If you’ve come here looking for rosy-eyed Pollyannia, you’ve come to the wrong place. Can you believe I once said 2020 couldn’t be any more challenging than 2019? Cue the karmic ‘hold my beer’. As someone said to me and my co-owner, Tonia Sheridan, a few months ago, the first chapter of our book writes itself. “You bought a company and walked into a pandemic…”
Normally, as one year comes to a close, you start looking forward to the possibilities the new year might bring. But I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be bubbled, or when there’s going to be a vaccine, or when we’re going to be able to get back to normal networking or when we can think about hosting in-person events. I don’t know when we’ll be able to travel safely or shop without masks.
It’s the not knowing that makes change so hard to manage.
When the pandemic broke last March, we rescheduled our annual Top 50 CEO awards gala from May to September. We thought the pandemic-forced closures couldn’t possibly last that long (famous last words). We waited through May… then June… all through July… everyday expecting the announcement that we could proceed with our regular 700-person gala event. Finally, early August, we accepted it wasn’t going to happen and we pivoted—the word everyone now loves to hate—to a virtual event. Without going into too much detail, it was the most exhausting, stressful five weeks of my life.
Next up on our calendar was our 30 Under 30 recognition event, a sponsor/innovator pitch event we’re hosting in conjunction with the release of this magazine. Considerably smaller than the Top 50 CEO awards, we of course thought we could do this in-person. Gather 60 people in one place for a morning of presentations, a little networking, a bite of lunch—maybe even some live entertainment to give it a fun, youthful, party-like vibe? It should have been a piece of cake but instead it was another idea that fell flat.
Not everyone was comfortable with the idea of travelling to another province—many, in fact, are still working from home. Then it was pointed out that networking, in masks, standing a minimum six feet apart, isn’t particularly effective. And that every presenter would have to be provided with their own, sterilized, microphone. And that lunch, either pre-packaged or served, would have to observe the rules of physical distancing. And there was the growing threat of increased COVID infections, the so-called second wave. Technically, we could host an in-person event, but under the circumstances, why would we want to? And who’d want to go? So that’s another event we decided to host online.
Which brings us here. Standing on the edge of an old year and afraid to look forward to the new.
I like to think we’ve grown a bit wiser along with being another year older. Instead of holding out hope for a return to what was, we’ve learned to embrace what is. We’ve already decided our 2021 Top 50 CEO awards will be a virtual event. Because we know, we’re planning for the biggest and most glamourous celebration of corporate leadership excellence this country has ever seen. And no, this is not over-exaggeration for the sake of effect. Even with only five weeks to plan and deliver our 2020 awards online, countless attendees contacted us to say it was the best virtual event they’d attended so far this year. So much so that organizers of national events contacted us to find out how we did it and what lessons we had learned.
We learned enough to know that we’re going to have a live broadcast in 2021, one that’s open to an unlimited international audience. And there’ll be more live, in-the-moment interactive elements. Most importantly, we’ve learned—gratefully—that our story will continue. Thanks for helping us turn the page. •