Don’t Let COVID-19 Cancel Your Conference, Go Virtual with These 3 Tips

When my team and I began planning the 5th Annual She-Suite Summit more than six months ago, we set our sights on a day of inspiration, transformation, and purpose. This year, our women’s leadership conference was centered on the theme, “We Are What’s Next.” With 17 speakers, 300 attendees, numerous vendors, and more than a dozen national partners and corporate sponsors, we looked forward to a unique event focused on turning unexpected challenges into brand and legacy-building opportunities.

In retrospect, we could have never known just how prophetic those words would be.

As the weeks, days, and hours ticked off before the March 13th Summit, set for the greater D.C. area, the threat of COVID-19 became increasingly alarming and very real. It began with a ten to fifteen percent drop in attendance and a few speaker cancellations as more and more companies restricted travel. But on Wednesday, March 11th, the trickle of bad news became a deluge. First, the mayor of D.C. banned large gatherings.  By noon, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Within an hour, we decided to take the Summit virtual.

The next day we condensed and transformed months of meticulous planning into an intense real-time exercise in organizational flexibility, agility, innovation, and adaptation – all without compromising our core values. As a result, our team turned what initially seemed like the perfect storm into a golden opportunity to showcase our mission, vision, and purpose.

Here are 3 tips we used to lead at the speed of change in the face of the unknown:

1. Put People First – The future of profit resides in people. That is precisely why we needed to put our health, safety, and well-being first. When the crisis initially began to unfold, our first instinct was to ride it out. But very quickly it became clear that we needed to shift gears. We had a responsibility to do the right thing, and that included not only protecting each other, but also upholding the integrity and the spirit of what we promised – an event that was insightful, impactful, and interpersonal. The 2020 She-Suite Summit still had to be a place where everyone could shine; we just needed to do it online.

2. Pivot to Your Strengths – Knowing who you are and your unique value is the first step on any path to success. Not only is my background in brand strategy and crisis communications, but fortunately, our company, Velvet Suite, excels at online learning and development. We’ve done more than 500 on-demand webinars and podcasts. We’ve executed more than 1,200 virtual courses, and we’ve built a community of leaders across the country. That’s our wheelhouse. So this was a chance to play to our strengths in the digital realm. We all have skill sets and talents; identify them and build on that foundation first.

3. Communicate Seamlessly – Rapid change requires swift, clear communication across your full spectrum of contacts and communities. Overnight, I articulated a vivid vision for every aspect of the virtual Summit. Then our team rallied together to identify and fill potential gaps. From developing segment communications, digital assets, and FAQs to handing call, text, and e-mail traffic to testing our tech tools for high production value, we had one day and one chance to execute with excellence. And most importantly, we did it all in a way that inspired confidence and competence under uncertain and potentially confusing circumstances. Use every advantage at your disposal to deliver your message effectively, efficiently, and harmoniously.

When we took the 2020 She-Suite Summit virtual, we raised the bar. More than 200 people participated, with 430 logging on throughout the day via Facebook Live, LinkedIn, and other social communities. By shifting online, we not only brought people back, but we also succeeded in reaching an even wider audience. The same goes for our 17 speakers. Even those who were forced to cancel in-person joined virtually with incredible energy and enthusiasm. Most importantly, the Summit is still making an impact. We are coaching companies to navigate this new virtual norm. Every day, we’re seeing attendees use the 90-day Personal Brand Partnership and action plan they formed at She-Suite to elevate their recognition online.

Not only was this year’s She-Suite Summit called the best ever virtual summit by some attendees, it continues to serve as a testament to Velvet Suite’s values in action. As the events played out in real-time, we lived by example. Instead of a nightmare scenario, our Friday the 13th became a case study in how we succeed by putting people first, pivoting to our strengths, and communicating seamlessly.   

No, we may not know what tomorrow holds. In the new and unprecedented landscape of a sudden global pandemic, it’s challenging, if not impossible, to predict the future.

But one thing is clear: we are what’s next. We will rise to the occasion. And nothing will stop us from building community, enhancing brands, and leading with purpose to help others do the same.

What is the secret sauce of your brand?

Behind every great brand is a recipe for success. Every great recipe has a secret sauce. Think of your secret sauce as the patent for your brand leadership. If you are not aware of your own ingredients, how can you expect others to know. Check out this Melissa Motivation where she will drop a few clues on how to discover your own secret sauce for leading with success.

How Successful Leaders Overcome Self-Doubt

When your inner critique gets the best of you it can turn your instinct into your worst enemy. But why? In some ways, second-guessing yourself can be good. However, it is in those tiny seconds that self-doubt can creep in and crush your confidence to take action.

Yet, according to Malcolm Gladwell in the first chapter of his book, Blink​, our delayed instinct is often to second guess ourselves and our ability. “The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately,” says Gladwell. Taking action before self-doubt sets in empowers you to build your instinct muscle before you have the chance to talk yourself out of anything.

If you’ve been second-guessing yourself most of your life, you might not even realize you’re doing it. So, here are three ways to coach yourself out of self-doubt.

1.See the Possibilities
Getting specific with your vision is the first step in goal-setting as it will help you create smaller tasks to accomplish along the way. Focusing on the opportunity is a great way to look at the glass half full. Envision the future state and all the benefits you will receive as as a result of taking action. It will look different depending on how you work best — talk things through with someone you trust, write in a journal that contains all of your ideas, or make a collage that allows you to see all of your dreams on paper.
These are just a few things you can do to see the possibilities. Once you are able to see the opportunity, you can spend more time getting excited about the potential than convincing yourself it won’t work.
2.Silence Your Inner Critic
It sounds easy, but sometimes your biggest bully is looking you in the mirror. Make a written list (or a mental one) of all of the things you’ve accomplished — no matter how big or small. What are your strengths? Have you overcome similar tasks before? It won’t take long before you see just how much you’ve got going for you.
Use this list to give yourself a pat on the back. Affirm your strengths, times when you faced adversity and overcome it. You’ve got a path of proven performance. Focus on the lessons learned and how you overcame the obstacle and use it to fuel your vision for what’s ahead.
3.Commit to Action
Just do it. Now that you’ve clarified your vision and shut down self-doubt, it’s time to jump into action. In Mel Robbin’s book, 5 second Rule, readers learn how to count backward from five every time they begin to do something they don’t immediately feel motivated to do. Many readers have said this method works wonders for them — there’s a reason why it’s a best-seller.
In fact, I recall using this method for myself as a child. It started with overcoming my fear to jump off a diving board. My rule was if I started to count, I was committed and I had to “just do it” by the time I counted to three.
Overtime, I’ve adopted this approach in business. When I first hosted a my own event designed to address the leadership gap for women called The She-Suite Summit, there were tons of reasons to self-doubt. What if no one attends? What if you can’t secure sponsors? What if you can’t afford to execute the event in the middle of planning?
The list to quit was growing in my mind before I started. Instead of giving up on the idea, I focused on the possibilities, silenced the inner critic and took action. Our first event was delivered in 2010. Next year will be our fifth year executing this event experience and every year we have grown and it keeps getting better.
Committing to action means do something. Your steps may be small at first, but remember every step is a step in the right direction.
4.Release Expectations
This doesn’t mean forget about your original vision or goal. It’s more of a state-of-mind: be open to other things that may happen along your journey that you may not have even thought about. Opportunities are likely to pop-up when you least expect it and they just might make your vision even bigger and better than you originally thought.
Self-doubt and second-guessing yourself doesn’t change overnight. But like any habit it is built consistently over time. Take time to put these four steps into practice daily to create a new habit that will crush your self-doubt and change your way of thinking for the better.