At the beginning of 2022, having come out of a difficult 2021. We were really excited about 2022 and we’d also found that the online conferences that we’ve been running had really struck a chord with people. Many people who attended the online conferences found that they were getting better networking and better conversations than they were in the in person events.
I was hoping at the start of 2022, that everything that had been bad about the past few years will have gone away completely and we’re back doing physical events in person conferences, and nobody would worry about anything.
My fears for 2022 were that – given we’d had two waves of COVID coming through at the end of 2021, with new strains and new new things going on – that that situation could evolve quite rapidly. And we could end up planning in-person events and having to put them off or cancel them or not see people there, it was a very uncertain time for for all of us, and some people were travelling, some people weren’t, some people were still locked down. Very unclear what was going to happen with all sorts of factors that were outside our control. And those sorts of things, I think, are always a challenge when you want to plan.
We tentatively started planning in person for Europe in the Fall of 2021, and had a venue booked and were doing all the planning. But we had another wave of COVID and we began the year sort of hoping we’d be okay. Obviously also very alive to the fact that things may change. The Europe conference was fabulous. It was just so nice to see people in person.
So in the run up to the events, I think the things we were really thinking about and considering was whether people will be able to attend the conferences. Typically we have a very international crowd; people come from all over the all over the world to attend BoS and so it was quite uncertain as to whether we were gonna get people from other countries. We were also unsure about how people would be feeling about travel and coming to conferences, even just nationally.
I genuinely get a lot of energy from being around people, hearing what they’re saying and what they’re up to, and catching up with old friends and meeting new people. It actually is a really great personal experience. Throughout planning, we’re obviously thinking and considering what would happen if if things didn’t go according to plan. I don’t think there was any question about some things. We took lots of precautions – everybody that was attending had to have a vaccine, people had to take Lateral Flow Test before they attended to make sure that they were not COVID Positive. And all of that being said, it was it was pretty exciting in the run up.
For Europe, I think one of the challenging things for us was that there was another wave of COVID coming through in the run up. And actually it was the variant that spread very quickly but thankfully seemed to be much more mild. So I think one of the things that we were doing, at least once a day is looking at the COVID case trackers, things like that. And while a lot of people actually got the virus, there were significantly fewer hospital admissions. So while it was a worrying time and we had a high number of people not able to attend because they had COVID, the event itself was absolutely fabulous. It was just really, really nice to see people, spend time with people, sit down with them, talk to them, meet people, and listen to what they’ve been going on and what they’ve been doing for the last couple of years.
The USA Conf, at the end of September in Boston, was another kettle of fish. Renegotiating with the venue after two years away wasn’t as smooth as when you have uninterrupted relationship, but thanks to a marvellous team effort and lots of time dedicated to making it work, the conference was amazing- although we could have done without Storm Ian dampening the final day. We’ve learned there are things we can improve on, and that some things have changed in international events that we will take on board as we plan future USA events.
We’ve already started planning USA 2023 and as soon as we have more details about venues or dates we will be sharing it loud and clear to anyone who will listen.
One of the things we decided to do with our online events is run them as single day events rather than multi day. People were finding it difficult to commit to three days out the office when they were actually in the office. By running them as single day events people could much easier fit it into their diaries and really get the value from them.
This also meant that we could spread them over the course of the year which means that people could keep in touch and stay in contact with each other and have a regular dose of BoS, with learning and networking.
I think the online events were exceptionally good for people to spend time with a group of people learning things. We managed to kind of maintain the kind of networking and discussion element that BoS was and is well known for.
I think the things that surprised us about the online events this year, is just how engaged people got when they came along. The way that we run them, we don’t broadcast. We run them as a conversation, we run them as a discussion and bring people together and put them into groups and get them to discuss, talk things through.
The high level of the conversations in those in those groups was absolutely extraordinary. And I think we’ve gone well past the point now where we understand how to make online conferences, online events, work, they’re never going to be and they should not be a physical event just beamed into the, into the ether.
We work with the speakers so that when people are doing talks, the talks are shorter, there’s much more interaction, there are group discussions, people use collaborative tools to do things we try and make sure that people have worksheets and things that they can kind of take away; Cheat sheets that they can use, so that at the end of the end of the session, not only are they learning something, and they’re getting to ask questions and spend time with people that are doing the doing the talks, but they actually have something that they can take away and use within their business. So yeah, I’m very, very pleased with the way that they have have turned out and I think in at the beginning of the pandemic, when we were going down that oh my god, we have to go online or we die. There was a general feeling in the world that online conferences would be very different. And actually, the networking hallway track piece would just not exist. And I think that’s probably true if you run them as a broadcast webinar, to running them as discussions and running them as meetings. Really helps people engage and we encourage people to keep their videos on keep their keep their faces on screen and thing because it makes a massive, massive difference to the, to the speakers to the other participants, and everybody involved.
Hindsight is 20:22
I think one of the things we learned this year is that theming single day events around a particular topic – around a particular type of conversation – is very powerful.
BoS, in general, is about helping people have specialist knowledge in any one particular area of a company – whether that’s technology, finance, sales, marketing, product, whatever – to understand how all the parts of a business fit together, and the sum is very much a bigger thing than the sum of the individual parts.
When we were doing multi day online conferences in 2020 and 2021, you can kind of cover that out and you have different topics that you’re covering. It’s not really as powerful. Having those themes seem to really resonate with people. I think that’s one of the things that we will do much more of next year, and make it very clear what the online events are like.
I think at the beginning of this year, I felt that if we made them too specific, people may go, ‘oh, well, I’m a marketing person. So I’ll go to the marketing one, but I won’t go to the sales or the product one.’ and I think that’s that’s turned out not to be the case. People seem to really like the bundle tickets that we’re running. I think that makes it really easy for people to make a call about committing and what they tend to find is they come and take part in something that they think is immediately relevant to them, and then find that the conversations they have with those people, make it worthwhile that they’re coming back.
I think I think the thing I’m most looking forward to in 2023, with travel and with doing in person, is we understand much more about what people do and what’s driving people to come to different things.
I’m really looking forward to getting into in person conferences again. We’re planning our Europe Conference, running 27-28 March, and we’re planning our USA Conference, running in the fall (date TBC), but pretty excited about some of the things that are going to be going into that. Building that community seeing people back in person more and more and also getting people more involved in the online events.
I think one of the one of the things that we have noticed is that there seems to be much less overlap than we had expected between the online and the in-person. We obviously have a bunch of people that come to both but we’ve got some real diehard online fans, some of whom were previously in person fans and have made that switch, and we’ve got some real diehard in person fans, and I want to spend time working out how we can get them connected together.
One of the things that I see online is that quite often people are they really thrive in that situation, if they’re a little bit introverted by nature, they find that the online environment really helps them come out and have conversations and talk to people. I hope that they’re starting to realise that, no, that’s not just because of the fact that it’s an online event but it’s also a part of what we really try to do as an organisation and a team, which is create a friendly, safe, open, welcoming environment where we really try to look after people.
And that goes across everything from what we’re doing, when people turn up to events, to the conversations that we have, to the way that we’re working very hard to connect people together and working on helping the people that have things to say (but sometimes struggle to start to say them), or people that have challenges but don’t know how to ask, one of the really great things about the team is that they’re really very attuned to trying to look out for those people, help them, and make them feel welcomed, safe, comfortable, and part of the community because they are a huge part of it all.
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