We believe in virtual conferences! It’s been a month since the 4th Annual Atlantic Conference for Administrative Professionals (ACAP) went online for the first time on July 29th, after many months of careful preparation.

Our Delegates and The Decision to Go Virtual:

When back in March, due to the ongoing pandemic, meeting restrictions were put in place, we postponed the conference to July, thinking that for sure things will be much better during the summer. But reality sunk in soon after that, we knew we had to decide to deliver the event virtually or to postpone our conference maybe indefinitely.

This event has always been important to us in providing educational opportunities for administrative professionals in a fun and meaningful way. The idea of turning the interactive, in-person, fun annual meeting into something virtual in a couple of months seemed rather impossible for a moment.  It was not an easy feat to make sure the spirit of the conference stays intact and people will join us online for the educational program as well as the opportunity to share and network with peers, which was the main focus of our planning from the get-go.

The event was always popular and we had a base of interested registrants back in March for the original in-person conference scheduled for April. It was a tradition to host the event during the week of Administrative Professionals’ Day in April to celebrate the amazing work of dedicated administrative staff in offices across Atlantic Canada and beyond.

We gave notice to our delegates and speakers, early enough for everyone to change plans accordingly and choose the best option for themselves and waited for the feedback. Unfortunately, the virtual conference is not everyone’s cup of tea. People can be resistant to change for different reasons. Some need more time to embrace a new reality. For others, it was just too much to deal with at the moment amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic.  Making the online event appealing to all in a short time was a challenge and we had to face some losses in attendance numbers. It was a valuable learning experience. In the end, enough delegates showed their willingness to give it a try and that is all we needed to know to get started. Administrative professionals are a resilient group!

We forged ahead with planning for a new virtual 4th Annual ACAP.

Technology:

The technology is a very important component of a successful virtual event. After studying many platforms, we decided to keep things simple and use Zoom. So, we had to make sure we understood how to operate Zoom with large events and how to create something more than a webinar presentation for delegates.

We embraced the challenge. We studied and became experts not only in Zoom but also in on-line engagement techniques. In the process, we acquired new tools and strategies to deliver an exciting program online. It enabled us to keep the program agenda with breakout sessions mostly intact from the original version.

The Speakers:

Although the majority of our speakers confirmed their ability and willingness to change plans, not all were able to join us online. We had to adjust the program.  We selected the sessions that could be transitioned to virtual format making sure they do not lose their educational value. It was not an easy process looking for new online presenters on such a short-term notice. Nevertheless, it was a very valuable learning experience for all involved. Our willingness to think outside of the box paid off.

We repurposed the pre-conference get together this time around to be a meet and greet online with a musical performance by Dave Carroll. It worked out perfectly because it gave people a chance to also feel more comfortable with checking in for Zoom sessions and be ready for their selected program the next day.

Because the live interaction of speakers and delegates is a crucial part of this event, we made sure to replace it as much as possible with virtual Q&As at the end of each session and during breaks.

Practice makes perfect. All staff and speakers worked tirelessly to make it all this happen. Deborah Lorehnz believes “preparation takes time and practice” as she tested her presentation over and over again and made necessary changes to show onscreen her most authentic self. Friends and family members were very much involved in planning and preparing many presentations to say the least. Being open to new experiences comes with overcoming fears, Claudine Lowry thinks having “a moderator and a technical person available for support and direction during the presentation” made her “more at ease and able to enjoy the connection with her audience”. Embracing the technology is as big for us event planners as it is for presenters who are used the live audience. Susan Stewart, as a comedian, is an actual performer, and changing to a virtual world came with its set of challenges for her as well. She changed her outlook from her: “stand up comedy to sit down comedy” act and focused on making the connection with the audience as real as possible to make us laugh out loud (mostly muted😊). “I have learned to think of myself as a TV host. I’m now on everyone’s screens so focusing on voice intonation and facial expressions are key. Stare down that camera lens and make those viewers feel like you see them😊” Whatever the approach we were all astounded by the results.

Yet, the overwhelming impact of this conference was how much WORKED. The content was useful and engaging, like always. Delegates still attended sessions presented by experts on the key issues important to the administrative professional field including well-deserved wellness-focused yoga and meditation options. And one major theme that keeps on coming up, to sum up, the overall experience is maybe a bit of surprise for all participating, is how we can still connect virtually and make it meaningful. “There was a lot of laughter and much more feedback” than donalee Moulton, and others anticipated from the online event. Dr.Wendy Caroll put it clearly: “One always has that moment of worry before an online session – Will my internet connection be stable? and Will my audio equipment work? But once both of these tech items are a check then these online session offers a wonderful venue.”

Exactly! A welcomed opportunity to stay connected, expect the unexpected, and be flexible!

Despite huge obstacles (the world changed by pandemic), we made sure we lived up to our promise again this year, against all odds. Going virtual with this year’s 4th Annual ACAP was our chance to seize that opportunity and live our mission like never before in delivering the best event for administrative professionals year after year. We saw this as an opportunity to create a meaningful connection in a new yet still welcoming environment.

Sum Up:

So, yes, we do believe in a virtual conference success story, because the 4th Annual ACAP made us so!

Thank you to all who participated for believing in us!

Spark Conferences Team

 

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