Why we need virtual events to really capture our attention

 Why we need virtual events to really capture our attention

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

By Alex Hutchison, Director at Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF

In these strange times that we are living in, where the canoe of life has capsized and the work element in that canoe has been launched into new and choppy waters, we are still learning how to deal with it all. Some of the normalities of how we used to work, such as when we passed colleagues unplanned in the corridor, or overheard someone talking about a subject that we have a shared interest in, which could spark a new conversation spontaneously, have been lost. As a result, this has called for a re-engineering of spaces that can allow for these little sparks of inspiration, intrigue, sharing and learning. The Data4Good Festival has proved itself to be just one of these spaces. A place for a community of people not only with a shared interest (Data), but also a shared value (Good) to come together.

One of the challenges of virtual conferences, from both a hosting and an attendance point of view, is attention. I personally have three monitors in my work-from-home office. A bit excessive, you might say, and it has called for the purchase of blue screen glasses to ease the eye and head pain. However, I multi-task an awful lot more in this environment than I would do in a shared office. When I have attended virtual conferences, I admit to having the event playing on one monitor, my emails on another, and Slack/Teams/A.N.Other document on the third screen. And I don’t think I am unique in my approach. The implication of this way of attending virtual conferences is that my focus is not entirely on the speaker.

As a self-confessed low-attention conference attendee, I see the key to a high-impact, meaningful interaction between attendee and conference host as threefold:

  • Have a range of opportunities so people can cherry-pick events that they really connect with
  • Invite speakers who will spark new conversations, or can give really practical advice to attendees as takeaways
  • Bring people into the discussion with an event platform that allows for Q&A and discussion that is truly folded into the conversation live

In my opinion, the Data4Good Festival has nailed these three items. The whole event felt diverse, inclusive and thought-provoking. The agenda was varied with different topics and types of discussion available. It was easy to pick a couple of sessions to focus attention on, with the option to listen back to any that may have been lower on the priority list.

The presentations that I or my team went to (divide and conquer approach) all felt like they had some robust learnings to take away. I like to come away from a session with a list of bullet points or To Dos that I have linked back to my day-to-day work whilst listening to a speaker or panel. Or even just a renewed sense of vigour about what we are developing or delivering already. That was most definitely the case at the Data4Good Festival.

The tone set by the hosts made the conference feel very accessible. I think particularly in the sector of Data 4 Good, this is a really key facet to bring to a virtual event. There were a variety of interests, capabilities, and capacities across the audience of this event, but levelling that playing field through a relaxed and approachable tone is a great skill to implement.

In summary – well done to the organising team at Data4Good Festival for managing to capture my attention from my two other screens! And thank you for delivering a conference full of high-value content, with authentic speakers and a fabulous mission wrapped around it all. These spaces during this virtual working time are absolutely critical for people and organisations to grow. The Data Lab is delighted to have been able to sponsor an initiative so close to their own hearts.

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