COVID-19 Causes Chaos Across the World
COVID-19 caused mass panic and chaos for the events industry, as I know it has for many industries and lives across the world. The mention of COVID-19, or ‘the Thing’ as Roger Atkins and Robert Llewelyn have started to call it, ignites real panic and uncertainty for the event industry, as events are inherently built on the fact that people come together on a specific date, in a specific location, for a joint interest or mission. With the Thing it’s currently not possible, and for good reasons, to bring 100s and 1000s of people together.
But when we realised that the Thing was in fact coming our way and it was not just a virus that affected only those in China and Italy, we realised we have to make a plan to adapt, to what became a descent from a 100% physical event called Smarter Mobility World, to a completely digital event called Smarter Mobility World LIVE. I say descent because that’s what it felt like at the beginning, and it was like a steady descent as we didn’t really know how serious the Thing was back in February.
Generation.e recently hosted a fully digital Smarter Mobility World LIVE event from The Sustainable City in Dubai. The Sustainable City (or TSC as we call it) is where the physical event was originally planned to take place. The venue was chosen because it offers a creative outside experience in one of the world’s most loved sustainable city developments, built on the ethos of community and people centric sustainable initiatives. They are also active in smarter mobility and have plans to do even more to deliver and develop smarter mobility solutions for the world. So far they initiated a new government run bus service with the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority, and have designed an urban development that is easy to walk, ride, skate, run or gallop around. They’ve hosted an autonomous vehicle pilot study with BestMile and plan to run another one later this year with another autonomous vehicle company, they are developing an all electric car sharing programme, and they have installed charging stations around the city and most of the management drives electric.
Once we realised what the challenge was, after pulling together as much of the facts and figures around the Thing as possible, we actually realised that while we need to change tactics, this new plan of a fully digital event could actually be quite an opportunity for our partners, speakers, and Generation.e.
Therefore, we can replace the word ‘descent’ to ‘ascent’ as there was a new feeling of optimism and a realisation that the digital version of SMW could in fact be a really unique opportunity for our existing and new audience to engage with the summit, learn about smarter mobility, and network with key stakeholders around the world. For the speakers and partners the new platform created an opportunity to speak to a diverse audience from across the world and to demonstrate resilience and creativity during such a global crisis. Therefore, from here on I refer to the experience as an ‘ascent’ where we were climbing to a new summit that would enable us all to view the world in a refreshed way with positive lenses for how we can create even more impact through inspiring transformation to smarter mobility. With that in mind, the team, partners, speakers, and I began our ascent towards a better world.
We were driven to be able to deliver an event that offered some of the benefits that physical events offer, and to ensure that the two days could be engaging and fun. Our list of objectives for SMW LIVE included:
- Be interactive for the audience and speakers
- Utilise our amazing hosts to knit the two days of content, speakers, presentations, and session together
- Retain the humanistic elements of physical events – which often revolve around mistakes, tech errors, and slightly awkward moments
- Create more than just a ‘headshot webinar series’ as that restricts the audience to fully engage with the speakers and topics.
Over 18k peopled tuned in to watch the first Smarter Mobility World LIVE in March.— Generation.e (@generationehq) April 2, 2020
Organised in partnership with SEE INSTITUTE, COVID-19 risks forced the event to go digital.
The team successfully made the switch with less than 2 weeks to go. #digital #SMWLIVE #smartmobility pic.twitter.com/WRTwSZtvt5
Therefore, to adopt this we decided to go for a LIVE event that would be filmed at The Sustainable City, embracing the beauty of the city and bringing the summit to life with a two day TV show.
However, as the Thing began to get worse, and it became clear that we would not be able to host any of the speakers on site we had to rethink how a live event would work if everyone was sitting at their house or office staring at their laptop or phone.
The solution: I would join the two professional hosts that we had invited to host SMW, and I became the TV Anchor based at The Sustainable City, at the SMW LIVE HQ. Roger Atkins (Founder of Electric Vehicles Outlook and most influential person for electric vehicles on LinkedIn) and Nicki Shields (Scientist and Presenter at CNN & Formula E) then became our global correspondents who would host sections, moderate sessions, and bring the event to life. I would be in the TSC studio with the backdrop of TSC, an Audi e-tron, and a Siemens SICHARGE Charging Station, in order to enhance the LIVE and interactive feeling of the two days.
- It was fun for the team and for the audience
- We had over 50 incredible speakers join from across the world. We were honoured to have the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, H.E Dr. Thani joined us on a video link to give the Welcome Address. This was one reassuring example of how the world came together to make Smarter Mobility World LIVE a success.
- Over 18,000 people from over 80 countries tuned in to watch SMW LIVE 2020, and more and more people continue to watch the show online today.
- Our sponsors and partners were amazing to work with, adapted to the situation, and embraced the new opportunity as best as they could.
- We have two days of incredible knowledge and insights that we will be sharing with the world (the full live versions are available on the Generation.e YouTube page now and we’re editing the footage to release the ‘refined’ versions this week)
- The team and I basically had a crash course in running a LIVE TV Show!
- We realised that digital should be in all of our events going forward.
- To mitigate the risk of shocks to physical events
- Generation.e currently mainly operates in the Middle East and Africa. In these two regions there are business and governments whose budgets may not allow for travelling to events in different parts of the world. There are also countries where the strength of the passports do not make it easy to travel to other countries for summits and events. Therefore, we want to make sure that our summits and events are accessible to all, regardless of budget and passport.
- It was such a steep learning curve for us that it created anxiety and a lot of high pressured work. However, this has been beneficial to our team in understanding what we can achieve when we embrace the unknown with hunger and acceptance that failure is part of the process.
- The constant change started to become a bit of a joke for the team and our stakeholders, as we literally had a completely new plan every week, if not every day!
- When the tech went really wrong (which was around 3 times) it was really tough for the team and the speakers
Key learnings and advice:
- Find the best tech partner that your budget can buy, they will be needed! Especially when things go wrong.
- Do as much tech pre-event testing as possible with your team and anyone that will be involved in delivering the event (speakers, partners, tech team etc)
- Build a strong running order. This is the document that explains exactly what will happen minute by minute and the whole delivery team should know it inside out. When things are going well – check the running order. Not sure what’s happening next – check the running order. When things are going wrong – check the running order. The running sheet is the go to doc for everything!
The formula we used was ‘daring to be different’ and once we gained perspective of what it meant to be different, were we then able to commit to our idea. While entering the territory of the unknown it was important that we had the right support during our new journey. Our partners and sponsors were that support system we needed in order to forge ahead with a virtual event.
The truth of the matter is it could have gone terribly wrong, but luckily it didn’t. There were mistakes along the way but we quickly learnt to adapt and fix them in real time, to ensure the show could go on. The lessons learnt in building a successful event and business is to boldly face external threats despite fear or doubt. When there is an expectation to be different there is a high possibility that you will consistently be ahead of the pack.
When you take risks you have a story to tell. When you boldly face challenges you become brave. When you learn to listen to your own voice and shut out the noise, you start trends. The ingredients to the success of the event came from finding these characteristics within ourselves and as a team. The irony is that the much dreaded “C” word (COVID-19) or the Thing was able to give us and our audience a platform to “define the next decade of smarter mobility” in a way that we would never have imagined. While this is happening we have the opportunity to redefine the way we live, the way we move and spend our time, and the way that we embrace this beautiful world without causing it such pain and damage.