A wrecking ball for others, coronavirus has provided a catalyst for professional conference organiser Agnes Zalan to expand her Blue Mountains Events & Conferences business into the virtual realm with limitless potential.
``COVID-19 has been a disaster in many respects of the conference and events industry, but it has also been a boon for those with the creativity and courage to embrace change and adapt,’’ she said.
Ms Zalan, who works with non-profit organisations and associations to grow their impact through professional conferences and events, was initially rocked by the effects of the pandemic.
``Most businesses cancelled their conferences and events because of social distancing rules, restrictions to attendee numbers and travel bans. The industry was decimated.’’
But, like myriad successful entrepreneurs around the globe, ``I took a deep breath, shook myself off, thought of ways I could change and got back to work’’.
``My immediate motivation was that I had a conference with a message so important that cancellation or postponement was not an option. I also realised that COVID actually presented more opportunities than ever.’’
While limited numbers can physically attend conferences and events, countless others can be present virtually via numerous online programs such as the sophisticated event management platform EventsAIR.
In May, Ms Zalan scrambled to learn EventsAIR’s new virtual event program, OnAIR (created in response to the pandemic) in time for 2020 Australian Bushfire Building Conference in the Blue Mountains in September.
Last year, 250 people physically attended the conference. This year just 70 turned up.
However, 280 others joined via the OnAIR platform and ABC Radio livestreamed some sessions to more than 35,000 Facebook viewers.
``For one reason or another (financial or time constraints, other commitments etc), many people joining us virtually would not normally have attended at all,’’ Ms Zalan said.
``That response validated my initial gut instinct to push through and search for a way to bring the event to life.’’
While most people prefer to attend a conference in person for the learning, the vibe and to make business connections, hybrid events are here to stay.
Virtual events will not take over live events. However, hybrid events will expand the opportunities of live ones and unite people without them being together physically.
``Hybrid events can be as lavish as you wish or as budget friendly and still be amazing (and have oomph) using the right approach and, of course, technology.’’
Online, opportunities are inexhaustible, with virtual chat rooms and exhibition halls, portals into different realms, apps, meeting hubs, downloadables, extended availability, AI tutorials, live Q&A, instant IT help desks and gamification the start of potential to extend reach.
``You can set virtual parametres on all facets of your event, from the number of attendees and who is allowed to speak when and for how long to advertising your next function, encouraging attendees to fill in surveys, running giveaways and competitions and fulfilling sponsorship commitments.
``I was petrified at the thought of holding my first virtual event because it was unchartered territory I had to learn new things, but now I’m confident of my ability to run hybrid events and can help others to ensure their message gets through. It wasn’t that hard after all.’’
Blue Mountains-based Ms Zalan has been a professional conference organiser for more than 20 years.
A Destination NSW regional conferencing supplier who has previously working with Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise, the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre and Mirvac Hotels & Resorts, she is committed to engaging local suppliers.
Blue Mountains Events & Conferences encourages businesses to ``think outside the city’’, with a particular focus on showcasing the natural beauty, stellar venues and exceptional businesses of the Greater Blue Mountains region, Western Sydney and regional NSW.
Ms Zalan works with small non-profit organisation and associations on small to medium size conferences from concept to completion.
``My priority is to organise event experiences that impress while giving clients the freedom to focus on what’s important to them,’’ she said.