By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
In these times when theaters, sports arenas and convention centers remain dark, stories of everyday heroes have been lighting up our screens. Many of these stories highlight payments professionals who helped communities survive the pandemic and event planners who moved conferences from on-site to online. Event planners and their day-to-day struggles remind me in many ways of our payments journey. In both cases, early days were all about building infrastructure. As platforms evolved, the focus changed to adding value; models became more complex. The primary difference between the two evolutionary journeys is timing. The road to mobile, digital and omnichannel commerce has taken decades. Digital conferences are iterating at warp speed.
In the early days of electronic transactions, our goals were simple: authorization and settlement. Over time, payments technology became more agile, secure and richly layered as card brands and service providers found ways to leverage the payment rails. In recent years, we've ported analog capabilities into the digital world. In a similar way, when businesses closed during the pandemic, industries of all types had to transform physical meetings into digital events. At first, the simple act of bringing stakeholders together online was something to celebrate. But euphoria was short-lived as people rapidly tired of Zoom meetings, webinars and overall digital overload.
Deborah Reuben, founder and CEO at TomorrowZone, set out to relieve Zoom fatigue by designing a different kind of digital conference experience. "Beyond Convention: EF Innovators Unconference," was held in two sessions on Dec. 3 and 8, 2020. The interactive event, designed for equipment finance innovators, was billed as "part think-tank, part working group, part meet-up and part hang-out – an online place to escape from the status quo."
Reuben pointed out that digital conferences, considered radically disruptive a few months ago, are already being disrupted. Attendees expect an optimal conference experience with high-speed technology that delivers buffer-free video and challenging, impactful content, she stated.
Beyond Convention incorporated gaming, interactive whiteboards and rotating breakout sessions to keep people engaged and circulating, Reuben noted, adding that digital whiteboards were fun but barely scratched the surface of what is possible in virtual collaborations. "We wanted people to walk away with an understanding that you really can develop deep trusting relationships with other people in a virtual world," she said.
Anna Degtereva, CEO and founder of LinkUpConferenceShow agreed that virtual conferences have changed the game by expanding access to professionals who had formerly not been able to attend due to budgetary and travel restrictions. Working and meeting remotely can also improve efficiencies, especially for her team, which works across regions and time zones, she stated. "The most important advantage of [working in] this virtual reality is that it forces us to place a greater value on time," Degtereva said. "It encourages greater focus and better organization. Our overlap is minimal and we need to make every moment that we are together count."
LinkUpConferenceShow is a lean, digital-first company that is building from scratch, making changes on the fly and leapfrogging over large incumbent conferences, Degtereva stated. The show's Dec. 8, 2020 debut mixed 70 percent networking with 30 percent comedy from industry leaders, celebrities and comedians. "People know that conferences must evolve and adapt just like other industries have, such as Lemonade, AirBnB and other services," Degtereva said. "COVID-19 has just accelerated this process and forced it into 2020 rather than 2030."
Marla Ellerman, executive director of MPC: The Digital Commerce Event, also found a silver lining after hosting her 10th annual conference entirely online. The boutique show, held at the Chicago Swissotel in 2019 and virtually in 2020, featured presentations by Google, Intel, U.S. Bank, Pinterest and other leading commerce brands.
Responding to the show's high post-event engagement, Ellerman is expanding MPC into an always-connected platform. A monthly show guide, launching in the first quarter of 2021, will feature content, video explainers, blogs and webinars. "We're grateful to our partners for powering our digital transformation and helping us tap this always-on platform's limitless potential," she said.
Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content strategist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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