Merging Lanes: Adapting and Crafting a Conference for 2020

Last month, ImageThink supported the 2020 Pac-12 Sustainability Conference. We sat down with Mike Yam to discuss how the event adapted to a virtual conference in the response to an unpredictable year.

The Best Laid Plans

The Pac-12 Sustainability Conference was set for Salt Lake City June 23-24, 2020. For the past two years, the conference has created a space for some of academia’s greatest minds and most passionate students to exchange ideas, and network around new partnerships and projects.

This year’s conference had the goal to bring in its biggest audience yet. Unfortunately, as most of you reading this from your home office know, COVID-19 had different plans. Faced with a major public safety and health crisis, Pac-12 planners leapt into action reimagining their in-person convention for a virtual space.

Live and (Not) In-Person

Mike Yam joined Pac-12 Network as its lead studio host for its August 2012 launch. Prior to his arrival he spent nearly four years at ESPN where he served as an anchor on SportsCenter, and was also heavily involved in the network’s NBA, college football, and college basketball coverage.

As the host of last year’s Sustainability Conference in Seattle, as well as this year’s event, Mike is uniquely positioned to understand how the shifting context, and content, of this year’s virtual conference impacted attendees, Pac-12 organizers, and speakers and panelists.

As anyone who’s moved events online during this period of social distancing knows, losing the human element is a big concern. “Speaking selfishly as the person who got to do both the webinar and in-person versions of the conference, I see advantages to both, but as the host of it, I feed off that energy, I like reading the room. When you do it virtually, you can’t see the room.”

Graphic Recording of Coach Herm Edwards Panel at Pac-12 Sustainable Conference for a future we can all believe in

This feeling of asymmetry cuts both ways. Attendees aren’t mingling with one another, and as many a recent article about Zoom fatigue will tell you, we don’t grant ourselves many opportunities to take our eyes off the screen.

And so, ImageThink was brought in to help add some visual variety and stimulation to the proceedings. We would be graphic recording a conversation and Q&A session that Mike would facilitate with Arizona State University head football coach Herm Edwards. The discussion would emphasize teamwork as a way to face obstacles and demonstrate the way people need to come together to overcome environmental challenges and a global pandemic like COVID-19.

Then George Floyd was murdered.

A More Important Conversation

A long overdue discussion erupted across America and dominated the public discourse. Once again, the Sustainability Conference would adapt to address urgent issues. The conversation with Coach Edwards would now directly address racial injustice and inequality, identifying team building and organized sports as a potential catalyst for change.

Watch the conversation and Q&A with Mike Yam and ASU Coach Herm Edwards, accompanied by ImageThink Graphic Recording here.

In real time, as Coach Edwards told his personal story of growing up as a biracial child in during the Civil Rights movement and becoming one of the few Black head coaches in the National Football League, ImageThink Graphic Recorder Sasha Brito captured and illustrated his unique, powerful story.

“I would glance down at the screen and see ‘Oh yeah, he just made that point, that’s cool,’ and it does make you reflect differently. You know, Sasha’s interpretation of what was said may be slightly different than mine, and it offers, almost a second-screen experience.”

At the end of their discussion, the floor was opened to a Q&A session. For a lot of people, this opportunity to see their own thoughts and questions directly illustrated is a highlight of attending an event supported by ImageThink. And Q&A sessions like this offer event sponsors the opportunity to directly associate their brand and message with their audience’s contributions.

What’s Next?

The Pac-12 demonstrated a unique and impressive flexibility in reprogramming their Sustainability Conference on the fly. Many of you reading can probably relate, as strategies, service verticals, and entire businesses have repositioned and pivoted in the past several months.

And it paid off. This year’s Pac-12 Sustainability Conference saw 158% year over year growth of registered attendees from 2019 to 2020, and 94% year over year growth of checked-in attendees.

Their team showed exactly the kind of creativity we laud at ImageThink, and exactly the kind of teamwork and dependability that Coach Edwards spoke to in his talk. In that spirit, now is the moment for virtual conference and event planners across the country to get creative. Unfortunately, it looks like COVID-19 won’t be going anywhere for a while. But on the bright side, individuals have shown a willingness to prioritize participation and communication via the platforms that are available to them.

Graphic Recording of Q&A Session during Pac-12 Sustainability Conference

In-person events will return, and it is our job to imagine what they will look like when they do. In the meantime, virtual and hybrid events offer opportunities for engagement and education, and for people to reskill and learn new things. And graphic recording can help deliver those opportunities in a more clear, beautiful, and memorable package.

Perhaps Mike put it best, “The biggest way you get change is through storytelling, and I think what ImageThink does is a visual form of that. We’re used to movies, television, and written word that can influence how people think and operate. When you focus in on how we consume these stories, ImageThink offers a way to show those stories and create a sense of urgency.”

Planning a virtual conference, meeting, or event? Click the button below, or use the chat function to schedule a demo and see ImageThink virtual graphic recording in action for yourself.

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