Catriona Henderson, Project Manager of the CYPFEIF & ALEC Fund reflects on the recent conference, which was hosted online in September, and the challenges and opportunities of delivering events online.
Over the last six months many of us have been thrown headfirst into the world of online. From saying hello to friends and family to delivering huge parts of our work, the virtual world is now a daily reality.
Technology has been enormously enabling and also challenging, not least learning to use it in the first place. This can be daunting, especially if like me you prefer pieces of paper, coloured pens and possibly some glue. It moves to a whole new level when the team you work in is responsible for delivering a conference using online tech for the first time.
Planning and communication, as with so many things in life, proved to be the key. It quickly became obvious that the level of detail in the planning needed to grow exponentially for an online event. Unless you know exactly who is responsible for absolutely everything, you risk duplication or things being missed as you can’t see what anyone else is doing.
Slightly ironically, running multiple communication channels also made life simpler. There was the chat on zoom which so many people got involved in. Twitter reminded people where to look for info before and during the event, and emails and zoom chat shared links. A WhatsApp channel for the team running the conference enabled quick and easy communication. This may have contributed to us looking slightly dazed at times and we also needed to plan exactly who was communicating what, where and when. My head was hurting a bit by this point.
Yet more planning was needed to cover the ‘what ifs’. Our biggest concern was an unstable internet connection. (Plan A: use the best internet source possible; plan B: two people in different places logging onto the zoom account so they were both hosting; plan C: have our IT support on standby; plan D: keep fingers and toes crossed for no major internet outages – which I know isn’t really a plan, and thankfully plan A worked perfectly well on the day). We did a lot of ‘what if’ planning we never needed to use, but it did mean we were as well prepared as possible though my head did hurt even more.
While having the right tech in place was important, knowing what we wanted to achieve with it was essential. We’ve been incredibly lucky to benefit from Talat Yaqoob and Ross McCulloch being involved in planning the conference as well as delivering it. As well as learning from their knowledge and experience, this helped us develop a plan we were all confident would work.
Alongside the serious content we wanted to bring playfulness and challenged ourselves to make the online conference sparkly without diamantes, gold stars and cake. On the day, as well as everything that was planned the unexpected helped; Jude Turbyne’s plumbing, which reminded us that nothing goes completely to plan, and her lovely rendition of ‘the wheels on the bus’ meant we all relaxed early on.
My lasting memory from the conference was how amazing it was seeing everyone and feeling the connection that was there – a very powerful and joyful reminder of what we’ve been missing over the last few months. Whatever the challenges – and of course those include the fact that not everyone has access to IT equipment or the internet – I am enormously grateful that the tech enables us to keep these links in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. The benefits really do outweigh the challenges.