Event planners all over the world experienced initial shock when the pandemic hit in early 2020, threatening their careers as the world came to a halt. Sara Dittman, Senior Event Planner for Participate Learning, shares her story on how she sharpened her technological skills to save her career and stay valuable in an industry that was turned on its head.
To give some background, Participate Learning is an international education company with a mission to unite global learning. Their main focus is to educate students as future global citizens by expanding their awareness of diverse cultures and languages through bringing in teachers from all over the world to teach in the U.S.—primarily North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. These teachers are on cultural exchange visas for 3 to 5 years and introduce their culture and language to K-12 students. They, in turn, take their knowledge of American culture back to their home country in an equal cultural exchange. Facilitators aim to teach with a “global lens” as they apply standard curriculum to worldwide culture.
One of the largest projects for Dittman is an orientation where 300-400 teachers are brought in from all over the world to partake in a multiweek program to prepare for the school year. Dittman organizes everything from travel, housing, and food for this huge event. Additionally, she facilitates sales conferences with superintendents and other decision-makers within the different school districts and internal events such as anniversaries and other celebrations.
“I took the opportunity to gain any knowledge I could get my hands on to then take that back to my company and apply it.”
In the wake of the pandemic, Dittman took it as an opportunity to make herself as valuable to the company as possible. She describes the state of panic that she and other event planners were in. To combat the feeling, she participated in multiple webinars and online courses centered around virtual event principles as a way to maintain relevancy during the shift of the industry caused by the pandemic. Dittman discovered a certification course in virtual event and meeting management that covered the many novel concepts in the industry; how to initiate a virtual event, lighting technique, AV equipment, and how to make a home experience feel professional.
“I took the opportunity to gain any knowledge I could get my hands on to then take that back to my company and apply it,” Dittman expresses, as Participate Learning converted all of their events—from sales conferences to teaching support programs—to virtual.
“It’s been challenging and exciting in a way because I have been able to push myself to learn things that I didn’t know and position myself to be more valuable to the company.”
Dittman details the challenge of having to adapt so quickly to the industry’s transformation. Overnight, she became the company’s resident Zoom expert and is now faced with new technologies that she never had to deal with before. Dittman stated, “it’s been challenging and exciting in a way because I have been able to push myself to learn things that I didn’t know and position myself to be more valuable to the company.”
For Dittman and many other planners, this experience is not just about self-growth and professional development, but survival. It has become increasingly necessary to find ways to maintain value within your company during these unprecedented times.
Dittman began using MeetApp for Participate Learning events – which are entirely virtual- and voiced her appreciation for the support team when it came to customizing the app to fit her company’s needs. Her 6-week orientation does not adhere to typical conferencing format, but MeetApp was able to successfully meld into Participate Learning’s program structure. For Dittman and Participate Learning, MeetApp serves as a handheld personal agenda, or “lesson plan,” that is integrated into their community of courses and live calls. MeetApp serves as the connection between Zoom meetings and the course platforms, as well as their main communication source.
On using several platforms at once, Dittman remarks that “it’s been kind of cool to make them all work cohesively together.”
“[Ventla is] really staying on top of what event planners and companies are needing.”
Dittman’s favorite tool within MeetApp is creating information cards and linking them to program items. MeetApp’s customizations are what makes it feels like a personal experience and not just another online platform.
Hosting virtual events comes with a whole new set of challenges – screen fatigue, more distractions, the need for engagement, and making attendees feel involved from isolated locations. Dittman advises event planners who are struggling with this new territory to not be afraid to research when presented with obstacles. Though finding a creative solution might not be what you originally envisioned, it does not mean a solution can’t be found because “there’s a whole network of us trying to figure it out.”
Grateful to have found MeetApp during these challenging times, Dittman conveys that “[Ventla is] really staying on top of what event planners and companies are needing.”