The biannual Australian Space Forum attracts more than 1000 participants at each event — a steep increase from about 80 when the event was first held in 2016. Starting out as a face-to-face event held in Adelaide, the COVID pandemic caused the event to switch to a hybrid format to maintain its national and international reach.
The first instalment of the hybrid style Forum was set to be held in Adelaide in November 2020 at the Adelaide Convention Centre and streamed online through a dedicated event app. Featuring 7 sessions and close to 30 presenters, the event was impacted by a COVID-related lockdown initiated just prior to the scheduled date, according to the Event Manager, Nikki Salerno.
“We had already developed the Forum event app and anticipated a switch to a fully virtual event would be relatively straightforward, but it turned out to be more complicated than we expected,” says Salerno.
“With our local suppliers in lockdown and unable to manage the production, we had to source an interstate supplier who had the capability to produce and stream the event to our now, all virtual audience. We had received a recommendation to Redback so we reached out, and we were really happy with the virtual event service they provided.”
The Forum encountered another unexpected set-back when the live-stream service selected to deliver the video feed failed on the day of the event.
“We had signed up to a video streaming service that integrated within our event app, but despite working fine during testing, on the day of the event, the live stream wouldn’t work,” Salerno says. “The team at Redback stayed calm and were very fast-thinking, and were able to switch over to their own platform to stream from another URL, which thankfully also worked within our event app.”
“It was a very high-profile event with speakers including the Premier of South Australia and the federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, along with speakers from Japan, Canada and the United States,” says Redback’s Director of Operations Michael Bunker.
“We helped deliver it in 6 days. Normally we prefer 3 weeks’ notice but due to COVID it had to be converted to a 100% remote event very quickly.
“With the last-minute streaming issue, there was a slight delay while we created a workaround, but the speakers weren’t impacted. Redback can stream into any platform a customer wants us to stream into — we’re technology-agnostic.”
When it came to the content, the Forum organisers went to some lengths to ensure the digital streamed event offered networking opportunities and was as engaging as a face-to-face event.
“Our event app included a gamification element that could be used across the virtual and physical format of the event,” Salerno says. “There was a Q&A component so people were able to post questions to the speakers as well.
“We maintained the break times for the virtual event and encouraged participants to interact with exhibitors within the app and we also reached out to students to participate so they could learn more about the industry and be inspired into a space career pathway.”
She says the feedback from enabling people to meet for an event in a COVID-safe way was very positive.
Learnings include finding ways to build networking activity into virtual events, and scheduling plenty of time for tests and rehearsals prior to the live event to troubleshoot any technical issues, and having contingency plans in case of lockdowns.
“I think moving forward we’ll have to maintain that hybrid format at least until travel is no longer an issue,” Salerno says. “Whatever service we use needs to be compatible with our app.”