Change and Adaptation

Change and adaptation are two scary words when we face them unwillingly. They are especially terrifying for event professionals that take pride in the quality control and processes to which an event is subject to.

In the 2020 events and meetings industry, we find ourselves battling on a daily basis to maintain our businesses and way of life. This is tricky, especially when our markets’ budgets have been slashed, and they themselves are resorting to basic survival financial strategies. Strategies that most likely will not have room for incentive travel or big budget live events.

In this unfortunate conjuncture, change and adaptation have become top priorities for any business that wishes to stay relevant. Finding our place in a digital society has become the Holy Grail of meetings and events. A forced change that challenges an enormous industry to rethink the way we do things. A change that necessitates moving from live programs to the digital realm… a wild world where anything can happen, depending on the bandwidth of your internet, or the performance of your local electric company!

So, how can we embrace these changes and adapt faster to the new reality?

Learnings from the SITE Young Leaders’ Conference

Fortunately, 2020 provided me with an exceptional opportunity to somewhat answer this question, as I was invited to be on the organising committee for the SITE Young Leaders Conference.

To begin with, there was still debate about whether to keep the event as a live conference or go digital but in the end, circumstances dictated the latter. Initially, this was definitely a bummer. SITE YL is a fun, dynamic conference that allows young professionals in the industry to start expanding their network in a very educational and fun environment. Switching to digital was not going to be an easy task.

Several key factors are necessary for every YL Conference. These are:

  • Education
  • Innovation
  • Networking
  • Fun, Memorable times!

The Hero’s Journey at the SITE Young Leaders’ Conference

How could we translate these to our digital conference and still offer a mindful approach to the situation many young leaders are currently facing? The answer came from an education session we had with students who introduced us to the Hero’s Journey, a book by author Joseph Campbell.

The Hero’s Journey offered the perfect analogy for our current situation. It’s a fresh take on how to deal with changes by recognising the challenges we face and inviting us to step up to them. We had our conference theme.

Call to Adventure, Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Just like the Hero’s Journey, there was a call to adventure for our committee and we had to find our allies for this endeavour. As with every project we face, the allies we surround ourselves with play a key role in our success. The first step was to recognise our strengths and assign roles and tasks to undertake this special project.

Moving on, we needed to find our medium, find the best tool to carry our message. Zoom Meetings ended up being the best option. We also decided to promote live interaction with cameras and chat. This was an excellent way to digitalise the networking experience.

Additionally, we brought an innovation component to the mix in the form of Twine, a one-on-one online meeting platform. Twine helps create meaningful exchanges with other participants by suggesting topics.

Meeting the Mentor, Crossing the Threshold

With 2 of 4 key points already addressed, then came the time to look for educational material. Fortunately, our event theme provided us with the perfect blueprint to come up with great topics for each day. It also helped us narrow down a list of facilitators – or in the hero’s journey terms, our mentors. Turns out, many of these facilitators were also on their own journey, trying to make sense of the new reality. As such, they were happy to share their experiences.

Our conference ended up dividing into three themes for each of the 3 days: Adaptation, Resilience, and Transformation. It was a journey populated with knowledge and great experiences from characters that briefly played a part in our story.

Ordeal, Apotheosis

Now, we were still missing the fun component and as planners know, this is not an easy spot to fill. Unfortunately, online conferences often fail to retain attendees’ attention as there are many things that can distract us at home. The solution? DJs and pets.

As a suggestion from one of our committee members, we brought along an excellent DJ who had also adapted his gig for online conferences. Adaptation was in the air. The musical breaks were a highlight of our conference and a vehicle for bonding with other attendees.

Regarding pets, this idea came from involving our daily companions in what could potentially be ‘’another tedious zoom conference’’. Recognising that pets have been the best sidekicks in helping us endure the tough times, it was a great opportunity to have attendees engage with their own environment, without losing the connection from the conference. To our pleasant surprise, the activity also ended up involving the attendees’ children engaging with pets they saw on their screen. So it really was a full circle of wholesome engagement.

Finally, we made sure to balance the program between live online presentations and prerecorded sessions. We also incorporated wellness breaks to help attendees re-centre and refocus during the conference.

Pet's on the Hero's Journey - our sidekicks through times of change.
Photo by Ioana Tabarcea on Unsplash

Reward, the Ultimate Boon

With all the bases covered, we crossed the threshold and faced the challenge with great optimism. The result? We ended up delivering an historic-first online Young Leaders Conference with high attendance and a great engagement rate. Most importantly, we carried a message of hope and resilience. We let our community know that we are here for them and that events are still relevant and play an important part in keeping organisations connected.

Lessons for our Clients

Since we had effectively worked our way around adapting a live conference without losing much of the essence of what made it appealing, I couldn’t help but think that we can easily make a case to our clients about the importance of maintaining that online connection with their employees or clients. Now more than ever, we need to embrace change and find ways to adapt. We can make a Call to Adventure to our clients and create space in the digital world. The need to connect is still there, and we can lead the way.

Adapting to Online

Reflecting on the amazing results we had, and taking into account that running an online conference is not an easy feat, I came up with the following takeaways to tackle the online adaptation challenge.

  1. Keep it short and engaging
  2. Be aware of time zones and cultural differences
  3. Be mindful of the attendees’ situation and what they may be experiencing
  4. Choose current and relevant topics
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  6. Always remember to make it fun!

Written by Marco Cadenas, Art Director, Brainstorm Decor Studio

Marco Cadenas, Art Director, Brainstorm Decor Studio - Change as a Call to Adventure

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