March 2020 – the COVID craziness starts. In-person meetings and events were postponed, postponed again, moved to virtual or cancelled outright. Like many others in my industry, I saw my calendar go from fairly packed to almost empty. I spent the first month adjusting to having a full house again and figuring out where everyone was going to work & study, to online learning via in Zoom & WebEx sessions and reading all I could about how to master the online world.
Luckily, I was no stranger to Zoom after using it for several years, but now I had to learn about breakout rooms, waiting rooms, and attendee engagement. I was also fortunate that I was a working from home veteran (I just had to learn how to share my space!) and I was far removed from my working-in-PJs days.
After spending 4-6 weeks signing up for every webinar offered (and suffering Zoom fatigue and brain overload), I took a step back to reassess what was really necessary. I started deleting emails and declining invites that didn’t serve my needs. I saw that while Zoom filled a void for seeing people who didn’t live with me, some 1-on-1 meetings could be better held on the (old fashioned) phone. It also became apparent (during learning overload) that while some people understood the “dos & don’ts” of online meetings, others clearly were winging it (and quite badly, I might add). I began thinking about the skills I needed to produce better online and hybrid meetings (and handle the new in-person world when that became possible).
First, I researched and talked to colleagues about best practices for teambuilding and engagement during a virtual retreat. I’ll tell you that I spent more time preparing myself and my workspace for the virtual retreat than if it were in person! My client opted for a full day online (this was in April – if I had a do-over I would have pushed for 2 half-days) and it was successful but exhausting.
Next, I took advantage of some free online learning that I previously didn’t have time for. I became Cvent Event Management Certified to help with future projects using that platform. I then completed the ServSafe Food Handler certification. That gave me a better appreciation for what happens in the kitchen at events and will help me with catering clients. While taking the Food Handler course, I decided to spend a few dollars (<$50 and well worth it!) to get my ServSafe Alcohol certification. I highly recommend this for any meeting planner to understand the training bartenders go through to safely serve alcohol and how to identify and handle someone who has been overserved (this is not a mixology class).
I also looked at options for virtual meeting “how to’s”. There are 2 main courses in our industry – I got feedback from others, looked at pricing (important when the income is not flowing) and the amount of time needed. I can now add the Virtual Event & Meeting Management Certificate to my list of accomplishments.
As things start opening back up, I wanted a better understanding of what contact tracing was about in case I needed to advise a client. So, I completed a course through Coursera which explained more about COVID-19 and what contact tracers do.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some awesome complimentary education I received from Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU). After lots of ‘learning by the seat of your pants’ in the spring semester, they offered ‘virtual summer camp’ to all of their full-time and adjunct (like me) faculty to better prepare them for online or hybrid models in the fall. Between those 6 sessions and the other free classes they offered I’ll be able to provide a more engaging online class.
I’m on a roll and I’ve always been a learning ‘junkie’. There’s a saying ‘with age comes wisdom’ – for me that is driving what I choose to spend my time learning and doing. I know I’ll be choosy, finding things that will make me better at what I do and that will help me define my next chapter as we all learn what the next normal will look like.
Yes, I’ve done a lot of crossword & jigsaw puzzles, cooked & baked, read several books and binged some Netflix & Starz, but feeding my brain keeps me sane. What have you been doing?