Sarah Porter is the founder and CEO of Inspired Minds. Inspired Minds was one of the first events companies to take a large, planned physical event and convert it to an online alternative in light of COVID-19 - and succeeded in making that change with only two week’s notice! We heard Sarah’s perspective on what enabled them to successfully change directions and get online quickly. We also spoke about the differences between physical events and digital products, and what it will take for companies to succeed in this new landscape.Here are six key takeaways from our conversation with Sarah:
1. Virtual events’ are not just physical events viewed online
“I don’t believe that ‘virtual events’ exist. I believe that, virtually, you have digital-first products, which are content-led products.
And then you have physical events. At Inspired Minds, we’ve banned the words ‘virtual events.’ What we said - and I think this is really important with what businesses are facing at the moment - is this: ‘we’re not trying to take traditional events and just host them online. What we’re trying to do is offer digital alternatives and ways for people to connect online.’ I think those are quite different things.”
2. Successful teams need to be able to pivot quickly
“Our team is used to operating on a lean model, so we are used to pivoting and used to changing what we are doing often. So, we actually found it relatively easy to make the rapid change to digital.
We have a book club at Inspired Minds, and we were just reading a book, ‘The Obstacle is the Way,’ by Ryan Holiday. It’s all about resilience, flexibility, and focusing on how to overcome hurdles that are in front of you. We had just read that book before all of this happened. We have this mentality as a business: if an obstacle is in front of us, we know that as a business we will continue to operate and trade, and we will get through it, but we have to find ways to pivot around the obstacle."
3. Succeeding in the current landscape requires an omnichannel approach
“I think there is a comparison to be drawn between what is happening with traditional exhibitions and what has happened, and is still happening, in the retail industry—that disruption.
You have the likes of Amazon coming into the market and massively disrupting the high-street, brick-and-mortar retailers. But out of that has emerged this sweet spot called omnichannel.With events right now, if you have a strong enough community, and a brand, and content that is compelling enough, you should be able to operate in that sweet spot. You can still deliver what your customers need online. But it should be a digital-first strategy, which isn’t designed to replicate exactly what you had before.
Look at Apple—Apple’s retail stores don’t look like other retail stores, because Apple is an omnichannel player.
Their stores are designed beautifully with their customers in mind, but they are not designed to look like a traditional shop or store. And I think if you’re designing something online right now as a traditional exhibition business, that’s the kind of mindset that will help people to win right now."
4. Physical events vs. online products are as different as theatre vs. cinema
"With our physical events, everything that we do is designed on constant excitement and energy. When determining how you take that from a physical summit and place that online, I think it's something completely different.
Physical events and the way that people present at those events are all about theater—it's about being on stage and working with an audience.
The way that we've approached our content online is quite different—it's about cinema. If you look at the way you produce a piece of cinema or a piece of on-demand content, the agenda has to be something that keeps people interested. It’s very different than presenting to a live audience.”
5. Networking is as important as ever
“People crave human connection. People are hard-wired to connect with each other. When we talk to people in our ecosystem, they still want to learn new things and they still want to network with each other. They love the debates—they love coming together as a group and having those kinds of high-wire discussions. So, I think, for us, having a combination of the content that people can play (potentially live, or on-demand if they want to) and at the same time, be able to network with that ecosystem (either throughout the event, or potentially after) is really important."
If you'd like to discuss adding online networking to your next online event, simply fill in the form below to speak to our team.
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6. Companies shouldn’t make changes with only a short-term perspective
“From my point of view, this strategy that companies are adopting right now shouldn't just be about COVID, it should be about what we need to do as an industry.
Having worked in the exhibition industry for many years, we've talked for a very long time about, ‘how do we engage with our customers throughout the year, and how do we do it in a different way?’
Now, it's almost like we've got a burning call, and we've been forced to do that as an industry. I think those that will survive are those that take a long-term strategy to this and not just a short-term one.”