Conversations with ci - Felicity Burke
Felicity Burke, General Manager of 4th Dimension Business Travel Consultanting in conversation with Simone Seiler, General Manager of FCM Meetings and Events.
The power of community is really about recognising that we all live and work in communities. A healthy community is one that looks out for its members, keeps them informed, and gives them a voice. In this series of Conversations with ci, I share my stories and experience with Felicity Burke, the General Manager of 4th Dimension Business Travel Consulting.
For us, uncertainty among our clients took a number of forms - cancellations, deferments, pauses. Clerical and logistic demand stayed constant while revenue dropped significantly. Our travel bookers and event planners were flat out refunding and organising credit!
As the crisis deepened, it was about reaching out to our suppliers - airlines, accommodation, venues. While simultaneously we embarked on our strategic campaign - Business as (Un)usual - to help share information with the community about how to adapt to the significant and rapid changes that were happening.
Felicity, what were your challenges in 2020?
How did things evolve as the pandemic really set in and how did you respond to those developments?
As the pandemic hit we had far more questions than answers to situations that were facing us. We got curious as to what was truly happening currently with our clients, customers, and our competitors and also what each of those groups was focused on for the short term (rest of the year). We needed to validate our thinking and we needed to do it quickly. We conducted a lot of research online via surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. At each milestone of research, we presented the results back publicly through numerous virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom, Team, and Webex. We also used LinkedIn, email and the phone with our clients to help feedback on our learnings.
Change is constant, as they say. Although this has not been the usual run-of-the-mill kind of change. This change conducted many we had not encountered before, specifically for cievents - stand-downs, furloughs, the new structure of leadership - but overall mass virtual events, digital fatigue, and hardest of all watching the MICE community really suffer. Beyond the downs it has been inspiring to see innovation and support happen, our workforce rolls up their sleeves and get on with it while educating our clients on the new ways forward.
How have you changed?
What changes have endured? How are you doing things differently? What are the good, the bad and the ugly things about the fallout from COVID-19?
We have learned to move a lot quicker and have accepted that "total perfection" in the current climate is impossible. Moving quicker is in reference to both delivering relevant market updates, engaging with clients in a faster way - rather than waiting weeks to meet face to face we now have zoom calls within a day - so this just naturally speeds up the momentum of the business.
As a team, we have a mandatory stand-up call every morning and that gives the team some personal "water cooler chat" but also allows each team member to raise flags and celebrate any success in their day. We've learned that it's all different now, the rule-book has been ripped up and we are operating in a new framework - creating new rules with our clients.
Yes, I totally agree with that last point. Our teams are finding that also - creating new rules, new ‘playbooks’, especially to maximise the impact of the virtual or hybrid event. At cievents, we have held on to the belief that “we are the outlook” in that sense - using precedence, insights, and new data to understand how we can create the future of MICE here in Australia and globally.
One trend we’ve seen emerge is the power of choice. In the new world, we have the ability to choose how we engage, how we work, and how we participate in events. I see this ‘choose your own adventure’ as a challenge in events, as customers will now need to be clearer with their messaging. Holding your audience is harder than ever, be bolder, be sharper, and be quick to get your point across.
Felicity, what is your outlook?
What do you think the future holds and how are you preparing for it? Which trends do you see lasting and which ones won’t?
I see the future being more personal and this to me means inclusive, collaborative, and genuine partnerships. We have had a period of 6-7months where being connected through Zoom or MS Teams has enabled us to continue with our jobs. This will continue but it won't be 100% of life. Engaging face to face, and being in a physical meeting, seminar or conference is still a necessary part of our work lives and how we evolve. This is how we have leaped into success... Sitting in front of your computer and doing nothing but work is not going to breed success - personally or professionally.
There is definitely that feeling universal feeling of digital-fatigue. I know I’ve been a victim on more than one occasion! You learn to live with it, but that is far from thriving, as you say - it’s much harder to experience success.
This is a BIG consideration for our creative and strategic teams these days - how to engage an audience, and truly immerse them in that content. Things have changed for speakers, presenters, MCs, basically anyone talking on the virtual stage. Our recommendations are all heavily skewed towards enhancing the presentation of the narrative.
What are your top tips for hybrid/virtual / COVID safe events and meetings?
Today a list of expectations should be given to attendees - it's critical to make them feel welcome and prepared for either a virtual or face to face meeting. For Virtual meetings I like to clearly and slowly welcome and thank attendees, give them a feel for the types of audience they are joining, and then finally set the agenda to meet their expectations. Creating a personal vibe in the meeting reminds everyone to relax and listen.
Yes, creating event expectations is great advice. I would also add the importance of identifying the brief before an event - this is why we offer our customers a brief collaboration process. We use this process to depict exactly what our customers need from their event and how it presents creatively to their audience. Engage with us for a chance to collaborate about your next virtual and hybrid event. Thank you for sharing your time and your insights with us Felicity.