For many years, ILTA’s big annual event took me to one of those vast resorts in the US, often in Las Vegas. I participated in and attended sessions, did interviews, and took the opportunity to set up formal meetings. Mainly, though, I had impromptu conversations with people, many of whom I saw only once or twice a year. An extremely efficient organising team somehow created a relaxed atmosphere in those unpromising surroundings, in parallel with the production of a very businesslike agenda.
I have missed the last couple of years for different reasons but would have been there this year. Big physically-attended events are not happening, however, and we are all focussed on replacing – and even improving on – the experience to which we had become accustomed.
ILTA has risen to the challenge of lockdown by rebranding itself as ILTA>ON and offering a full week’s program of sessions which preserve the formal side of the event while delivering it to a potentially much wider audience – not everyone could get to Las Vegas in August but a virtual event is open to all.
The event website is here. I have had a press preview of the full experience, and I was keen to see how ILTA has risen to the challenge of replicating that informal element of its event – the conversations beyond the formal sessions. Clearly some structure is needed, if only to get a number of people “together” at the same time. Even just the timing is difficult when participants sit in multiple time zones.
ILTA’s answer is the the “Watercooler Chats” on the ILTA Hub, in which a number of predefined topics have been set up at different times of day, sometimes more than once. ILTA has always made much of peer-to-peer networking, encouraging those who have been down a path to share it with others. Example conversations in the ILTA Hub include New ways to use existing products and Things I automated during quarantine which necessarily have no fixed agenda because they depend on individuals dropping by to join in.
We will have to wait and see how this works, but the plan looks promising. The model for this is a series of regular sessions organised by Ari Kaplin. He has been gathering people together since lockdown began for discussions with greater or lesser degrees of structure.
Lockdown has generated a new type of social gathering where people meet over Zoom (or whatever) to share food or drink virtually and to talk about it. It may lack the atmosphere and spontaneity of the old norm, but sessions like Join me for a beer and Join me for wine, along with one called Tech Tips and Dad Jokes will appeal to many. We are told that the options are being constantly refined and updated, and that this will continue even after ILTA>ON begins.
All this comes in addition to a schedule of sessions which will replicate as closely as possible the conventional conference experience. If ILTA can pull this off (and that will be down to its delegates as much as to its organisers), we may have a model for a new start, one which, though largely conventional in approach, begins to take us in new directions.