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Reflections on Online Events and Virtual Handshakes

Blair Cohen

When the world was first turned upside down by the COVID-19 crisis, everything changed in a matter of hours for our events team here at Relativity.

One day we were getting ready for our biggest Australian event yet, booking flights to London for Relativity Fest London, and doing tours of the Hyatt to get ready for Relativity Fest Chicago at a new hotel. Then, we made the call to move the Spotlight: Australia event virtual, but we still had our production team ready to meet us at the office for a recorded livestream. As our understanding of the pandemic and its rapid spread progressed, we made the decision to broadcast from our homes.

This pandemic has forced the events community to make tough decisions. Though it’s been disappointing not to be able to meet up in person, ultimately, it's been amazing to see the events industry putting people—namely, their safety and their growth—first.

We're not just cancelling our events, throwing in the towel, and calling it a day. We're pivoting to create networking and learning opportunities for our community. With the pivot to virtual events, we've been able to reach larger audiences from all over the world.

The Spotlight: Australia event was our first foray into virtual hosting, and it was an adventure to say the least. That rapid change in venue was hectic, but the content came together and we had 159 attendees to our keynote broadcast. The keynote included some meaty updates from our CIO Andrew Watts and several other members of the Relativity team. Check out a recap here.

With Relativity Fest London, we were able to engage with 2,100 registrants across 40 countries. And we were able to provide on-demand content for those who aren't able to join us during the timeslots that we provided for Fest London. (If you’re one of them, you can check out the keynote here.)

In hosting these all-online events, we’ve learned that, during this time, we need to meet our community where they are.

We've learned that our community loves the content from our internal and external contributors. We love showing off the skills of those speakers whose day job is working at and with Relativity.

We learned a long time ago that our attendees are diverse in their needs with our software. Because of this, we've introduced different tracks for our different customers even on our virtual event platforms. We're able to do a deep dive on what's most important to each of our customers this way and, again, meet them where they are—on their terms.

We also recognize the need for networking and socializing in the virtual event space. Fest is always a packed day filled with not only that focused educational content, but also coffees, dinners, quick mini reunions, and introductions to new people. Though we won't be able to hug or even give a handshake at Fest this September, we'll be providing space for our attendees to network with each other and us! We hope you can join us (from anywhere, for free) and help drive new conversations in what promises to be the biggest Fest yet.

Connecting with all of you in this new way has been exciting, insightful, and a perfect challenge to keep us motivated during a stressful time for the world. Still, we love in person events and love seeing our community. We'll be waiting (semi) patiently to see you at the Hyatt in Chicago in 2021.

Until then, here’s what our team would like to say to each and every one of you today. Whether you’re using this time to double down at work, go the extra mile for your family, better yourself, or some combination of all three—we’re rooting for you.

“Seeing our Fest attendees in person has always been our favorite part of the event. We’re disappointed that won’t happen in 2020, but a pandemic can’t stop us from bringing the Relativity community together—it’ll just look different this year. Although I’ll miss seeing all of you in person, I’m really excited to share this new Fest experience together and connect in a new way.”

Ana Ramirez, events program manager, Relativity

“While we’re sad to be missing you all for a live event this year, our team is working harder than ever to deliver the same caliber experience you expect from Relativity Fest. We're carefully and thoughtfully planning how to make a virtual conference engaging, educational, easy to navigate—and fun! Our biggest hope for all of our attendees is that they sign off after Fest saying, ‘Now that’s how a virtual conference is done!’”

Andrea Fatigato, events program manager, Relativity

“Relativity Fest may have gone virtual, but we’re still planning to bring you the same expert speakers and educational content that keeps you coming back. And for those of you joining us for the first time, we can’t wait to hear what you think!”

Anna Siroonian, senior events program manager, Relativity

“While I am sad that I won’t get to see our community in person this year, the team is hard at work revisioning what we normally offer live to provide the same caliber event in a virtual world. We are excited to provide the Fest experience in this new format and look forward to seeing you all again soon!”

Kelly Lohan, senior manager of events, Relativity

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Blair Cohen is a brand program manager at Relativity, representing the company with enthusiasm, authenticity, and her flair for humor. When she isn't shining a light on women in tech via Stellar Women or cracking jokes on the main stage at Relativity Fest, you can find her running around Chicago finding the best places to eat with her dog, Goose.