In early 2020, the grim realities of the COVID-19 pandemic became all too clear to those of us in the conference hosting and organising business. The life blood of conferences is the human exchange: the connection, networking, and interactions of the traditional in-person conference – without the ability to gather under one roof anymore, what’s left?
Plenty of organisations experimented by taking their conferences online using Zoom webinars and other platforms. But it rapidly became clear that this experience was prone to falling flat. It’s all too easy to zone out of a Zoom room, to turn off the camera, to multi-task. A viable virtual conference that can replicate the engagement of a real-life event and hold the attention of attendees requires a total rethink of how to conceptualise and stage a conference.
At African Agenda, we believed that tapping into our extensive international network of professional conference organising colleagues, researching global best practice, and innovating with a local tech team could help us deliver a flawless virtual conference. Greenlighting our ambitious game-plan and embracing the concept of a fully virtual conference required significant courage on behalf of the client too. Fortunately, the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA), which had been a client of ours since 2007 and whose flagship annual conference was under threat of cancellation, was willing to believe alongside us.