This deep-dive follows Banu's post from last week on the parallels between her long-distance relationship and communities today, how the virtual realm has been a lifeline and why hosts shouldn’t wait for a miraculous return to in-person events.
Disclaimer: This might seem like an odd time to be talking about the virtues of virtual, as many countries around the world are opening up. But that doesn’t change the fact that some event participants will not be rushing to re-join in person for a variety of well discussed reasons including slashed travel budgets, social anxiety, heightened environmental consciousness, etc. This punchy House of Beautiful Business Clubhouse conversation captures many more.
By definition, events are about gathering communities. Communities survive and thrive on interaction. Starve them of that and the value withers.
Here's the thing: of course you can wait until you can host your global event in person safely and enticingly enough for aforementioned sceptics to want to join. After all, everyone’s Zoomed out, right?
The reality is, the need to connect with like-spirited people hasn't gone away. In fact, some argue it's increased, due to forced social isolation, and way too much working from home.
Think about it for a moment. If you don't satisfy that need, aren't you letting them down? Worse still, have you considered they might go elsewhere for it, effectively breaking up with you?
We all know gathering virtually isn't the same as gathering in person. And even if you (like us) see it as being inferior to meeting physically, it's clearly better than not gathering at all! Some are now finding ways in which it could even be better than in-person (e.g. Never Done Before).
Waiting because gathering online doesn't deliver the same result as an in-person event suggests a lack of creative thinking. Focus on the outcomes, and no matter what they are, in our experience there is ALWAYS a way to deliver something online that will achieve them.
We know what you're thinking. We were naysayers at first too. But in reframing the problem- solution paradigm we quickly learnt a few important steps:
Start by shedding the 'in-person' mindset. We ain't in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Instead, think in terms of what you CAN do online. Explore things you couldn't do at an in-person event but always wanted to. Virtual live shark diving, anyone?
Delve into all the newly available tools. You'd be amazed what's available these days. And no, you don't need the dexterity of a teenager. One of our favourites is MURAL, which takes a familiar object (post-its) and allows for some interesting applications that only work online. And yes, we also love them for their very responsive social media team.
Not only does this free you from the confines of "what did we do in person that we now want to (unsuccessfully) replicate online?", you might discover creative and engaging new ways of delivering what your community needs today.
In fact, we are hearing time and again that some people actually PREFER gathering online. They value the new connections with people they might not have otherwise met. And they certainly don't miss the downsides of travelling (remember seat 45G next to an arm-rest hog?) One of our favourite online observations about virtual: It’s a micro commitment.
And dare we say it? If there is a silver lining from a year plus of C*vid, it's that everyone now knows how to use virtual meeting tools. The experience simply isn't foreign any more. That removes a previous barrier to signing up for virtual gatherings.
Going virtual still sounds like a lot of work? It can be. But taking the safe (maybe lazy?) route and waiting will do you no favours. And your community will be worse off for it...
Bonus tip: Hybrid events are the future. No, we don’t mean those events that try to cater to both physical and virtual audiences simultaneously – those are awful and will likely impress neither group. By hybrid, we mean virtual events SUPPORTING in-person events. Even when we return to in-person, virtual should still play a part, engaging people throughout the year, and providing those who cannot join an in-person event the opportunity to be involved before or after. More on this in an upcoming post!