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Virtually Everything!

Published on 15 October 2020

Virtually Everything!

Bringing people together is at the heart of The Forum’s vision and values. It was not that many years ago that virtually everything we did was face-to-face, onsite in venues and hotels, now virtually everything we do is virtual. This has been a huge learning opportunity for us, and as we look to create our best practice programme for 2021 and plan our next face-to-face events, I thought it would be good to share our journey during 2020.

There is a separate article describing the journey of the Assisted Learning Pathway, which started in February as a face-to-face workshop and ended virtually. Please read, as there are some inspirational stories.

At the start 2020 our best practice programme was created to follow a familiar pattern of learning & development workshops in February, our flagship 2-day conference in April followed by site visits in June, July & September. Back in March, prior to Government lockdowns, we made the decision to move the conference to September, thinking “things will be back to normal by then!” At that stage it was decided that September would be a safe date, as June was deemed too risky!

Changing the rhythm of the year meant that our award finalists held their site visits virtually in June. How do you do a virtual site visit? We chose to use Zoom, so that we and the finalists could present their story and then the breakout rooms could be used to create virtual round-table discussions. The biggest difference was that there was no longer a room-limit (well 3,000!), so we saw a huge increase in attendees on some of the visits, Jet2 being the most popular with more than 70 attendees. Most importantly the feedback was positive, with our members finding the learning days more accessible, easier to fit in around their busy day and crucially helping people feel part of the community of best practice. 

Next, we had to deliver a virtual awards gala evening. Our Innovation Awards Gala dinner has often been referred to as the “best Tuesday night you’ll ever have” with a good mix of food, entertainment, recognising winners and bandioke. The hotel venues are always pleased with the bar turnover. As mentioned earlier, The Forum is all about bringing people together, so the last thing we wanted to do was create a one-way broadcast announcing winners or use pre-recorded reactions from finalists. We wanted to create the same buzz of the Tuesday night so we decided to use a studio and compere the afternoon using Vimeo via Zoom, so we could capture live in-the-moment comments from our winners. The polished video production of the Vimeo studio combined with the interaction of Zoom gave us another well received event. 

The biggest test followed with our Customer Strategy & Planning Conference, our usual 2-day April conference being turned into a virtual event. One decision made very quickly was to not replicate the event over two-days, but to spread out the different sessions over 1-main week, followed by a week of networking discussions. Again, we tested different methods for delivery this time using Streamyard and Vimeo for the keynotes, with Zoom being used for the interaction in the workshops. Having just completed this, we are really pleased with how this has been received with the feedback again being very positive. The keynotes really stand out as the change in delivery method really enhanced the experience. Attendees were able to interact and ask questions, with the keynote speaker then able to answer during the Q&A. The surprise success was the technology showcases, with product demonstrations working really well in this virtual environment. Zoom supported discussion and the sharing of ideas with the breakout room feature. Best of all, we were able to record all sessions, with everything available on-demand to watch again at the end of each day.

What does this mean for The Forum? Each Autumn we launch our best practice programme for the following year, and this year is no exception. It is really important we create certainty for our members and the wider community to continue our strategy of raising standards in customer operations. 

2021 Awards

Now open for 2021 we are again looking for nominations from individuals and teams across Planning, Quality and Insight, along with Supplier & Client partnerships as well as Innovation & Transformation. The only change to the awards process is that judging will be completed virtually. We will announce the winners on Friday 30th April 2021 in a virtual awards gala.

Virtual Customer Strategy & Planning, April 2021

We will continue with our virtual format for April, with a week-long agenda of keynotes and workshops followed by networking group discussions. We do not feel that we can guarantee the expected experience from a face-to-face conference in April. Restrictions/distancing may still be in place, some members may have travel bans, or be slightly concerned about travel. What we can guarantee is an agenda rich in thought leadership and content, providing you with new ideas and an opportunity to learn, share and ultimately transform. 

Virtual Finalist Best Practice

As always, our award finalists will share their stories with virtual best practice days during June and July. These were a success this year and we believe we can develop and build upon this format to make even better days.

Regional Best Practice Days

We will be planning face-to-face days in June, with regional events bringing together members. More information will follow, however, our plan is to deliver a day of thought leadership with lively discussion groups followed by a few drinks and some food.

National Conference, November 2021

Chesford Grange Hotel in Warwickshire which is familiar to our members and would have hosted this November’s conference is our chosen venue for next November. This one-day conference will bring together each of the communities of best practice, with stimulating keynotes and workshop discussions.

We will be reviewing our best practice programme regularly, so we can continue to react to any changes in the national and global situation. We are ready to start face-to-face events again when the time is right and will balance this with virtual activity.  The Forum will continue to bring together and grow our community of best practice using whatever means drives the right outcomes. 2020 has provided us with a learning opportunity which we have embraced; 2021 will certainly be uncertain, however, we believe we will continue to offer you the support and value you need in order to succeed.

Date Published: 15/10/2020

Author: Phil Anderson

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