The New Normal: How Virtual Events Will Help Us Stay Connected

By Shana Cesaire

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, public events and gatherings have been prohibited in many areas of Canada and the world for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this has caused the cancellation of numerous popular events in the area, such as The Ottawa Jazz Festival as well as The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival.

Although these cancellations are kind of a bummer, especially considering summer is around the corner, many event planners have found ways to make these restrictions on large public gatherings work for them. The alternative: online events. What has been an enlightening revelation in this time is that it isn’t as difficult to adapt to these changes in 2020 if we take advantage of the technology that we’re lucky to have, and that there is a lot to be explored in the landscape of virtual events.

In late April, some of us at OAFF attended an online event hosted by 5Point Film, who recently announced that their Flagship festival that was supposed to take place in April would be postponed until October. The event was called “5Point Unlocked,” and consisted of a live-stream of some of their films. We found that the event was really entertaining.

OAFF also hosted our first online event, “From the Couch” in early May, and the event went amazing! We received a lot of support and comments from our community, and were humbled by everyone’s generosity when it came to donations. The interaction was great, and we learned quite a bit about the advantages of virtual events that would perhaps not be as accessible with a solely in-person event.

First of all, we found that there was more of an inclusivity aspect to the online approach. Don’t get us wrong, we love gathering together for a live event, especially for the Ottawa Adventure Film Festival in November; there can be no substitute for face-to-face interaction. But it requires more effort than some people who would really like to attend the event are able to put it, like the hassle of traveling for those who are coming in from out of town. Having an online event makes it more inclusive, giving those who would not be able to come into town, no matter the reason, the chance to still participate and join in on the fun.

Through this inclusivity, we found that engagement and interaction is also a positive outcome that results from hosting an event online. Without the face-to-face interaction, the next best way for others to communicate before, during or after the event is through social media. Yes, most events heavily rely on social media already for marketing, but an event that takes place at least partially online has a higher chance of trending on various platforms and getting more engagement.

This greater social media engagement combined with the inclusivity factor allows us to make regional events, such as our annual film festival in Ottawa, reach a larger audience and become global, causing us to be able to share the magic that these awesome films bring to everyone! It might also give us the opportunity to collaborate with other outdoor film festivals and inspire attendees and viewers at a greater scale.

The success of our first “From the Couch” made us realize that, even after life returns to normal and in-person events are once again permitted, there will always be a place for virtual engagement. We loved the interaction and feedback we received from everyone who tuned in! It’s always great hearing about the films you like and the films you want to watch. It was also fun collaborating with Jessica Pearson and the East Wind and the hilarious David Brennan to make this an all-around entertaining event!

We are going to use the circumstances of 2020 to cast a wider net in hopes of turning our festival into something global.. We’ll be doing this by leveraging our online presence even more than before. This would also give us the potential for more revenue, which, in the first “From the Couch,” allowed us to donate 50% of all donations to Freedom Dog Rescue. The outcome of the event was so good that we are hosting another “From the Couch” on June 13th.

Hybrid events are already common, but it seems like they may become the norm in the future. We feel like we haven’t been fully making use of the technology that is already available to us. Therefore, although the fate of the 2020 Ottawa Adventure Film Festival is still uncertain, it is highly likely that we will be exploring making OAFF a hybrid festival in the future so that everyone can join in the fun!

In the meantime, join us for our second Ottawa Adventure Film Festival virtual event: “From the Couch,” hosted by David Brennan! Register here.