FEAS Secretariat spoke with the Managing Director of The Network Forum Mr. Andrew Barman about organizing the promotion of events during COVID-19, TNF Virtual Autumn Meeting, key strategic initiatives, and more.
1. How are you organizing the promotion of your events during the age of COVID-19? Please, share your experience with us.
The promotion of our events pre- and post-COVID-19 are actually not that much different in terms of channels that we engage in. Because we are a globally focused company with over 3000 members in 80+ countries, we are very much digitally engaged. This means that on a frequent basis we make announcements and share our plans with our contacts and community on LinkedIn. Like most people and companies these days, we find this one of the most useful mediums to share information in a concise and informal way. However, this is just a starting point. We also have our Founding and Event Partners who help publicise their event partnership with us through their own networks and channels. As well as these sponsor partners, we have a number of close relationships with global publications and associations, such as FEAS, who collaborate with us in raising awareness of our events to their members.
2. It seems like the recent TNF Virtual Autumn Meeting was a total success! What were the main difficulties and challenges in organizing the event, and what are the main outcomes?
At its core, The Network Forum’s community, which is primarily focused on the network management and post-trade world, is a “people business”. This means that one of the most important aspects of our working life is that we all like to network in person at our events. We therefore found a mental hurdle with our members to overcome in trying to engage in virtual events – which has been new for everyone, including us. But as we have all learnt in 2020, there has been no other choice.
However, on a really positive note, we found that our audience at the virtual events increased by more than 200% – and we had many individuals around the world who normally might not be able to join us taking part. People really engaged with the online content and panels, in some ways more than they might have done in a physical setting. So there are positives to both virtual and physical which have to be taken into consideration.
Until the pandemic arrived in our lives in March, we had no experience of working in the virtual conference space. After a few very difficult weeks trying to gauge the full impact on our business, we had to face the challenge head on and decided to go virtual in late April. This gave the team 8 weeks to reinvent our company to deliver our Summer Meeting – normally we plan 8-12 months before! With 4 weeks to go until our event, we discovered our main online conference platform supplier had mis-sold their product to us and we had to switch providers. There are a huge number of online conference platforms in the market promising services that in many cases aren’t quite fully developed yet. The majority out there were still very much in the process of developing functionality – so it was a very steep learning curve. Once you have engaged in a platform, key challenges in putting on an online or virtual conference include:
We have now run online events for over 2000 people in 67 countries – so we have quite a good bit of exposure now to the problems that can be faced!
3. In 2020, you had several successful virtual events. What is your main advice to other event organisers worldwide, who are still struggling with these challenges?
First of all, make sure you choose a conference tech provider who is right for your community – some online delegates need a complexity of offering, some don’t. Secondly it is important to “Test, test, test” the tech… and work out where your connectivity challenges will be. Most of the time it will be corporate firewalls that impact this. And finally, the whole world is facing challenges that didn’t exist 9 months ago – so try not to be too overwhelmed with these challenges. The main thing is to try and deliver rather than giving up.
4. What are the key strategic initiatives TNF is working on at the moment?
Right now we are busy planning for 2021 events. This includes our Africa Meeting in March, Europe in June, Americas in September, Middle East in October and Asia in November. Ideally with the vaccine on the horizon we would hope to be meeting soon in person, but as we have learnt in 2020 we are able to deliver Virtual Meetings if we need to. We are also delighted to have launched our new Training Course division, and have recently run a number of successful online courses for 3 companies in Saudi Arabia. Finally, the team is also working on their upcoming issues of the TNF Journal which will be published next year
5. Today’s world is facing several challenges and how we all come together as a community will make a difference in moving forward. How are you keeping communication with your community and encouraging them to stay positive and to avoid negativity in their working processes?
It is very important to us to keep reminding our community that we are one big family. In the normal world we would all be seeing each other regularly whether at conferences, at meetings – or just to catch up informally over a lunch or coffee. With the current world we live in, we are restricted to video and phone calls – and as we know this can be tiring. Many of us are working longer hours in lockdown, and being in front of screens all day means the video calls are not as much of a novelty as they once were. However, we need to remember how lucky we are that this global pandemic didn’t happen in the pre-internet age – then we really would feel cut off!
We recently held an online Pub Quiz , which is a very British institution, and we found that this worked really well for people to stay connected and have fun. We certainly aren’t the first to do this, but maybe one of the first to do it with such a big group of post-trade professionals together on Zoom.
6. In your personal opinion, what will life look like after COVID-19 pandemic? What are the major challenges that humanity will face in the near future?
This is difficult to say. Human nature has shown that after a crisis, we tend to drift back to what we know best and how we are happiest – so I’m sure once a vaccine has rolled out then the world will return to much the same, but with a few changes. Recent pictures of Halloween parties in Hong Kong, and social gatherings in China show big crowds gathering again outside – and we have to remember Asia went through Sars in 2003 and bounced back to being a lively and vibrant part of the world within a year. Here in the UK there was a huge pent up demand for air travel to go on holiday in July and August once the first lockdown was over – despite the fact that the virus was still out there.
But the global reach of the virus, and the massive economic impact will for sure be felt for many years to come. Many businesses based on people gathering in large numbers (venues, hotels, airlines, theatres, restaurants and the traditional high street) will continue to struggle to survive. On a structural level, many lifestyle choices such as working from home will become the norm, or at least a blend of office and home working depending on the individual’s needs and corporate policy. But there is no denying that the world has proved it can function, thanks to tech, away from the office environment.
We as conference organisers have to face up to these challenges and in the future we expect our meetings to have some sort of hybrid element to them – with some of the audience watching remotely online, and some attending in person at the venue. We always prefer in person, as I’m sure the FEAS community does. But as individuals, and as an industry, we are coping with alternatives for now.