30 March 2020 - London's Calling

Ten days ago we delivered the 5th edition of London's Calling, a Salesforce Community Conference. I'm normally quicker to release post event write-ups but this year's took its toll on me, on all of us. 

As organisers we came back together last August to start planning the 2020 event. It was to be our 5th year and we needed to show some maturity in how we went about delivering. We started by looking at ourselves, how we worked as a team together and this helped to define an Organiser's Charter. The purpose of the Charter was to outline how we engaged with each other in terms of respect, communication, and time and how we would deliver the end product. We all signed up to the Charter. 



The next big milestone was venue. 4 years with Skills Matter had been a firm base to develop the event but we had now outgrown them. We needed extra capacity for attendees, and even with the threat of Brexit and impending doom on the UK economy (remember those heady days) we took a punt and selected The Brewery as our new home.



A new venue brought a whole heap of new challenges to the team. Firstly, working with a new venue team, their regulations and stricter legalise in the contract to wade through. Our costs also significantly increased which meant an overhaul of the sponsor pack, another punt on whether our packages would be accepted. And of course, a new catering team and the prospect that on the day we would not be serving pies. How would our attendees cope?

The new venue did bring new possibilities though. More space for a larger audience, the capacity for more speaker sessions, more sponsorship options around the venue and the ability to have a proper after party to celebrate a great day. We were excited. 

As an organising team we met every week to drive the project forward, alternating from face to face to online. We covered all the topic areas, made meeting notes and actions. We allowed one another to express opinions which helped to shape our event. 

We are grateful and honoured that London's Calling is a successful event. We are lucky to have sponsors and speakers who actively want to get involved with us. All we have to do is shape the best way they become part of the day so it works for everyone.

By February things were looking very steady. Sponsors and speakers were in place, and we were refining the added value items such as the food, T-shirts and venue branding to give our day those finishing touches. 



It was around this time that things changed. It started with some speakers having to pull out of the event, suddenly unable to travel due to company imposed restrictions, and then attendees and some sponsors also raised their concerns too. Countries around the world closed their doors but the UK was still open for business. We took the attitude of keep calm and carry on. We could still deliver this event. But could we?  

By early March our regular event meeting agendas had a heavy leaning towards Covid-19 and how we could mitigate if things were to be taken out of our hands. We considered Plans B and C. We took a temperature check on all our sponsors and speakers asking them if they wanted to continue with an in person event or virtual one. We asked all our people to complete a health questionnaire prior their travel to identify any possible risks.

On Friday 13 March we took the tough decision to convert our event from an all person one to a very restricted audience of just sponsors and speakers who wanted to travel to the venue. All attendees were to gain access to the event online. That Sunday the team gathered online for an all day session to re-imagine the event. London's Calling TV was brought into focus as the main feature of the day.

What can I say, we are incredibly fortunate that we work along side people who have the attitude of wanting to make something work and to deliver. Our thanks to our tech team who had the ability to prioritise a TV format, to our sponsors and speakers who gave up their time during the week to record their talks and provide adverts and presentation that made the content for the day, and to the venue who allowed us early access and bent over backwards to help.  



The day before the big day those that could travel went to The Brewery to see it being prepared and to also do some recording of interviews, segways and plan the running order of the schedule, just in case London went into lockdown. With daily updates from the Prime Minister on Covid-19 and increasing changes to our daily lives, we knew that time was against us. (cue a film montage of jeopardy moments of a bomb clock ticking down, drowning in quick sand, escaping an avalanche etc).



Friday 20 March. 09:00 we kicked off our welcome, a live piece to camera, walking through a nearly empty venue to join Kerry and Todd on a big screen who were self isolating at their respective homes. 



09:30 the content began to stream from the venue rooms onto LCTV. The team quickly helped attendees who were struggling to login to watch and we soon realised that we needed to swap to YouTube to stream. We had decided to give all our paid for attendees access to all the content across all the rooms and the ability to collaborate via the App. We offered public viewers access to the sponsor content channel and to watch any talks, including the Demo Jam and the keynote from the Keynote room.

To add spice to the day, as we would have done if it had been an in person event, we had value added fun of the photo booth and a caricature artist. 



We used the breaks between talks, where normally people would have walked to their next session, or spoken with a sponsor to instead, show sponsor adverts and deliver live pieces to camera. If you were watching on the day you may have noticed that these may not have been particularly structured or super slick in delivery. They were however of yours truly trying to add some value and fun by engaging with the very few sponsors, speakers and supporters in the venue and to keep a virtual event with some sort of human contact. 




One thing that really came into its own for the day was the Attendify App. Originally to be used to help connect attendees with each other, we extended the App's usage to be a collaboration tool and to share their experiences throughout the day, with a bit of gamification to help along the way. We asked people to share pics of their pets, lunch and what swag they were wearing. People played along sharing their images and feeding back what sessions they were watching or if we were having any technical glitches.



To offer the sponsors an opportunity to connect with attendees, to answer their questions and provide product demos we created virtual meeting rooms via Zoom accounts, connected via the App and through the website login. We encouraged attendees to visit the rooms by using a version of the sticker game that is usually played at in person events. This time an attendee needed to visit a sponsor's room and we tracked this behind the scenes. The more rooms visited, the more chance of winning a prize in the draw. One such room was sponsored by Brightgen with the added benefit of getting your caricature done at the same time.



At 17:00, after a day of running around and constantly thinking about what needed to be done next I prepared to introduce our keynote speaker, Julian Treasure. After 4 attempts of trying to hold a live connection with Julian we decided that it just wasn't to be. Fortunately we had a recording, as a precaution, and I was mighty relieved to have it. With a glass of fizz in hand, the bottle in an ice bucket by my seat, I made the introduction and took a well earned seat to watch the last session of the day. 



Sessions completed it remained for the team to say thank you to all the attendees joining us for the day, with over 7000 viewers in total. We thanked our speakers and sponsors for being so flexible and patient with us as we transformed the event. We saluted our remote colleagues, Kerry and Todd, for all their hard work during the day to ensure that people could login and the rooms were streaming the content. And then Francis mentioned how for many, life was going to change dramatically. With Salesforce we are lucky that we can work remotely but there were many there who, due to the impending lockdown, will have no work, their gigs cancelled and income suddenly stopped. 



As we signed off and said goodbye on screen we were left with a small group of people in the very large keynote room. Some of us just burst into tears. We were broken, utterly spent and exhausted. The enormity of what we had achieved and delivered coming home to us. We wanted to keep London's Calling alive. We wanted to deliver an event that could bring value to our sponsors, speakers and attendees. We couldn't postpone, we could only push forward and deliver the best we could. On that day we realised we also did it for everyone who relies on events like these to happen. Its their livelihoods and they are now suddenly gone. 

What really hurt was seeing your friends crying and not being able to give them a hug, to let them know how much you care. Heartbreaking. Social distancing is tough.

I know on the day we had technical glitches. I know we streamed the wrong content in the wrong rooms at times. I know we cut or missed speakers talks. We were far from perfect and we are sorry for messing up, but we tried our best in these circumstances.

There is much from this we can learn from. I've learnt this though; an extraordinary bunch of people had the guts to keep going and worked their asses off to produce a day that people won't forget in a hurry. We have possibly changed the way we hold conferences in the future. I'm proud of that and honoured to be part of it. 



I raise a glass and thank everyone who helped to make this day happen; our sponsors, speakers, attendees, the varied teams at the venue, the tech team, photographer, videographer, the photo booth guy, the caricature artist and all our unsung heros keeping us sane along this journey. 

Thank you. Stay safe, wash your hands. Virtual hugs for now and I hope I can replace those for real ones one day. 


Comments

  1. As many of us have already said, we take our hats off to you all for still delivering an excellent conference in the circumstances. No-one knew how quickly the restrictions were going to come into force so you took a hard decision at the right time. Yes we missed seeing our friends, yes it may not have been problem free but you persevered and still offered excellent talks to the watching masses. And who doesn't like watching Amanda take photo booth pictures time after time after time after time again! Oh. And the bits when you thought you'd gone off air. They must need a video of their own...

    ReplyDelete
  2. You kept it much more than alive, you all gave everything to let others learn, going above and beyond anything that could have been expected. Thank you for making my first London's calling epic!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It was absolutely incredible and even from home, it felt like I’d been to an event. Thank you for all your hard work

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

Popular posts from this blog

5 February 2020 - In Memory of Laura Walker

11 May 2020 - Exam Anxiety