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“Next year” is now: Why your conference still needs to be virtual

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) “This time next year” is now next week. What does this mean for conference organizers and attendees, and what preparations can we do?

Remember last year when we started looking at this whole… Pandemic thing as very temporary for some reason? All the jokes about mutant sourdough starters taking over the planet, and toilet paper forts before the very real toll set in and settled in?

Toilet paper earrings being sold on

(These are still cool, I don’t care what anyone else says.)

It’s not 100% our fault for being optimistic. Humans straight up aren’t wired to be on high alert for extended periods of time, and burning all our clothes after every outing is cost prohibitive anyway. So the hosts, organizers, and venue overlords amongst us figured: “Run extra cleaning crews, close an hour early, watch out for the few elderly we care to acknowledge, apply for that sweet sweet assistance grant money, and we’ll be all set in… 6 weeks maybe”. It had all the simplicity of a Simon Pegg zombie survival plan, if less of the fun.

And then time marched on, and we weren’t set in the least.

Now everyone who placed their multi-attendee, in-person event bets on ‘This time next year’, is about to see why the house always wins. But the National Association of Realtors gambled correctly… Or rather, they checked their history and hedged their bets.

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“One of NAR’s core values is to put members first, and with that the health and safety of America’s 1.4 million Realtors® remains our top priority,” says NAR president Charles Oppler. Lovely sentiment.

But this is what pricked up my ‘heartless pragmatist’ ears:

“NAR leadership and staff had hoped we could gather in person for our 2021 Legislative Meetings, but after the success and record registration we witnessed last May, we are confident that more Realtors® will be better served by holding this year’s conference virtually.” Emphasis mine, as usual.

The takeaway here is that heavy investment in the digital infrastructure and spreadsheet-savvy personnel so instrumental to online conference migration wasn’t just a dumpster fire 2020 contingency plan— this is officially the soundest strategy for the next year. At least.

For everyone with planned showings, conferences, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ shenanigans, and so forth that you thought would be happening in Q3 and 4 of this year… You’ll want to follow NAR’s lead.

You’re going to want:

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  • Lesson plans for speakers or speaker assistants in the delicate art of digital presentation (ie, do you know how to mute your audience for the presentation and UNmute them for Q&A yet).
  • The premium plans of whatever group communication software it is you’re putting off. It’s time.
  • A letter written to your legal representatives emphasizing the importance of aid for the venue-staff that won’t be getting you and your attendees’ conference business for another year in a row.

Remember folks, as much as we want to innovate (re: tantrum) our way out of following winning examples from larger entities… Sometimes it needs to be a game of following the thought leaders.

Stay safe, stay sane, stay speakers muted.

You can't spell "Together" without TGOT: That Goth Over There. Staff Writer, April Bingham, is that goth; and she's all about building bridges— both metaphorically between artistry and entrepreneurship, and literally with tools she probably shouldn't be allowed to learn how to use.


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