As I reflect on this, umm, let’s say ‘different’ year in the world of conferencing, I wanted to highlight one key aspect of 2020 conferencing, one that our conference industry has had to manage without for most of 2020.
Audiences. Or to be specific “live” face-to-face audiences.
As a speaker and MC, I’ve missed the unique energy, feedback, engagement, laughter and buzz of a real (as opposed to virtual) audience – and the ability to chat, network and share experiences with people together in a conference room, over coffee, walking the Exhibition Halls, in hotel corridors, at the dinners etc.
Sure, we’ve learnt that when done well, virtual and online events are great in many ways. But as humans, who crave human contact and rather enjoy gathering together with friends and colleagues, I’m convinced that nothing can quite replace looking into the eyes of another person – or when on stage, looking into a sea of eyes and faces.
This year those eyes have looked a little different. Either you’ve found you’ve spent the year looking uncomfortably into your own eyes on the Zoom or Teams screen or perhaps you’ve learnt to look directly into your webcam, so at least your audience feels they have direct eye contact with you.
I’ve long known the importance of looking down the barrel of the camera when presenting from a studio and have enjoyed that experience throughout this year.
But as someone doing a lot of my 2020 presenting from home, it took me a while to learn the importance of looking directly into my external webcam, perched above my monitor, as if my webcam were the eyes of the person(s) to whom I am talking.
My webcam has become my 2020 audience.
And my cute little webcam looks to me like the lovable animated Pixar robot character WALL-E (one of my favourite movies of all-time….do yourself a favour, it’s not just for kids). So every time in 2020 that I’ve jumped online and started talking, I’ve looked deep into WALL-E’s wide and wise eyes and imagined I am talking to a living, breathing creature.
It’s really helped me engage and not look, dare I say it, too robotic. I hope my online audience have felt that engaged, online love.
That said, while I imagine my love affair with WALL-E will endure forever in one form or another, I’m looking forward to looking into the eyes of 100’s or 1000’s of humans, as soon as the world allows.