One statement underlines the reason why Allie Magyar, CEO and founder of Hubb, developed the idea for the online conference Untethered.
“A one-way webinar is not an event,” says Magyar.
As the meetings and events industry awaits a chance to resume in-person gatherings, there has been a plethora of webinars and online education. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but Magyar felt something was lacking.
So as many planners were forced to transition in-person conferences to virtual meetings, Magyar decided to create a whole new virtual event from scratch. Not only that, but she also gave herself and the team six weeks to do it.
“The whole intent was to make this an industry-led event,” says Magyar, who returned to her roots of planning innovative tech citywides for Untethered, held May 19-21. More than 4,400 event professionals attended over three days.
Registration was free with the option to donate a nominal amount to the Meetings Industry Fund, which is dedicated to providing relief and support to event professionals in crisis. Hubb reports $17,500 was raised. “It is so meaningful that in an industry that was decimated, people were willing to donate money to support other meeting planners having a rougher time than they are,” says Magyar.
The fundraising effort is only one aspect of Untethered’s giveback effort.
Ultimately, the goal was to provide a space for planners to learn and experiment on a virtual platform. “It was a safe space to try new things,” says Magyar.
Education sessions dealt with the fallout from COVID-19, touching on topics like revenue, sponsorships and event design. One-on-one appointments were created for attendees to gain guidance on myriad subjects. Presentations were created using multiple tools, including Zoom, WebX, Vimeo and a custom streaming service. Even Hubb’s platform, designed to look like the interior of a convention center, was an example of presenting a new way for planners to develop virtual events.
The ‘Girl Gang’
Given so many events were quickly transitioned to digital this year, it seems almost fitting that there was only a short window—self-imposed in this case—to put on Untethered. To pull off the feat, Magyar relied on a “girl gang” that might as well be “The Avengers” of the meetings industry.
Dahlia El Gazzar, DES, altMBA, ECC, Tech Evangelist and Idea Igniteur at DAHLIA+ Agency, worked her vast network for speakers; Rachel Stephan at the marketing firm snöball, focused on social media influencing; and Naomi Clare Crellin, owner and founder of Storycraft Lab, helped create Hubb’s event design. Crellin and Magyar previously worked together retooling Microsoft’s Ignite series.
“It was just like planning an in-person event,” says Magyar. “Each person uses their skill set to make it successful.”
The only difference is Untethered was produced for free. Otherwise, the effort put in was equal to, if not greater, than organizing an in-person conference.
Magyar and Clare, for instance, spent a great deal of time in front of the camera. But that pales in comparison to the behind-the-scenes work that was done in the weeks leading up to Untethered and during the show. Magyar even shared her thoughts on the experiences and lessons learned in an email sent to attendees each day of the show.
“With virtual, it feels like you are connected 24/7,” says Magyar. “Planners are going to think about how to get through a marathon.”
Before the marathon was the sprint. Untethered occurred a mere six weeks after the idea first originated. Then a team needed to be put in place, followed by marketing, finding speakers, collecting prerecorded sessions and putting together the virtual platform.
It’s enough to make even the experienced Magyar freak-out. She admits considering delaying the event to June until Liz Lathan, CMP, CEO of Haute Dokimazo, put things in perspective.
“She said, ‘Perfection is the enemy—we are doing this damn thing’” recalls Magyar. “I agree perfection is the enemy. [Untethered] was timely and it was needed.”
Magyar agrees with the general assumption in-person events will return but notes planners and organizations need to have a backup plan in case a second wave hits when their event is slated to occur. Even if the worst is past us, she notes there will be many individuals who are important to organizations who are unable or unwilling to travel long distances for some time.
In order to provide a top-flight experience for them, planners would be wise to include a hybrid component featuring in-person and virtual elements. Always the planner at heart, Magyar is already thinking about an “Untethered Retethered” event displaying different ways to produce hybrid conferences.
“We are going to have to be very inclusive about the people who can’t come,” she says. “How do we connect them to a virtual event but not as two separate experiences. How do we make that blend?”