and the willingness of colleagues to share knowledge and information to help us collectively more forward.
Every Thursday at 10am the Forum met to continue our journey through what for many of us was uncharted territory, taking encouragement from those that had prior experience of online events but more from taking comfort from those that were in the boat that was yet to sail.
I have personally learned so much from listening to and discussing with colleagues our thoughts, concerns and ideas. Having your own beliefs challenged is always a fabulous route to learning and new thinking.
So, what have I learned since 23 April?
Kicking off with a quandary as to whether virtual, digital or online was the preferred terminology we learned about pivoting, platforms, portals and apps.
We learned that a common mistake is to try to re-create the physical event in an online environment.
We spoke of ‘in real life’ events as distinct from online events and we quickly arrived at hybrid events as the happy coming together of the two.
There was a realisation that some activities were served better by online events than at in-person events – a bit of a lightbulb moment that was!
Did we need new staff with new skills, were our years of experience of planning in-person events ‘tossed out of the window’?
On 18 June Adrian Gilpin urged us to explore ‘what’s holding us back?’ To examine our fears and anxieties about the future and the exciting things we might do and achieve.
Adrian’s session made me realise the need to go back and pick up colleagues and clients who were not as progressed on the journey to the online / hybrid event world.
Looking back over the last 6 months meeting each week and latterly bi-weekly with my fellow professionals has been humbling, invigorating, challenging, exciting, fascinating, informative and inspiring.
I am extremely grateful for the leadership shown by the team at JLA in hosting these invaluable events and to all of my fellow industry professionals who have so willingly given their time, knowledge and co-operation.
I cannot say for sure what direction my business might have gone without the JLA Forum but what I can say with absolute certainty is that we would not be stepping forward into the world of virtual / digital / online events with the confidence generated through the support of the JLA Speaker Bureau and the JLA forum members.
Steve Elliott is the Director of Blackberry Productions
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