Would Davos without a Bono selfie be the same

Whether it was shivering on the streets of Davos for the World Economic Forum to catch sight of an elusive celebrity or organizing the Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Awards at the Versailles Palace or hosting a Paul Writer Round Table at the Ritz in Bangalore, I loved every good event.

They left me energized and wanting more.

They were fun!

As a bonus, it counted as work.

With the new restrictions on travel and proximity in-person events have been on hold in most countries for six months. And marketers have been tempted to replace their in-person conferences with digital versions of the same. But are they? Would a virtual World Economic Forum be the same if you saw Bono on the screen but couldn’t get a selfie? Is the webinar experience as good as attending a Roundtable where even if the speaker was terrible you could console yourself with a glass of wine?

But the glass of wine was just to drown your sorrow that you did not get what you wanted – which was:

(a) learn something new (b) get deeper knowledge about a useful product (c) make friends with new, interesting peers and (d) bump into old friends (e) enjoy herself (f) feel a sense of belonging (g) get some respect and recognition

Yeah, I know, even in the good old days all events did not deliver that. But there were the perks of traveling, staying in a nice hotel, the good food. And the bar. Plus you could always break out of the agenda and go find your own friends and peers.

After months of isolation, most of us are more in need of learning and networking and respect and recognition than ever.

But we can’t rely solely on events to fill that need any more.

Whether you are a participant or a conference curator, we need to rethink our strategy in terms of these six expectations.

Most digital events can be relied upon to deliver learning and knowledge. The other elements – as a participant, you’re on your own.

So what can you do?

One is instead of waiting for events, continuously expand your circle of acquaintances. I personally find specialized Facebook groups and Whatsapp groups useful for this.But Reddit, or a Slack Community may be useful for others. For even more focused – and gated – contacts, sign up for a curated professional group. Some are free, some are paid.

Serendipity is one of the aspects of an event that is hard to replicate digitally. The joy of bumping into an old friend at an event where you thought you knew noone. Ask event organizers to share the list of confirmed participants beforehand. If you know someone then you can liven up the discussion by chatting with them privately during the program. If they really want you to attend, you can even insist that your friends or colleagues be invited.

Certificates, social media tags and posts, badges, stickers, trophies are all ways to express recognition and belonging. Ask organizers to provide these elements. A temporary group for participants on the social media of choice is an easy way to foster conversation and belonging before, during and after a program. A live Twitter feed was a popular event fixture a couple of years ago – worth considering a modern equivalent of that.

Where I’m going with this is that the event experience has been fragmented and we have to achieve these outcomes either on our own or by driving event curators in the direction we want them to go. If we don’t we’ll end up just losing out on certain aspects of our professional brand.

I find being an Independent Director a tremendous way to add value both to my professional growth as well as to the organizations which do me the honour of inviting me to join their Board. I’m really excited to share with you that I have been appointed to the Board of Directors of CreditAccess Grameen, a leading Indian microfinance institution headquartered in Bengaluru, focused on providing micro-loans to women customers predominantly in rural areas across India.


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