When the COVID-19 pandemic brought in-person events to a halt across the globe earlier this year, event organisers were forced to cancel, postpone or pivot events to virtual. In the case of large conferences or trade exhibitions with greater emphasis on networking, it made more sense to postpone these events to later dates. But for smaller organisations who rely on meetings, events and the sharing of ideas as a core function, more immediate virtual solutions were required.
At the start of February 2020, the word ‘zoom’ evoked little meaning in people’s minds beyond a Mazda commercial – by April, this popular free video conferencing platform would have 300 million daily users (Source: Zoom). While this platform provides free or low-cost conferencing solutions with plenty of appealing features and engagement tools, its surge in usage exposed a number of security flaws that saw Zoom blacklisted by many government, education and corporate bodies.
Our client, the Professional Development Network (PDN), emphasised to us the importance of being able to continue delivering professional development to school leaders during times of social distancing. With Zoom off the cards, and the added complexity of finding a low-cost solution to produce free webinars for members of the not-for-profit organisation, we were faced with the challenge of finding a suitable platform that complied with our client’s requirements.
Through discussions with this client we learned that Microsoft Teams was widely adopted by schools already. While running ordinary meetings in Teams is straight-forward, producing a live webinar for large public audiences involves special licensing that comes at a higher cost. However, we were able to secure sponsorship of streaming licenses via our friends at IT For Schools, who kindly donated the licenses as a gesture of support. IT For Schools is the PDN’s 2020 IT Partner, and are currently developing a custom app for PDN in collaboration with our team! Collaborations like these are a perfect example of how we can work together in these times, and we are very grateful for their ongoing support.
Finding a platform to host the webinar was only the first step in the process. Offering free-of-charge events to subscribers meant we would also need to leverage existing connections within the committee to be able to secure presenters at no charge. One of the PDN committee members, Andrew Peach (Principal, Marsden State High School) volunteered to be the first virtual presenter in this series, preparing a timely webinar on crisis leadership. We worked closely with Andrew and future presenters to ensure they were comfortable using the platform and had adequate audio visual and Wi-Fi. Providing guidance during the transition period, we facilitated test events to ensure smooth transitions, and ensured our team was onsite to support presenters, moderate Q&A and troubleshoot any technical issues on the day.
School teams loved tuning in remotely to participate in the live webinar, some sharing photos of their teams engaging from a distance. “This has been very helpful, thank you!” one attendee commented. Another commented, “Great session – very informative.” We were glad to play a part in supporting school leaders so they can make a difference in our schools and communities.
The Extra Mile
Taking this one step further, we also created a subscriber activation to generate new memberships for this organisation, by offering our ‘PDN Virtual’ webinar series free to subscribers only. Through doing this, PDN also gained numerous new members, and the committee was pleased to see the results of these innovations.
Thanks to preparation, communication and collaboration, we have successfully developed a new mode of high quality, low cost learning for this valued client, in turn ‘educating the educators’ on the benefits of running virtual events in both the short-term, as well as a long-term solution to provide valuable PD to its members without the limitations of distance.
“The team at Dot Dash Events were outstanding in making the move from face to face to online events. Their work to set up the platform, assist with the IT and step through the process on the day helped to ensure a successful first attempt event. I would highly recommend Dot Dash Events for their support in creating innovative and engaging online events, and for their efforts to assist in getting new ideas off the ground.”Andrew Peach – Principal, Marsden State High School