Comment: ‘Businesses will have to do more to stand out.’

Nicole Crentsil, CEO of Black Girl Festival, on how events in the future will have to adapt.

Do you remember the last event you attended before the global pandemic? Mine was a panel I hosted in March for International Women’s Day, one of the busiest events period for working women. It all feels like a distant memory now, those awkward moments when your phone goes off during a keynote speech or when you’re running late for a talk and try to silently tiptoe into the back. 

But things will stay like this for a while. According to VisitBritain, the UK events industry is forecasted to lose £58bn in 2020, with further reports projecting thousands of job losses. How can businesses continue to create powerful digital content that engages new and existing audiences?

At the start of the year, Black Girl Festival, which is the UK’s first major arts and culture festival for black women and girls, launched BGF Academy, a seven-month community-focused programme with Today At Apple and the Mayor of London. The series of interactive talks and workshops was designed to equip black women aged 17 to 25 with the tools they need to create events for their communities. But after a few months and within a short timeframe, we had to completely remodel the entire programme and move everything online. 

Everything was ad hoc, live and direct; quite literally learning on the go. Within the first week of lockdown, I got on the phone and called all 30 of the girls on our programme. The world was changing and everyone’s circumstance was vastly different, some had loved ones who had passed away, others lost their jobs and some their motivation. Yet I had to understand how they were coping, what they were struggling with and if the programme was something they still wanted to commit to. Talking to them individually helped me to redesign a programme based on their availability and general needs. Each session was recorded and saved in a shared folder for independent learning. We also hosted monthly check-ins so they could have one-to-one sessions about their projects.

The events of the future will be more inclusive, interactive and, most notably, accessible.’

As the world moves online, a human touch is now more important than ever. For our programme we hosted weekly Friday night catch up Zoom calls where we played quizzes, talked about our favourite TV shows and, more importantly, shared how we were feeling. It was a safe space that transformed participants into 30 new best friends who genuinely cared about each other.

With the fight for engagement on Instagram Live (which on many occasions crashed the app due to the influx of users), the shift to virtual isn’t as simple as it looks. Virtual events force you to think harder about an individual’s set up at home and whether, say, they are able to attend a three-hour workshop from the comfort of their bed. Or whether anyone be bothered to attend a seven-hour conference sat on a computer chair. 

Businesses will have to do more to stand out now that everyone is online. Live streaming, live tweeting and any other method of digitally engaging large audiences will become standard practice. The events of the future will be more inclusive, interactive and most importantly accessible. Can’t attend? No worries, the whole event was streamed so you can watch it back whenever you want.

I’ll admit that I miss being in an event space and having those physical human interactions with people – the buzz from networking and after-work drinks; even that annoying moment when someone raises their hand to make a statement instead of asking a question during a Q&A. However, what excites me the most about going digital in a post-Covid world is the ability to reach new audiences and expand digital content, while deepening my understanding of our communities and audiences. 

To be honest, I’ve learned more in the past few months than I have over the past few years producing events, and that’s saying something. For example, remember these three points: don’t underestimate your community, keep people entertained and, above ball, don’t forget that you’re talking to real people behind those screens – so just have fun with it. Think outside of the box, don’t be afraid to experiment a little and be prepared to try something new. 

Find out the latest from Nicole at @nkrystal_ and www.blackgirlfest.com.

This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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