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Virtually shifting gears

Sometimes my two worlds meet. You know me, Tricia, as one half of Badges Across America, the non-photographer but the one known for my sometimes witty, somewhat thoughtful, writing. This passion to celebrate the American Law Enforcement Officer while personally fulfilling, doesn’t pay the bills, so much like Clark Kent (or a weaker, fewer superpowers – aka, none at all, superhero) my day job as a meeting and event planner ensures that Charlie and I have a roof over our heads, and wheels under our feet.

Since we began this journey, I hoped to work as a meeting planner, with organizations that support LEO’s, and the first week of August, I got my opportunity and I can credit the pandemic for this.

Like millions of Americans, in March, my work virtually (foreshadowing much?) disappeared overnight as the country moved into lockdown. People couldn’t gather, meetings began cancelling and falling like dominoes, and instead of planning meetings, I began negotiating out of contracts, strategizing next steps and figuring out how we move forward.

For the first few months, I began working on my pandemic projects – 300+ masks sewn and donated to anyone who asked from our network with BAA and three, two-week old, kittens who needed love and care. I also filed for unemployment and to say that this was a bit soul crushing is to put it mildly. But then, the world virtually opened up (okay, I hate to point out my cleverness with words but subtly isn’t my strong suit), and I was back at work.

I was approached to work a hybrid* meeting for the Correctional Leaders Association (CLA), scheduled to take place the first week of August, in Boise, Idaho. Now, you might wonder how my experience as a meeting and event planner would give me the technical knowledge to move a meeting virtually. Well, luckily, about eight years ago my manager at the time told me that she saw webinars as my future. Hahahahahaha… webinars. People love to hate them and managing and producing them wasn’t an assignment any of my co-workers wanted. I didn’t want them but, since they were dumped, ahem, assigned, to me, I decided to make the best of it and dove headfirst and learned everything I could. If I was going to do this, I was going to do the absolute best job I could. For the next six years, I managed and produced an estimated 80 webinars, virtual, hybrid events each year. I went on to circle back to my alma mater, Colorado State University – Global Campus, to obtain a master’s level certificate in Online Learning and Innovation in 2017.

Back to work (in my mind, I hear crowds cheering), I began working with the CLA staff

and found my peeps – they even got my sense of humor (which I have, no matter what my kids may tell you). We began planning a hybrid event as the plan was the conference would be available online for those that could not travel and for the others, to meet in Boise, Idaho, at the Grove Hotel and – best part yet – to provide enough space for social distancing – ON THE HOCKEY RINK - at Century Link Arena. Jumbo-tron, plenty of space, and the opportunity to embrace the energy that comes from space that has a winner in it every time a game is played. Boise was open for business. Or it was. Like other cities throughout the country, the city had to take a step back and restrict gatherings.

The decision was made to move the entire meeting virtually. The team and I stepped into high gear.

In just under six weeks, the entire meeting was created, agenda finalized, site was built, and we worked through all the details – from communication to graphics, speakers to technology opportunities/limitations, and so much more. We did it! We moved the entire conference online.

Now, I could have worked the conference from my desk at home (home being a 40’ 5th wheel) however the team wanted me to be with them (and to be fair, I wanted it as well) at their temporary command center – the Grove Hotel. Taking over two of the box office suites (can you hear the cheering as well? No? Doesn’t matter, I can 😉), we set up internet hubs, ethernet connections, monitors, laptops, whiteboards along with more cords and cables to support the efforts than you would think was required.

For three days, four of us sat around a large conference table, while several others came in remotely, troubleshooting issues, producing, moderating, and ensuring that the sessions went off without a hitch. Things we were nervous about went well, while things we thought were dialed in ran into snafu’s. For anyone that has ever planned any meeting or event, you know that no matter what, something will go sideways and the important thing is not so much what has happened, it’s how you respond to it. And like the first day of any meeting, you make corrections and adjustments on the fly and I always count as success is when the attendees have no idea what is happening in the back of the house. Like ducks – calm and peaceful on the surface all the while frantically paddling their feet under the water.

Fun fact – of the ten most stressful occupations in the United States, law enforcement ranks 4 and meeting and event planner ranks 6. Bless our house – Charlie with 27 years of law enforcement and I with 12 years of meeting planning – I don’t know if the fact that we never turned to day drinking is a miracle or we were just too busy to start.

Day one was much like an in-person event – a few attendees wandering around, trying to find the registration desk and in this case, wandering around the internet, trying to find the virtual platform. The struggle here was responding to emails asking for help** while also on-boarding presenters into the virtual room, pushing videos, tracking the chat box, etc. But we were off, the opening session moving right into the next session, followed with scheduled breaks that attendees could use to take care of business back at their desks or engage with their peers in networking rooms with the goal being to relax and unwind after sessions covering intense topics. Titles like, “Was Your Family Called the Griswold’s? Mine Was.” (Um, true story, mine was. Probably because of our cat giving birth in our Country Squire station wagon during one memorable road trip, and other vacation foibles that I place firmly on Clark’s - - actually, my dad’s name is Don - shoulders).

After that first morning, day 2 and 3, it was smooth as butter. Sessions were well received, presenters all showed up (both literally and figuratively), and the technology held. It was awesome!

I had such a great time, both professionally and personally, and loved the fact that while the pandemic may have derailed not only my work but also BAA’s for a while, it was our law enforcement family that brought us back. And seriously, everyone should have the opportunity to work with an amazing team like the CLA staff – love them***.

*Hybrid event – a meeting that has an in-person group of attendees and virtual attendees. The trick here (besides the technology piece) is to ensure that engagement is equal, and one group doesn’t feel shorted over another.

**Yes, we had a help desk staffed but many people reach out to people they know.

***this is not me sucking up, it’s just like when you are on a team and everyone is dialed in together – it’s a beautiful thing and it’s something we all continue to chase into the future with other teams.

Heading out for dinner with Katie and Jill, relaxing with a trip to the spa for some much needed footie care with Jill, Katie, her partner in crime, and Derek along with snacks. lots, and lots of snacks.

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