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How the FAB Conference Created a Successful Online Event During the Pandemic

event-speaker

Dec 29, 2020

Latha Youngren

Dec 29, 2020

How the FAB Conference Created a Successful Online Event During the Pandemic

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Randi Weinstein

FAB is an annual conference and panel series that is brought to life each year by Randi Weinstein for women in the hospitality space to gather to share ideas and educate one another.

It typically takes place in Charleston, S.C., in June, but with COVID upending everything, Weinstein rebranded the FAB conference to become re-FAB and moved the series of 37 panels online over the course of seven weeks during the summer of 2020.

I spoke to Weinstein about how she moved her in-person event to a virtual conference and the lessons learned along the way.

1. Take us back to the first year or even before the first year, why FAB? Did you see an absence of education and information being delivered specifically to women in the hospitality industry?

It all stemmed from a series I produced called Bad Bitches, where we highlighted women’s rise in the hospitality industry through the decades. We raised $50,000 from seven small events and gave out scholarship money.

I thought while that was great, there was a lack of business skills that were needed in order to open a business, understand business and look towards the end of your career, and there were not many people offering educational summits at that time where it would pluck you out of your environment and place you in a space with all women looking for all the same things.

2. At what point did you realize that FAB wouldn’t be able to take place in person as planned and did you immediately start to make plans to offer it as a virtual series?

Tickets went on sale March 4 and I took them off sale March 14. I moved the date to October, thinking the in-person conference would happen at that time. I knew October wouldn’t happen in mid-May and that is when I began planning to go virtually, but the question was when …. and I knew it had to be as soon as possible. Tickets went on sale for re-FAB on June 26, and the workshop ran from July 19 through Sept. 2.

3. Was your live programming just flipped to a virtual platform or did you have to revisit your content to align with even more current challenges related to COVID?

We developed almost 40 panels of content for the live version and I looked at the panels we were going to have and realized not many were going to work for where the industry was at that time. I developed almost 30 new panels that spoke to the current climate of the industry, and also tried to take a look beyond.

4. What are the important lessons you learned about pivoting from an in-person to virtual event?

There are so many lessons, mainly, charging a fee that will hold ticket purchasers accountable to show up and attend the panel discussions. Also, the moderator is such a crucial role. If you have a boring moderator, you will have a boring panel discussion. The moderator has to do their work and research each speaker or speak beforehand to each speaker and find out more about them, and keep the content flowing.

5. Did switching to a virtual event make some of the event planning process easier? What surprises did you experience?

No, not at all. I first decided I can’t use the word pivot – It was overused and I decided that this would be the year better known as Re: – re-brand, re-invent, re-work, re-educate, re-invest, re-imagine.

Then I had to create a new logo that matched that, rework the website, decide the topics that would reach future attendees, and then decide the schedule and what that would look like. I had to also find about 40 new speakers as the original speakers were not “experts” on certain topics any longer. I also wanted to bring the intimacy that people have experienced by attending FAB in the past, so developed some small roundtables to do just that.

I would email those that signed up to give them all the details and how important it was to attend those roundtables as there would be interaction as opposed to a webinar and that there was a waitlist, but some were no-shows.

6. What advice do you have for planners who may have to move live events to an online format?

Find a platform that will work with as few glitches as possible. I used Zoom. Hire a Zoomru (Zoom guru) that will manage the whole event. It was seamless with my Zoomru Casey Warnick running the behind-the-scenes tasks.

I also didn’t know if Zoom bombing would happen, so I didn’t send codes out to the speakers until the Friday before and to each attendee an hour before the program started. All I know is that it was seamless.

I would also take a survey of what people are interested in hearing about. If you create programming that is not relevant, people won’t be interested in showing up.

7. When you do go back to holding in-person events, what will you do differently?

To be honest, I’m not sure all that much. For those that have attended in the past, it’s all about connectivity, relationship building, and building your network, and that will still be something that is needed. I have to see about offering it virtually, but in all honesty, you miss the whole point of it. FAB is about investing in yourself and taking the time to do just that.

8. What is the most rewarding aspect of FAB, re-FAB, and all future FABs?

When you attend FAB in person, it’s seeing all the attendees walk in for the keynote and meet one another for the first time and it’s like the first day of school where everyone is a little nervous, but soon they realize they are all there for the same reasons.

I love seeing the enthusiasm of the attendees when they shake their heads as if they are saying “Yes, finally someone understands me!” I love seeing all the speakers feed off one another and interact with everyone there, and when speakers don’t know if they are more excited about being a speaker or an attendee due to the content.

For re-FAB, it was the emails that people sent in appreciation of providing this content at such a reasonable cost that enabled them to attend something they never could possibly afford.

For future FABs, making sure the content is spot on and reconnecting is key!

9. What were the biggest challenges to putting this series together?

Finding the right mix of knowledgeable speakers for each panel, ensuring attendees show up for each small roundtable, money, and either retaining the financial partners that originally signed on but had to bow out and getting new ones.

10. One thing that everyone has experienced this year is dealing with stress. What has been your favorite way to relax and take care of yourself in 2020?

I think I am just getting to that part. I worked harder to make re-FAB happen so quickly and it wasn’t until after the second week in September that I felt like I could breathe. That being said, I took tennis back up, I jump rope, and now workout at home (not loving that so much). But the best stress reliever is that I live on the water and I go down to our dock and sit on the pierhead daily with my pup Roscoe.

11. What’s your favorite meal of all time? Tell us all the details!

Well, I’m a New Yorker living in Charleston, S.C., so there is SO much I miss — I miss bagels, lox, whitefish, pickles, pastrami, and corned beef, but I love Italian food, lasagna, pasta, and baked clams. It’s so hard to narrow it down!

12. What’s your go-to drink?

The easiest question here — I am a waterholic and drink about 90 ounces a day, but Kettle One on the rocks with a wedge of lemon is my drink of choice and I choose it often!

Learn more about FAB

Randi and the FAB team created a program that allowed the close-knit hospitality space to gather together and navigate the current disrupted state of the industry. The entire series was a huge success and her ability to quickly shift from the original plan and adapt to what was even possible provided so much value to this eager and appreciative audience.

Get more information on all things FAB and re-FAB at thisisfab.com.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of Seated magazine.