Nectar Creative Communications’ Peta Moore reflects on a tumultuous 2020 as we roar towards Christmas and, thankfully, a new year.

Working in an industry where we are constantly told to ‘embrace change’ and ‘look to the future’ was no preparation for the change that we have all been through this year. It turns out the natural way for an event manager to cope with change is ‘control coping’ (we are control freaks after all).

With an incredible team on my side we didn’t stand still for long.  Very quickly we moved through the initial shock and disorientation, anger and fear and got to proactively jumping feet first into the world of virtual – get trained, get certified and get practicing.  In particular for me, it was all about ensuring that we kept the audience at the forefront of everything we do.  Just because we were going virtual with a conference didn’t mean we could lose our focus to drive outcomes from events.  We actually started getting excited by the possibilities of virtual, and the value we could bring as content designers and event strategists.

However it turns out the broader transition to virtual has followed a different path, one led by technology and a sense of obligation to ‘just do something’ while we all wait for things to return to some sort of ‘new normal’.

We’ve ended up with cool tech delivering ho-hum events and in my opinion we are entering a slow decline where audiences who were once keen to participate in online events have had a less than average experience attending a virtual event. Therefore getting them to attend another is challenging.  The same goes for sponsors and exhibitors, making virtual events less viable as we move forward.  To stop this cycle I think there are two things we need to do.  1. Lift our virtual game and deliver events that engage and even delight and 2. Start charging for them in order to create a sense of value firstly for the events and then ultimately our industry.

Why does everything have to be free?

I’m not sure about everyone else, but we are currently spending our days giving advice, preparing quotes and writing proposals with very little result.  It seems there are a lot of people ‘wondering’ about virtual and keen to explore the options but their expectations are quite unrealistic.  It turns out that it isn’t really possible to do a quality, engaging and innovative event that will have impact for next to nothing, even if it is ‘just online’.  I may be cynical, but I get the sense that organisations think we should be ‘grateful’ for the work given the state of the industry, and therefore do it at cost (or less sometimes).

We are told “we can’t charge the attendees, so we don’t really have the budget to pay you”.  Why can’t we charge them?   Again it comes down to what value are you offering as to whether people will pay.  If you think about it, people wouldn’t pay to attend a work meeting right?  So why would they pay to attend a zoom meeting? But more often than not, that’s what we are seeing as the ‘virtual solution’ – no thought has been given to content design, engagement, speaker management, interaction and feedback.

What are we doing about it?

At Nectar, we not only manage events on behalf of clients, but we have our own annual conference called the National Cleantech Conference & Exhibition.  Of course, like most of our client events, we’ve had to postpone and postpone again til the second half of next year.  So we are designing and delivering our own virtual conference to demonstrate that there is value in attending an online alternative, there is value in designing the attendee experience from beginning to end, there is value in delivering great content in an engaging and interactive way.

We are ensuring the audience has a voice and will meet their objectives by attending, and we are charging a modest delegate fee. Time will tell if this approach pays off, but more than anything as we head into the planning for 2021, we know we have been true to the conference brand and respected the time of our attendees.