The Future of Event Planning
Exploring new business models in the event planning industry
By Nayantara Bhat
Netflix changed the world in 2007 when it pivoted to an online model, offering streaming instead of on-demand DVDs. Using the Internet in this way was seen back then as a hallmark of disruptive innovation, but in the era of COVID-19, it’s an absolute necessity to have a strong online presence. With individuals and entire companies now housebound indefinitely, the world is migrating to the Internet now more than ever, and the power of the online medium is becoming clear.
Contrary to most people’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, this outbreak is a blessing in disguise for some. As more events have been forced to move online, Melody Kwan has become an early adopter for providing online events solutions to meet growing client demands.
Known as MC Melody Kwan, she is the Founder and Director of Speak Up Event Coordination, and a well-known event curator in Hong Kong. Kwan wears several hats, including online and offline emceeing, providing integrated event solutions, public speaking mentorship, voice-over artistry, TV hosting, and sports commentary. She made a name for herself running high-profile events with clients such as Manchester United, HBO Asia, Google, Cartier, and the Hong Kong Government. From moderating startup events to creating Guinness World Records with her clients, to commentating for Hong Kong Jockey Club’s horse racing, bringing people together is her bread and butter.
Right place at the right time
In the first quarter of 2020 alone, Kwan facilitated the online execution of two Hong Kong-based events: Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund’s JUMPSTARTER Global Pitch Competition 2020 and the Virtual Career Expo 2020 organized by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (the world’s largest online pitch contest and career expo in the Information Technology sector, respectively).
Although she had hosted online sessions for events even before the outbreak, she rapidly adapted and transformed her skill set and that of her team to help clients move events online.
“In my line of work, we’re the first ones to get wiped out during this pandemic,” she says. “It’s quite rare and fortunate that our work is on fire right now. That said, we are highly selective when picking our clients, as the stakes are very high with online events.”
Her philosophy now, and her approach to managing clients’ expectations, centers around the motto: “Don’t procrastinate, don’t underestimate. Instead, be over-prepared.” Far from a simple laptop and Internet setup, online events, she says, are more challenging than offline events in many ways, and her clients must understand this too.
The building blocks of online events
Find an online emcee with exceptional qualities
Kwan likens online emceeing to being an Air Traffic Controller–simultaneously moderating, presenting, directing, handling tech issues, putting out fires, covering for speakers, and stirring up virtual audience engagement all at once. The role requires the emcee to adapt with chameleon-like ease. Thankfully, public speaking, translation, diligent multitasking, event management, and technical knowledge are the skills that have served Kwan well during this transition.
“It’s like a calm duck moving across the pond for everyone watching, but it’s pedaling really fast underneath,” she says.
Meaningful audience engagement
Online audience engagement comes down to the nature of the event, the software used, a healthy dose of instinct, and sensitivity toward the needs of the virtual attendees. Knowing the type of audience dictates how you will interact with them.
Online events restrict the audience mostly to watching talking heads, making it much harder to keep the audience engaged and smooth over mishaps. There is also higher pressure to get details right, as inevitable technical glitches are bound to use up some of the audience’s tolerance for mistakes.
Anyone can slap together a simple Facebook Live or point a camera at something,” she says. “An online event is more nuanced than just shooting a video of an event and putting it online.”
In today’s events landscape, an emcee needs to not only be a facilitator but a performer. The role requires more creativity than ever to both inform and entertain an audience who could be continents away.
“There will always be an intangible element which requires good improvisation to make it work, which requires an array of some pretty contradictory skills,” she says, referring to the juxtaposition between emceeing and conducting tech troubleshooting.
Having been part of a production team previously, Kwan’s primary considerations when it comes to tech solutions for events are security, reliability, user interface and experience, device compatibility, and features to boost audience engagement. If organizers aren’t equipped to engage audience participation, the ‘online event’ is effectively just a regular video stream on an ordinary website.
Looking forward, looking back
Even with the four pillars above, the importance of a quality team cannot be ignored. Teamwork is paramount, with the ability to make or break an event. Kwan’s standards for herself and her team are even more exacting due to the unique nature of the job and the expectations of virtual audiences.
“[My] team’s demographics are just as unexpected and chameleon-like as mine. Event management experience is a must, but we need young people who have an older mind and more mature people who have young spirits. Everyone needs a great understanding of the other members’ roles, as opposed to just doing their own job,” she says. “That’s the team; that’s what I’m looking for. It’s also very hard to find, much like a so-called nerdy, techy, yet outgoing emcee,” she admits.
With online events gaining popularity as a viable format for everything from large-scale conferences to smaller interactive seminars, Kwan anticipates a hybridization in event organization. These hybrid events will enjoy the best of both worlds, reaching a broader audience while retaining the human touch. Today, however, she’s more focused on addressing current problems in event organizing and providing a meaningful experience for attendees.
“Our mission right now is just to help clients to avoid cancelations, because these have domino-effect creating problems down the road,” she says.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to escalate, SMEs like MC Melody are thriving, yet others are facing tough choices. In the end, surviving the recession will come down to who has the skills, team, and innovative mindset to turn a crisis into an opportunity. As for the future of online events, the future remains bright: though some doors have closed, for now, new ones open up every day.
Nayantara is Jumpstart’s Editorial Associate.
Article written in partnership with Speak Up Event Coordination.
This story was originally published in Jumpstart Issue 29: Back to Basics as A Turn of Events.