What We Learnt From Running a Week-Long Virtual Festival

It’s fair to say that Talent Fest 2020 wasn’t the festival we were expecting to deliver. For the past three years, we have developed a successful model for delivering a week-long digital skills festival and grown it to be the largest in the South East.

In March, when it became clear that running a physical festival as we have in past years would not be possible, we had to pivot to a virtual festival in a matter of weeks. What we ended up with was not only something that still delivered on all of our goals, but which also helped us reach new audiences, be more inclusive and brought us together at a time where community and support is needed more than ever.

Luckily at Wired Sussex we have spent years working with innovators and startups at The FuseBox and so we are used to pivoting, rapid prototyping and experimenting, and we were able to apply this approach to our festival.

That’s not to say that it was easy, or perfect, but I thought it might be helpful to share some of the lessons that we learnt along the way.

Focus on the “why”

Start by focusing on what problem you were trying to solve for your attendees – not what event you were going to run for them. Once you are clear on the benefits of the event for your audience, then you can think about how to deliver on that.

Find the non-negotiables

What are the crucial elements that have to happen, no matter what? Focus on what’s a fundamental part of the event’s DNA and the key to its success. This might be there must be time for everyone to introduce themselves at the event, or that your talks have to happen live. Whatever it is, make sure that you are clear and that you have a plan on how to deliver on that.

Explore the platforms

There are lots of platforms available to host your events. 2 key considerations when choosing the platform; firstly, what works for your content/format but also (and perhaps more importantly) what is the most user-friendly for your audience.

Pivot!

You are basically innovating and prototyping new formats as you go. This means that you have to be agile. Your plans might change (often). Try to embrace this.

Don’t cut corners on accessibility and inclusion

Moving events online allows you to be more inclusive and attract more diverse audiences who might not otherwise be able to attend your events. Make sure that you are following best practice around your content and provide an anticipatory welcome to your attendees.

Plan for technical disruption

Technical difficulties are a known major risk factor. They can affect the whole of your event or specific individuals who are having problems connecting. There are a couple of ways that you can mitigate against this. If you are hosting an online event, you can ask a colleague to also join the call so if your internet cuts out there is still a member of your crew available.

It is more tricky to support attendees who are having technical issues. You could send out information before the event of helpful hints and tips to attendees (although most of us are getting up to speed with how the tech works). Or you could have a member of your team available as “tech support” who attendees can contact if they are having problems. That leaves you as the host to focus on the content.

Timing

Think about the scheduling of your event. Does it still make sense to host it at the same time as you historically have? If it’s not live, does it have to be for a set time period or can the content be available for a whole day/week? Making your event available for an extended period makes it more accessible – our lives don’t typically followup 9-5 at the moment, and it is good to allow people to engage as their schedule allows.

Also, think about the duration: often the longer the event the bigger the drop-off is, so think about how long you want your event to be. Does it all need to be one event, or could you spread it across a few events?

Accept that it will be messy

For any large event, it is going to be difficult to test at scale, so you are basically going “live”, untested. This means that there may be a few hitches. Obviously, try to mitigate against this. Run through risk assessments and think of contingencies. But also remember that, generally, your audience is on your side – they aren’t necessarily going to be expecting a perfectly produced slick production, they want the learning from the content so make sure that is first and foremost in your mind.

Brief your contributors

This is a new world for a lot of us, and clarity is as important as ever. Write briefs for your contributors. Be clear about what you want from them, how it will work, what the formats and platforms are, when you need it by, who the audience is. Send these to speakers, contributors and staff.

Everyone has their own stuff going on

When you are rushing and against deadlines, it can be frustrating waiting for responses/content from contributors. But remember, whilst the event might be your top priority, this is just one thing out of a whole bunch of things that are on your contributors’ plates.

Be clear about what you need, by when, but also plan for the fact that you might not get this. A way to mitigate it is to increase the number of contributors you have involved with your event, and then if someone can’t deliver to your timeframes, you should still have plenty of content.

Also, don’t take this personally, be polite – there are other opportunities to work together at a mutually convenient time.

“Sync”

If you are working with other team members on the event, make sure that you are in sync with one another. You will come up against multiple tight and conflicting deadlines, and you need to collaborate to hit these. Up your communication. Have virtual stand-ups to check in on one another. Maybe introduce what Bruce Daisley referred to as “burst-mode’ in his keynote at the Skills Summit. Make sure that you are in sync on this and know what each other need. Be compassionate with each other. The same as your contributors, your team with have lots going on. Support them and collaborate.

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Managing Your Business Through a Crisis

It goes without saying that we’re living in unusual and challenging times. But even in normal periods, we can all face business crises. So, how do we manage our way through them: operationally, financially and in our communications with the outside world?

We ran a series of short virtual events to help Wired Sussex members do just that. Below you will find an overview of the sessions and videos of the talks.

Finances

Mark Horsfield and Peter Hedgethorne from Plus Accounting shared their advice about how your businesses could and should respond financially when faced with a crisis.

They also covered the newly announced government Bounce Back loans scheme, Furlough, the Self-Employment Scheme, other grants available and their general advice to businesses at this time.

Plus, to help businesses keep abreast of all the latest developments they have been sharing really helpful updates via their blog, which you can find here.

Strategy

Alex Morrison, Founder and MD of digital media agency Cogapp, explained how we might use the OODA system (Observe > Orient > Decide > Act) to develop a strategic approach to managing a crisis. This gave members the opportunity to probe deeper into an article that Alex had recently published on ‘How to Manage an Organisation through a Crisis’.

Communications

Vicki Hughes, MD and Founder of PR and communications consultancy FUGU PR, spoke about communicating with your team, your clients and your customers when your business hits an unforeseen bump in the road.

Originally posted 11/05/2020 on Wired Sussex

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How We’re Supporting Our Community: A Message From Wired Sussex MD Phil Jones

Since the advent of the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown, the Wired Sussex team have been working tirelessly to support our regional digital, media and technology cluster.

We began with a rapid response strategy. This was designed to establish the immediate effect of the crisis on our members, focus on helping share our community’s knowledge, expertise and resources, and lobby national and local government on your behalf.

In the past five weeks, we have surveyed hundreds of businesses and individuals and spoken directly to many others in order to understand what the impact has been on our members, if the government support packages will work for them, and what new tactics we should develop to provide appropriate advice and support.

You can find the results of our initial survey here. We know that many of you are finding the current situation extremely challenging. In summary, two-thirds of the freelancers we spoke to expect to experience significant financial hardship, many small companies are not eligible for the SBBR grants as they are in managed or co-working spaces, and over three-quarters of companies are furloughing staff. Further, the government’s much-trumpeted emergency business loan scheme (COVIL) was not actually delivering for our members.

Our Slack Group, open to members and non-members alike, has become a go-to resource for hundreds of people, providing detailed and up-to-date information on support programmes, sharing resources, and connecting Wired Sussex members with digital and non-digital business, charities and community groups. Amongst the many successes that the Slack group has been party to, we are really pleased that it was instrumental in helping create the online home of the Covid-19 flashcards, which went from concept to launch in 72 hours, and are currently being used in hospitals in nearly 50 countries worldwide. If you want to connect, learn or help, then join the Wired Sussex Slack Group today.

Cardmedic Covid-19 flashcards
Covid-19 flashcards

Wired Sussex is engaging with the government, both regionally and nationally, on an almost daily basis. We are founder board members of the UK Tech Cluster Group and every week we have a weekly call with the Minister for Digital to help her understand the challenges our community faces and suggest action the government could take.

The work our sector does is critically important to the future of the region and will be key to the economic recovery of the UK, so it is vital that this sector is helped now when, through no fault of its own, it is in need.

We are pleased to see that in some key areas (e.g. targeted support for start-ups, revisions to the emergency loans scheme) the government has indeed listened and adapted. We will continue to openly and forthrightly articulate our clusters’ needs to the government.

We have followed up on this rapid response work up by adapting our business support programme to online and virtual delivery. We have already delivered over a dozen events virtually on various platforms. This included pivoting Talent Fest 2020, our week-long festival to support digital talent and leadership, to feature (all online):

  • 1-2-1 portfolio advice from top design talent for 70+ budding digital creatives
  • A leadership Skills Summit with top international speakers including Bruce Daisley
  • A Jobs Fair providing information via talks and 1-2-1 advice to over 1,000 people worldwide on how to get and grow a career in digital in this region

Wired Sussex is a small, not-for-profit business and like most of you, it has been an uncertain and difficult time for us too. But we are determined to keep on supporting you and to hold dear to these guiding tenets:

We are independent

We don’t receive any funding from the public sector to sustain our organisation. We rely on income from our members, supporters and our FuseBox innovation hub residents. This means we always speak out for our community, and are never compromised in that.

“All the pieces matter”

We are not just about identifying and helping a few selected high-growth businesses. We support and recognise the value of every part of the regional digital ecosystem. So whether you are a start-up, a scale-up, a small firm or a freelancer, you matter equally to us.

Real lived knowledge

We are a local organisation with deep local roots. We listen and respond to our community every single day. The activity we undertake and the support we deliver is always based on understanding your challenges, your needs and your concerns.

But we cannot deliver without your ongoing support. If you are a freelancer or a business working in digital, media or tech in Sussex and are not yet a member of Wired Sussex, please join now. It’s just £72 (+VAT) per year. That’s less than £1.50 per week for a shedload of benefits (and love!).

Please help us to help you. It is your support that will enable us to continue supporting everyone in our cluster who needs it, both now and in the future.

Originally posted 04/04/2020 by Wired Sussex

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