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What Will The SIGBI Belfast Virtual Conference 2020 Look Like?

2020 has been a year of shocks and shifts for everyone, and it was perhaps inevitable that such seismic global turmoil would impact on the SIGBI Belfast Conference.

Sadly, SIGBI’s annual federation conference – now due to take place this weekend, on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st October 2020 – has fallen victim to the restrictions made necessary by Covid 19 and the subsequent lockdown.

However, whilst we can’t have the conference we had originally planned to have, we’re looking on the bright side and are thankful for the fact that we can have a conference at all.

The SIGBI Belfast Virtual Conference 2020 will look a little different from previous conferences in past years, but we’re hopeful it will still be an engaging, entertaining and empowering event that will bring together Soroptimist sisters from all over the world in celebration and solidarity.

With only a few days to go now until the big event, read on to find out more about what this year’s conference will involve.

How Has The Coronavirus Pandemic Impacted On The SIGBI 2020 Conference?

The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has left no organisation untouched and SIGBI is no exception. As you will all be acutely aware, our clubs have been hugely impacted by lockdown restrictions, with some being unable to meet for many months now and others having met only a handful of times.

But if you thought any of that would stop us, you’ve got another thing coming.

Our clubs have risen to the challenges placed before them and innovated like never before. Throughout the federation, we have had meetings run via Zoom, socially distanced fundraising events and lockdown programme action. Far from seeing our organisation struggle and contract, we have gained members and raised significant amounts of money for our vital causes.

The organisation and its members have embraced technology, got on social media, got creative and bounced back into action. It’s been glorious to see just what has been achieved by so many determined women around the world in a year of unprecedented challenges.

And, naturally, the annual conference has not escaped the disruption. When the first lockdown hit in spring 2020, we were quietly confident that it would all be over by Autumn – it seemed such a long way away – so we presumed conference would be safe. As the true scale of the epidemic unfolded, it became clear that the annual October conference was not going to escape, and that the event we had planned for around 800 women in Belfast was unlikely to happen.

Naturally, the Conference Committee sprang into action to put in place contingency plans. Over the last 6 months, it’s safe to say those contingency plans have gone through several iterations, with emergency plans being made and then changed again as the goal posts continually moved.

However, with the conference now just days away, we’re confident we have a virtual event that will not only comply with all the restrictions and regulations, but will still provide all the key elements of a usual SIGBI conference. It’s not going to be the same – of course it’s not going to be the same – but it’s the next best thing we could manage and, we hope, will still have many elements of interest and excitement.

How Will The SIGBI Belfast Virtual Conference 2020 Work?

One of the things we’ve all become familiar with over the course of the last year – whether we’re happy about it or not – is the conference call, via Zoom, GoToMeeting or similar.

Whilst our conference will be much more than just a meeting broadcast over a conference call, it will work in a fundamentally similar way. You, the viewer, will be at home and the conference will be beamed live to you via your own laptop, tablet or smartphone.

However, because of the software being used – and because the event is being held in conjunction with the ICC Belfast – the 2020 conference will involve many more features designed to enhance the experience. Described as a ‘hybrid event’, the conference will involve some live elements combined with the technical elements, all designed to give you, the viewer, a better and more interactive experience.

For example, there will still be the ability for delegates to ask questions of the speakers, who will appear in real time and will answer questions live. There will also be additional elements designed to encourage participation, such as polls and quizzes. SIGBI President, Isobel Smith, has confirmed that;

“The question and answer sessions with the speakers will be live. The whole of Jane Garvey’s presentation and question and answer session will also be live. In addition, the Networking Room will be in real time and you can catch up on all sessions at any time up to midnight (GMT) on Sunday 1 November.”

For those of you who are attending the conference, the timetable for the conference can be found via the conference website.

With almost 1000 women registered to attend from all over the federation, it’s bound to be an interesting, informative and innovative weekend. We’re certainly looking forward to it anyway.

How Will The Changes To Conference Benefit Women?

Naturally, every single one of us hopes that these restrictions will only be temporary, not least because this terrible pandemic is wreaking havoc to millions of lives around the world. We’re all acutely aware that having to have a virtual conference whilst so many are suffering real hardship and heartbreak is not really that bad. We’re incredibly lucky we can have it at all, in fact.

Hence, whilst we’re all looking forward to being able to meet again in person, we’re doing our best to look on the bright side.

It’s undeniable that there are opportunities afforded by adopting this new technology, as SIGBI President, Isobel Smith, pointed out;

“There is an opportunity to bring something new to this year and see this as an investment in the future of our organisation. It could be that we attract members who have never attended Conference and members from other Federations.” 

And indeed, as the numbers of women registered to attend conference this year is approximately 200 more than last year, it would seem that this has been born out.

There are definite advantages to holding a virtual conference. For one thing, the cost to attend is greatly reduced; the cost of a ticket has plummeted from roughly £150 to around £60 per person. Add on the savings from not having to fly to Belfast, not having to stay in a hotel, not having to travel anywhere or eat out, and the cost of attending conference is now about 10% of what it would otherwise have been for most women. For many, this is a factor that will have opened conference up to them for the very first time.

Of course, there are other benefits besides the financial implications. For those women providing a caring role, the fact that they can now attend two half days, rather than an entire weekend, means they do not need to source additional care for children, parents or partners.

And for disabled women or those with visual, auditory or physical impairments, the fact they do not even need to leave their home instantly makes the conference much more accessible for them.

In short, by holding the conference in this way, it has evidently meant that many more women (about 200) are finally able to attend something that was previously off limits to them. And that can only be a good thing.

In terms of what this means for future SIGBI conferences, it is clear that some virtual element will be required in all conferences going forwards to ensure this level of accessibility is maintained. No doubt the members of the SIGBI Llandudno 2021 Conference will be watching with due attention!

Where Can You Find Out More Information About The Belfast 2020 Conference?

Naturally, as the conference is just a few days away now, registration has closed. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find out what happened.

If you do not have a ticket but would like to know how our first ever virtual conference is going, you will be able to find out via our social media profiles. Please follow us on Twitter or like our Facebook page to get updates.

Plus, of course, there will be blogs about the conference published regularly via the conference website, so you’ll be able to find out all about our speakers and what the delegates thought.

Inevitably, this conference is not going to be the same as the conferences that have gone before, but hopefully it will bring something new to the table and continue SIGBI’s commitment to innovate and evolve.