Thomas Williams

Virtual Events and Vanilla Ice Cream


When people ask me about my role at Merit, I tell them that I align opportunities and partnerships. That requires being in tune with a particular market: the conversation, what drives business, and the players.  I read research, news and industry publications. I speak with individuals to assess trends in real time. And, I attend both above and below-the-line events.  

Or, I used to.

Those last two means of connecting used to happen in person. Now, like you, I just go to webinars. Lots of webinars. Too many to count. As a participant, frankly, they tend to blend together, like 31 flavors of vanilla.

There’s got to be a better way.

Don’t get me wrong, for all the boring vanilla, virtual events and webinars offer a much-needed opportunity to share information, especially what’s working in marketing NOW. Some virtual events take it a step further and build on the basic flavor by encouraging “communities”  among those interested. For example, those of us interested in marketing as it relates to artificial intelligence, intelligent automation, data reliability and security can continue the conversation. For instance, ATARC, the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center, connects we tech nerds in working groups. 

GAIN is a marketing conference for companies who are interested in federal contracts. Merit’s fearless leader, Adam Vasquez, is doing the opening keynote speech this year. GAIN, too, has a follow-up community in which to participate. 

These are sprinkles on vanilla that I like. 

Other toppings I like: 

  • Speakers that are pre-recorded. It’s great to have speakers on live chat throughout their presentation for Q&A. 
  • Speakers that recognize that content, well presented, is theatre. In the agency business, we learn how to present. Speakers who take the time to practice in front of others and pace their visuals are appreciated. 
  • Getting a conference “coffee” and carrying it from sponsor to sponsor, like at a real trade show. No one, unfortunately, has figured out the virtual squishy ball yet, but I’m hopeful that someone will figure out that Starbucks makes ecards.

So what’s the solution? Doing without virtual events is a nonstarter. Gathering in hotel rooms and convention centers is still a long way off, at least to Spring 2021. 

All this ice cream talk has made me hungry. I have a modest suggestion, that might be nuts. Let’s hold meetings in COVID-clean places where we are already comfortable to meet and network, like grocery stores. The aisles are full of food and drink. Or at home improvement stores – plenty of patio chairs. Or even Target or Walmart – free phone charging! 

While 2020 has had its share of challenges, we have all shown a tremendous amount of resiliency, initiative and creativity in developing business and strategic opportunities. Those of us who have met each other virtually in the last few months have a unique bond. Let’s keep up the invention, put a cherry on top of whatever it is we’ve been forced to eat lately, and move forward with something even tastier.


Jamoca Almond Fudge, please. 

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