The New Normal
Bringing the industry together – virtually
It would be an understatement to say there hasn’t been a part of our work, home, and social lives that hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19 in the last few months. Life as we know it has changed drastically but rolling with the punches has had a few benefits for Alberta Farm Animal Care.
It started in March, less than a week before our annual Livestock Care Conference was due to begin. The government announced increasingly strict rules for public gatherings, and we needed to make a decision – go, or no-go. Well, it turned out there was a third option: transform what was usually two-days of public conference and receptions, invite-only meetings, limited access workshops, and an AGM into a one-day virtual conference. No problem.
The first job was deciding what had to be cancelled, postponed, and what would work virtually. We postponed the workshop and student mentorship program because there are some events that really are better in-person. We reached out to our speakers to see who would be willing and able to participate online. We worked with our sponsors and tradeshow exhibitors to ensure they would get recognition and access to our online attendees.
Kaylee Sheets was the “mad genius” behind the virtual conference. She worked with our IT support, Zoom, MC, speakers and sponsors to make sure we had as few surprises as possible. Everyone pitched in to work on social media messaging, media relations, sponsor recognition, resources for the day as well as communication with the over 100 registered attendees who were waiting to know what we were doing!
We have heard overwhelmingly that we succeeded in providing a worthwhile experience from those in attendance that day. More than 80 people joined us for most of the day which included four major sessions (keynote speaker from California as well as speakers from Georgia, BC, and Calgary) as well as the presentation of our Awards of Distinction, a virtual trade show, and the opportunity for people to connect virtually through the chat options. The line-up of speakers was a hybrid of speakers from the planned conference and worked very well.
A few of the lessons learned:
- It takes a village. Going virtual is not less work than an “In Real Life” conference and everyone needs to have a job to make sure all of the pieces come together. Also, hand the reins over to team members to run with new ideas.
- Preparation is key. Run-throughs with every speaker, presenter, and the MC ensure that everyone knows they will have proper lighting and audio, a strong internet signal and that their presentation will run as planned.
- A command centre is vital. One person is responsible for the Zoom platform; others will be responsible for sharing links to resources, slides and sponsor recognition, social media posts, and media releases throughout the day.
- Get creative. By considering the LCC in a virtual format we opened the door to re-imagine other programs we usually offer in-person. The flood gates for new ideas are open and we continue to see the benefits.
Since the LCC 2.0 on March 19th, AFAC has received a number of requests for information on how to make a virtual conference work. We have hosted our AGM, a three-part backyard chicken workshop series (due to increased demand another series is planned for June 9 and 11th and more on the way) and started a series of outreach sessions for families at home. This is just the beginning. While we will be happy to be back out in the community when it safe to do so, in the meantime we are finding new opportunities to connect with larger audiences and adding value and connecting in ways we couldn’t before.