I recorded a vBrownBag session for VMworld called Build Your Own Online Adventure. I wrote it specifically about attending online conferences (in particular attending VMworld), but I’m becoming increasingly aware that in order to come out on the other side of this pandemic in a better place than we went in, it is absolutely imperative that each of us builds our online adventure.
Building your own online adventure is the only way to make online events meaningful and interactive. Hopefully event teams will understand this, and build in lots of options to help people build online adventures as they design online events.
Ultimately it is up to us to design an online adventure that serves our needs, we can’t rely on the event industry to do it for us. This post explains how to get started.
Scripted In-Person Adventures
When you think about events in the past, our adventures were scripted by the events teams. You pay for a pass (or you get a speaker’s pass or get your salesperson to hide the pass in a PO, you know the tricks). You book travel and fly to a location where an events team creates the boundaries of the event. This is usually in a casino or hotel, and they have signage for the breakout sessions, expo locations, lunch, etc. And security guards enforcing that boundary.
All this is designed to make sure you got the information they really want you to have so you’ll buy their products. Getting you to an exciting location to hold you captive for 4 days.
Social Media Helped Us See into the Future
Twitter launched in 2006, and by 2007 I was following the storage folks who travelled the conference circuit. It was my first taste of building my own adventure at a conference. Even though I was in a role where I wasn’t allowed to travel for shows, I could follow the testy back-and-forth tweets between the people working for competing vendors, and follow the blog posts that dove into the official press releases from the companies. This was before PR and marketing accepted social media. It’s much easier to find this official information now, almost too easy.
I saw the power of these tools connecting people and moved into a role where I could participate. We created official tweetups at events, specific areas for bloggers to work and interact with people who worked for the vendors. This soon became an alternate track, in fact that’s where things like Opening Acts and vBrownBag were born. A place to talk directly with your peers without the PR/AR cleansing.
I look back and realize we were building hybrid events, they were online adventures that we brought to the real world. We have been building our own adventures in meat space for a decade now. We are well prepared for online communications needed to survive the COVID-19 shutdown.
The Push-back to “Get Back to Normal”
COVID-19 is a global pandemic that currently doesn’t have a vaccine, and medical professionals are still trying to get their arms around the best medical treatments for those who contract the novel coronavirus and whether patients who recover have any immunity. But one thing they seem to all agree on: if we can identify and isolate people who have contracted and are actively shedding this virus, we’ll be able to “get back to normal”.
I want to challenge the idea of normal.
Currently most of the world has been forced into self-isolation, working from our homes, until the experts produce a vaccine for this virus. We are proving that most of the jobs in the tech industry do not need to be done in a physical location.
Folks are settling into a new routine, one that allows them to work from anyplace and liberates them from long commutes to a physical office. One that provides for a better work life balance for knowledge workers. One that unlocks the talent of people who can’t move to a tech hub. What if working online is the new normal?
Why aren’t we trying to find new routines when it comes to events?
There is a new normal!
Over half of the CFOs answering a Price Waterhouse Cooper survey (published in June 2020) intend to double down on remote working (improving it for their workers and extending it permanently). Over 75% believe
“the increased flexibility developed during the crisis is a factor that will make their organisation stronger over the long term, and the 65% who cited the resiliency and agility they have built”.
“Getting back to normal” will actually mean stepping into digital transformation that is already in full effect. We aren’t going back to the old ways of doing things, especially not events.
Call to Arms: Build Your Own Online Adventure
Most of us haven’t experienced events in the same way that they were designed by event planners and marketing teams. We use all sorts of social media to build our own adventures at events we attend in person. We can do it for online events as well!
Here are some suggestions:
- Time is different online than it is in meat space. Bind your world with the times others are most likely to be online in the same world.
- Block off time to attend the event. You’d be held captive in a location – hold yourself captive by reserving the time.
- Plan your adventure! Figure out when, where, and how things are being presented. Official things (official site, keynote, sessions), partner events, community events. Check all the usual sources – twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Slack. Check out new places like discord!
- Pro tip: Consume info in the way that makes
you comfortable! Can you broadcast keynotes to your TV, and communicate
with your regular group as things happen? Can you listen in to a watch party?
Sitting in front of a Zoom meeting for 8 hours a day can be soul sucking. So you have to plan your adventure to make it seem like you’re there.
- Don’t forget the hallways! Lots of good stuff happens when you just run into people in the hallways. How can you create a hallway online? Social! Twitter, Slack, and now apps like Discord help us with this. For VMworld, a friend and I have stood up a Discord server we’re calling the vHallway. Drop by, see who you run into!
I’m sure you probably have even more suggestions, and I’d love to hear about them so I can try them out! One thing I know for sure: events will never be the same. And that is a good thing….we don’t have to leave our families as much, we’re able to connect with people who have never been able to travel.
What do you think? Please let me know in the comments!