As the couples and couples of people who read these blogs know, I’ve been at this for a while. Specifically I’ve been with EMS World and its predecessors since the year 2000, and attending EMS/EMS World Expo every year since soon thereafter. Executing the show is always a big, messy endeavor, with lots of adrenaline and moving parts and challenges to resolve on the fly, but after so long even that becomes routine. Skilled colleagues reliably nail down their parts, the speakers and exhibitors know their business, and I roll blithely into town during the precons to attend some classes, write ’em up, meet and greet people, and generally tend to editorial duties.
Going virtual with this year’s show was a heavy lift for a lot of people. Not so much for me or other editors in particular; our job of relaying the speakers’ wisdom to you didn’t change much. But for the rest of HMP Global’s EMS team, the difference was in orders of magnitude. I won’t try to speak for any coworkers or their experiences, but with the show now in the books, I’ll congratulate and thank them for jobs beautifully done. As VP Josh Hartman put it in a midweek pep talk, “You’re doing something that’s never been done before”—an EMS event of EMS World Expo’s scope and caliber delivered entirely online, from the keynote to the classes to the exhibit hall. Pretty neat.
When the show started last Monday, I confess I had concerns. The back-channel comms among our team buzzed with urgent issues—registration glitches, audiovisual problems, evaluation questions. It seemed like a lot going wrong. Then I realized something that perhaps should have been more obvious: Registration glitches, audiovisual problems, and evaluation questions all happen at live shows too—ours and everyone’s. We just don't normally all share one channel where they’re raised and worked through. It was startling to see the issues and complaints collected like that, but in reality they were no more numerous or severe than any other year’s show, and maybe less so.
Writing up sessions became much easier with this format. We had early access to the recorded presentations and summarized them in advance—from the comfort of home and on our own schedule, rather than from a cold hotel room with everyone else out carousing. Yeah, we all missed the parties, but I call this an editorial win.
Let me tell you also, it’s a sweet, sweet luxury to be able to back up a video 10 seconds to rehear some key point rather than trying to recall and reconstruct it even as the instructor plows on with other essential content. I wish all speakers came with pause buttons.
What was different for the editorial team was moderating the Q&A sessions after select presentations. This was done via one of the roughly half a dozen new software platforms we had to learn for the show. We were well-instructed in advance, but there was a lot to take in, and this calcified old brain doesn’t learn like it used to. Most anxiously, the stakes were high: While the sessions were prerecorded, the Q&As would be live. We’d have to juggle a front-end convo with speakers and their remaining audience along with a back-end forum for viewers posting questions and tech support watching for trouble and counting down our time.
We could see how many viewers were tuned in, also, and generally those numbers didn’t plunge once the slides ended—people stuck around for the Q&As to what seemed a greater degree than live shows. That’s a credit to EMS World’s smart, motivated audience, and probably the lack of Las Vegas outside their door.
Considering it all there seemed ample opportunity for error. Would I delete important questions before they could be answered? Would I inadvertently screen-share a half-baked blog not yet ready for consumption? Would I massively FUBAR the job and start streaming something horrible to attendees? Because I’m capable of any of that.
Thankfully our tech support made it easy to not mishandle questions or publicly share career-ending content. Speakers, moderators, and techs would meet up in a virtual “green room” when each presentation started and review all processes. We’d discuss seed questions if the Q&A bogged down (largely unneeded, as audiences remained delightfully engaged), and the tech would refresh us on things like introductory language, the process for managing time, and how to wrangle questions and answers.
Live broadcasts may never be my favorite thing—what with this face so suited for radio and voice so suited for print—but after doing a few it became kind of fun. Our speakers certainly made it easy too—what a smart, experienced bunch.
And so concludes a most unusual EMS World Expo 2020. I’m not sure if we’ll do a virtual show again—it certainly can’t fully recreate the camaraderie and seeing old friends and travel experience you get at live events—but we know now we can, so take that, COVID-19. However the live-event industry evolves in 2021 and beyond, it’s a good tool in the arsenal.