In a year when everyone is complaining of ‘being over’ Zoom and itching to reconnect with other people face-to-face, how can an online event draw on the technology that everyone claims to be sick of in order to provide an experience that feels uplifting and human?
During October of this year I ‘attended’* The Great Wave, “a four-day global-local, virtual-physical festival to make business more beautiful.”
It was a fantastic event, inspiring and intriguing. I have written three blogs about things I noticed in my reaction to it, and in this, the first, I want to talk about the production of this online event and some subsequent reflections I have had on my own practice.
The Great Wave, produced by The House of Beautiful Business, incorporated a mixture of online happenings. These included keynotes; panels; podcasts; activities including walking, meditation, ritual, mask-making, and dance; performances including music, dance, and performance-art; short film and digital art. Participants tuned in from all over the world, and because the event’s audience was spread across so many time zones, the organisers valiantly tried to program virtually around the clock for over three days. The Great Wave’s website boasts of offering over 300 hours of material in its programme. Included in the event ticket is access to a temporary library of recordings of most sessions; this is welcome as it enables us to catch up with things that happened while we were asleep. The overall impression was of a technologically sophisticated and highly innovative festival.
I was raving on Twitter about what a dynamic atmosphere this event had, how connected I felt to other attendees even though I was ‘attending’ physically alone in locked-down Melbourne, and how impressed I was with the production values. A tweeter replied, asking what technologies were in use to achieve all this. Apart from one exception, I found myself listing the usual suspects: Zoom, Soundcloud, Vimeo, WhatsApp.
That one exception was an online art experience created by Waltz Binaire called Journee, an online immersive landscape that participants could enter and wander around, staring out to a digitised sea, ambling through an animated forest, discovering art and each other, absorbing a peaceful atmosphere. It was gob smackingly beautiful. But apart from this bespoke and cutting-edge piece of technology, it struck me during that tweeted exchange that, otherwise, I wasn’t talking about anything exotic in terms of digital tools or platforms in use at The Great Wave.
I realised that what made this digital event really fly were good old fashioned human creative talents and event production elements that have always been applied to the best offline events (in my past, I have worked in events management and arts management, so I always pay attention to this sort of stuff). The elements that gave The Great Wave event impact and made it such a compelling and engaging experience included:
- A strong and unifying theme: a program of incredibly diverse content was held together by the theme of a great wave: “This has been a challenging year to say the least, and given the continuing uncertainty ahead we believe we can find some solutions from the fluidity and momentum of a Great Wave: a wave of imagination, connection, and optimism to carry us forward to a fresh start”
- An array of topics (related to the theme) that kept the event surprising, engaging, and stimulating.
- A wonderfully diverse group of speakers, presenters, or performers whose contributions all seemed to be of uniformly excellent quality. This is a reflection on the skills, knowledge, and preparation of those presenters but also, surely, a reflection on a compelling theme and good program curation.
- Attention to the user experience or journey, examples of which include the beautifully designed and easy to navigate event portal which allowed us glitch-free access to sessions, and which continues to function as a temporary library until the end of the year.
- Efficiency. Good old-fashioned organisation – stuff happened when it was scheduled to happen. There were hardly any snafus. Information was ready to hand.
So, what reflections has this led to with my own online practice as a facilitator and mentor? I do not have The House of Beautiful Business’ resources, so do not expect me to produce my own Great Wave anytime soon. But, when I reflect on the elements above I also reflect on the low-tech (or human) qualities that sit behind The Great Wave: imagination, originality, hard work, attention to detail, care, an appetite for risk-taking tempered with an appetite for efficiency. These are ‘resources’ that I can access if I want to.
Alone in my flat, hunched over my laptop, the scale on which I operate may be humble but that’s OK because humble does not preclude good. Using my imagination, being diligent in my preparation, practicing my Zoom technique, putting thought into designing my material, I can aspire to excellence. This is one gift that The Great Wave has given me.
*It’s funny how these words from old-fashioned offline events still creep into my speech when I talk about ‘going to’ a purely digital event.