Centre stage

Connect Dot Management rethinks virtual events for the age of social distancing

Photo: Connect Dot Management owner, Holly Doty

WHEN THE WORLD’S corporate events — from AGMs to awards galas to job fairs — suddenly went online last spring, things inevitably, well, ­dumb-downed a bit.

Lost was the sense of grandeur, the spectacle, the presenting-sponsor placements and the person-to-person networking. Which was not surprising, considering even big, consequential events existed in the same space you might Zoom-call your cousins.

And frequently, they didn’t work at all. People talked over one another, not bothering to check mute buttons. And the mere presence of a camera pointed at your face made authenticity practically impossible. As corporate consultant and award-winning author Karen Martin noted, “I think people act in front of cameras 100 per cent of the time, unless they’re sociopaths.”

For Holly Doty and Meaghan Holder of corporate event planning company Connect Dot Management, all of this pandemic stuff posed an obvious problem.

“The biggest complaint is that virtual events just aren’t done well,” managing director Holder says, diplomatically.

“We hate all these crappy events,” ­company president Doty adds, a little less so.

“We want you to show up, let your emotions run. People want to see that emotion” —Meaghan Holder

Now, as companies prepare for (what feels like) the longest summer ever to wrap up, and for business to attempt a plot back to normal, Connect Dot has a plan for companies who still want their events to happen, but want to elevate it above the ubiquitous Zoom-call look and feel.

It hinges around a brand-new production stage, located on the first floor of Connect Dot’s Simcoe Street facility, where all the staples of the big corporate event — the large ­presentation screens, the corporate branding, the prominent sponsorships — can be recreated, filmed and beamed out to the audience’s computer screen.

Centre stage Connect Dot Management FocusPhoto: Holly Doty and Connect Dot managing director, Meaghan Holder

“What it really is, is producing an event as you would, just without the audience,” Holder says. “This will give them the same platform.”

For Holder, the idea is to recreate some of the spontaneous energy that only live events can have.

“We want you to show up, let your emotions run. People want to see that emotion,” she says.

They steer their clients towards one-take presentations, which become ever more possible without the need to worry about the technology behind the scenes. “We’ll take the technical side, and make it all look really good,” Holder says.

Connect Dot worked with local AV production company The PA Shop and others to install top-end equipment and set-design options that can be configured to the requirements of just about any type of virtual event or meeting.

Story Continues BelowCentre stage Connect Dot Management Focus

The move to virtual event production like this is another in a laundry list of ways the pandemic has prompted a re-­examination of the conventions of the business world, especially in the relatively stable public sector and economic development industries (Connect Dot includes Western University, the LEDC and the London Airshow as clients.)

“Companies realize that not everyone needs to be together for everything,” Holder says. This is, broadly, what’s underwriting the entire work-from-home transition, but live events still pose a logistical problem: while you can reformulate speeches and keynotes and panels, it’s considerably harder to recreate the kind of guest-to-guest ­networking that make these events worth attending in the first place.

Connect Dot think they have an answer for that, too, with a software platform that offers a degree of modularity, allowing for topic-specific chat rooms, interactive features and even trade-show-like customizability for things like virtual booths.

Centre stage Connect Dot Management FocusPhoto: The PA Shop’s Ron Davis

“In the end, it all depends on what the client wants,” Doty says. “They can choose to go with a feature-rich virtual ­experience or keep it simpler.”

Moving forward, Doty reasons that the investment in a ­production studio is a useful hedge against the uncertainty of the pandemic. Nobody knows when, or even if, large ­corporate events are going to be coming back. It may be that they never come back, and that the move to more virtual events might be irreversible.

Either way, Connect Dot wants to try to stay ahead of the pack, trying to prepare for all possibilities, and help ­corporations maintain some semblance of business-­as-usual for their employees and still enabling some reasonable ­facsimile of networking events.

“Ideally, the world wants live events,” Doty says. We’re a long way from that, she knows. “But sometimes, the messaging just needs to be widespread.” Centre stage Connect Dot Management Focus Kieran Delamont

To view this story in Virtual Paper format, click here.

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