Event producers discuss the pitfalls and advantages of planning a virtual event
Women General Counsel Canada is hosting the second in its four-part 2021 virtual conference series this week. Covering the topic Embracing Ambiguity, the event on March 4 examines ways for general counsel to guide teams through challenging times and to thrive in times of ambiguity and uncertainty. The conference builds on the first in the series which took place in January with Unpacking the Disruption of 2020 as the topic of discussion.
Conference producers and co-chairs, Lisa Marcuzzi and Kimberley Graham were new to planning virtual events this year so they are keen to build on the success of each event by addressing challenges that were encountered such as minor microphone and backdrop issues, as well as taking feedback from participants.
“We have the benefit of learning lessons at every session that we can take to the next session,” says Marcuzzi, director of communication and website at WGCC. “We’re trying to set ourselves apart from other conferences. We’re all bombarded with requests to attend conferences, so we wanted this to stand out in terms of format and content and trying to make it unique and representative of WGCC.”
In preference to a full-day event which may not suit everyone, the committee chose to break this year’s virtual conference into a series consisting of four short segments to be spread through the year, all following the same overarching theme of 2020 ... What Was That?
One of the more challenging elements of running a virtual event is allowing participants to feel connected to one another and to the speakers.
“One of the things that makes WGCC stand out as an organization is the connectivity and engagement that we get, so the inability to see each other’s faces and to have little chats here or there with people was certainly felt,” says Marcuzzi.
“It’s a balancing act in terms of making sure the presentations flow nicely, while still maintaining as much connectivity as possible,” says Graham, secretary at WGCC. “We don’t want to chop back and forth from presenters to attendees.”
Together with conference committee members, Arlene Alvares, Andrea Fellows, Cindy Heinz, Heather Mullen, and Clare Smith, Marcuzzi and Graham have added additional options for asking questions during the second conference, in order to further enhance connectivity.
“We’re striving to make people feel they are part of the conference and connected to other GCs,” says Graham.
Despite the obvious disadvantages of an online event as compared to an in-person format, there are also benefits such as the ability to attract a wider pool of WGCC members from across the country who may otherwise have been excluded due to financial or time constraints. Conference producers also benefited from the skills they developed in planning the events.
“We are both far more competent in the area of virtual conferences now,” says Graham. “We did learn a lot and we certainly had to leverage our agility and persistence in order to pull it all together.”
Maccuzzi, who also holds the title of vice president, general counsel, and chief equality, diversity & inclusion officer at ArcelorMittal Dofasco, and Graham who is SVP, general counsel and corporate secretary at CT REIT, may consider building a hybrid model for WGCC conferences in the post-pandemic world, to include a combination of in-person and virtual elements.
Around 80 participants joined the first conference in January and organizers anticipate the same number of attendees at this week’s 90-minute session. Speakers at this week’s event include Cheryl Cran, founder of NextMapping and CEO, Synthesis at Work.
Members may still sign up to attend the remaining sessions to be held on July 8 and September 23. The last two events will cover Leading with Agility, and Performing with Persistence, respectively.
The series is sponsored by Osler, Blakes, McCarthy Tetrault and Norton Rose Fulbright.