For six months my 15-year-old diligently prepared to play football for his high school. As a sophomore he was honored to become a part of the varsity team.
What no one predicted was that only three games into the season, last Friday he got hit so hard (yes we had him wearing the most expensive Riddell helmet available for high schoolers) we ended up in the hospital and a diagnosis (duh) of a “mild” concussion. He literally could not remember being hit, or most what happened that whole day.
I was home just off the road after a week, tired, and this was obviously a great disappointment – to everyone and most of all to Leo. It’s hard to explain something like this to a 15 year old who’s been working his tail off for 6 months, 6 days a week, to get his mind & body ready to compete. The best advice I could mumble was something like “Hey, Life Happens. All we can do is control our preparation, our attitude and our commitment to excellence. The results are not always in our hands.”
On Sunday I hopped on a plane to Boston to produce a hybrid conference, for the International City/County Management Association. Hybrid because there were several thousand attendees on site and capacity for several hundred attending virtually. What I love about these programs most are the interchanges that occur back & forth between the remote (“virtual”) audience and the on-site attendees during Q&A. My job on site is to make sure the show runs smoothly for the remote audience.
Now first let me say – I’ve only been working with technology since 1982. So maybe I haven’t had time to learn that when there are so many moving parts – and a hybrid conference has lots of them – something will not work perfectly. My team has 14 years of experience specifically with virtual conferences and, I assure you, we do everything possible to second-guess what can go wrong, so that we can provide a seamless experience to the attendees.
But sometimes technology has a mind of its own.
Shortly after landing in Boston on Sunday, despite the months of planning that went into this conference, I kept getting hit by one thing after another that I hadn’t prepared for.
Upon my arrival to the convention center I discovered that we wouldn’t be able to do the Sunday sound check we had been promised; in fact the sound company was a vendor I had never met! This left me in an unenviable position of doing technical checks on Monday morning, right before the first sessions. I was running around double-checking everything as the opening plenary streamed to my remote audience!
To make a long story short – we had a bumpy take-off on streaming the opening breakout sessions. Luckily we could fix the situation and did so immediately, so that the virtual conference was off and running, only minutes behind schedule. (Minus some hair pulling on my part.)
Later in the day, just to remind me about randomness, a power cord that hadn’t been properly taped down was kicked out by a technician, causing another short black-out to one of the sessions. (No problem, it was only the Executive Director speaking!)
This is why it’s so important to set up good ol’ fashioned backup video recordings in the room. Even if something happens to the video stream you can make the complete session archive available online soon thereafter, and that makes a huge difference for the remote attendees.
As for me, end of day Tuesday I hopped on a plane back to Washington DC to give “My Leo” a big hug. And tell him a story about how his “Daddy-Oh” just had an experience much like his own.
“Dude, it doesn’t matter how long and hard you plan and prepare for every possibility, sometimes life just happens.”
Now we just have to keep him off his iPad, iPhone and laptop for a few more days. And that’s an assignment that will really test you!
Lance A. Simon
P.S. Got a story of your own about challenges (and solutions) with virtual events? Let me know what happened, and how you handled it. There’s lots to learn, let’s get there together.
Photo: Jacob Skoglund