Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

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Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

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Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

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About the Episode
How do you reimagine an in-person conference with a 15-year history into a completely online experience? In this episode, Megan Miller and Andrew Meyers of eduWeb Digital Summit discuss the challenges and successes of pivoting an international conference with hundreds of attendees into a virtual format. Discover helpful tips on virtual event planning, managing projects, improving focus, and staying productive while working virtually.
Episode Highlights

Collaboration is key
Working together across teams and departments is necessary for launching any large project or event. 

Learn to adapt
The pandemic has forced us to change and accommodate according to the circumstances around us, which can lead to amazing growth. 


Get rid of “should”
Avoid falling into the trap of how you think things should be by considering what could be done instead.

Meet our Guest

Megan Miller and Andrew Meyers are passionate about higher education for three reasons: collaboration, comradery, and creativity. Both sit on the planning committee for eduWeb Digital Summit, a conference focused on advancing the communications and web fields in education. Megan and Andrew have extensive backgrounds in higher education, and both were attracted to the planning committee after attending the conference. Outside of her role at eduWeb as Operations Chair, Megan works at RHB Global as the Senior Integration Consultant. Andrew fills the role of Program Chair at eduWeb and works as the Associate Director of Admissions at Hope College.


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.

Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

Podcast

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

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Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.

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Infographic

Megan Miller & Andrew Meyers: Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

How do you reimagine an in-person conference with a 15-year history into a completely online experience? Megan and Andrew of eduWeb Digital Summit explain.
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Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.

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Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack. Today, we are digging into how the eduWeb Digital Summit was majorly impacted by the pandemic. eduWeb's Digital Summit is a week long conference, attracting over 500 attendees from across the globe. 2020 was to mark its 15th year of running. 

And as I'm sure you can imagine, everything that was planned had to pivot considerably to really go from that in-person event to online. To share how this was made possible, we have Megan Miller, Chair of Operations and Andrew Meyers, Program Chair. Outside of their work at eduWeb, Megan Miller is the Senior Integration Consultant at RHB  and Andrew Meyers is the Associate Director of Admissions of Hope College. With that background, let's find out how Megan and Andrew reimagined the eduWeb event. 

Chris Byers: So tell us a bit more about eduWeb conference and why it was started.

Megan Miller: So eduWeb is an annual, international conference that we have for those who are in the industry of higher education marketing. We definitely have a strong emphasis on elements like social media, content marketing, web and mobile development and design, things like that. But we've been going since the early 2000s. We generally attract, you know, a good 300 to 400 attendees each year and a few days of breakout sessions, keynotes, a lot of networking. We're really focused on community development in terms of building those relationships and that network as well.

Chris Byers: So you shared it as eduWeb, it sounds like I butchered it with eduWeb. Tell us the right way to say that. 

Megan Miller:
There's constant debate about that and the formal, finalized decision is that it is e-d-u-Web. Just like if you're saying a university's domain, it would be dot e d u.

Andrew Meyers: I said it wrong for like 10 years. 

Chris Byers:
Well, that's great. How did you two get involved in this? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think it was 2008. I had attended another smaller event and I think folks were talking about going to eduWeb that summer in Chicago. And so I lived two hours North of Chicago, and this is a great professional development opportunity early in my career. And I kind of lurked for five or six years and then had the opportunity to present and join what was then the advisory board for  eduWeb and eventually into my role as Program Chair. 

Megan Miller:
I was a little later along than Andrew. I first came across eduWeb I think in like 2016 maybe. I was working as the Director of Enrollment Communications at Seattle Pacific University at that point. And somehow it came across my screen and I immediately thought, gosh, it seems like a really good conference. I'd really like to do this. And so I kind of pitched it to my boss multiple times and got approval to go to the 2017 event in Boston. 

I have always been the one to share my input with folks. And so I sent an email afterwards to some of the organizers about like, here's some things I noticed that were really good. Here's some things that, you know, you might want to think about for improving the conference. And they're like, well, I think you know so much, why don't you just join the team. And so that's how I got involved. I am the cautionary tale for speaking up and suddenly being put in the mix. I really liked it and I really enjoyed that experience. 

Chris Byers:
Well, 15 years is a long time for lots of things. But for a conference, as you know, these things kind of ebb and flow. What are the elements that have made this kind of carry on every year? 

Andrew Meyers:
I think the higher ed community is highly collaborative and I'm not sure that's true in every industry. But one thing I've observed in my career so far is just that people tend to care about each other. And while there is certainly competition and ours might be one of the most competitive industries out there, certainly right now. People still want to collaborate and help each other out. And so I think that is kind of in the DNA of our event. And there's certainly a social element to the experience that we provide at eduWeb and just great connections that are formed. And I think that's true of our team as well. I think while people have come and gone, there's certainly an element of, hey, we want to do best by this event and make the investment ourselves. That's, I think, what's sustained it over the long term here. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I would echo that. I think that we as a team really value collaboration and connection, community is a big word for us. And because that's so important to us, we really invest a lot of that into what we have. Like there's just a huge focus on how do we enable folks to connect better? How do we allow for networking? That doesn't just feel like, you know, a bunch of people passing business cards back and forth to each other. But that creates like an actual user experience that has value. And I think that has created folks who've really bought into our conference and to the community that we have, and especially over this past year. I feel like that's been especially amplified in the midst of what has been a really, really tough time for everyone. But higher ed has had a really rough go in the midst of this pandemic. And so being able to create those kinds of community touch points has been really valuable and especially meaningful. 

Andrew Meyers:
I would add to that, we can't have a podcast and 2020 without talking about pandemic. I feel like in a sense, everybody's playing from the same sort of position of weakness amidst all of this, particularly residential colleges and universities, which most are. So I think that's only enhanced the collaborative nature of what's going on. Sort of saying to each other, we're all in this together. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, I have described what's going on for us right now. It's not just the stress of the job, but there's also this element, this huge element of what I've been terming professional loneliness, where we're all really struggling with trying to figure out our jobs, feeling really overwhelmed, feeling like we don't know what to do or who to talk to. And especially in the midst of this pandemic where we're not really allowed to go anywhere, we're not necessarily seeing our teammates as regularly. We're feeling really isolated. And so those opportunities to create connection and community become especially important and really pivotal. And even though they're more difficult to foster, the importance of them has never been greater. 

Chris Byers:
Well, before we go to that fully kind of virtual moment and what life is going to look like this year. Tell us about the event, say, in 2019. What did that look like. What was a typical year before all this. 

Megan Miller:
Yes, last year was great. It was like a normal conference. Right. We were in Philadelphia and it was the normal kind of what you'd experience from a conference. We had several keynote sessions. We had a lot, like 40 plus, breakout sessions across five different tracks. We had our social opportunities, we had the traditional vendor exhibitor space that was offered. You know, sort of like all those normal elements you see in a conference. And then our team always likes to sort of foster some good social opportunities as well. So hosting different event activities in the evenings that were able to get people out of their hotel rooms and to interface with other folks. 

Chris Byers:
One of the things we talk about here is this idea of reimagining work. And of course, in a moment we're gonna get to how you've reimagined things, but what does it mean to you to reimagine work? 

Andrew Meyers:
Oh, this is my Strengthsfinder number one, the futurist.  I love thinking about and not sitting still with things. And so I think a lot of people are like that, that you sort of see what's possible and you think, I don't know how to get there, but I know there's got to be a way to get close. And so I think I always love that kind of a challenge. I think Megan is a similar personality as well. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah, my Strengthsfinder number one is actually information I think. So I like to just know all the things that everything that's kind of like this ongoing thirst for understanding everything. But I think that I would add to Andrew beyond just the like, the future of thinking and trying to explore what's possible. I think the other element that's really important is this element of empathy that comes with it in terms of positioning ourselves and putting ourselves in the shoes of that other person in terms of like what's their experience? What is what is it that someone needs right now in the midst of what has been officially branded these uncertain times? What what are the things that we can be doing to serve other people? 

You know, I'm a consultant. So I might have to be really pretty client centered with what I do, but also kind of trying to anticipate the needs of others. I've had a lot of conversations with folks about, you know, what can we do to not necessarily create similar experiences for those we're working with, but to be able to at least create an experience that has a value and that gives us something that we can come away with and feel like it was helpful and beneficial. 

I think the other thing that's really been important in the midst of this is to learn this term. I keep saying this phrase all the time, to not make perfect the enemy of good and recognize that just because things aren't the way they usually ideally would be, it doesn't mean that we can't offer or create or develop something that can be really great and really meaningful for folks and can be really helpful for us as well. Being able to own that, yeah, things aren't ideal right now. Kind of move past that phase of, you know, the stages of grief, of denial or whatever, and into sort of some trying to actualize what we can do and recognize that we can put a stamp on, this is good. And this is something that is important and there's value to it. And even though it's not what we originally envisioned or it's not what I would have preferred to be doing doesn't mean that it doesn't offer something that's really important. And that's really something to be proud of and something to really lean into. 

Andrew Meyers:
I totally agree with that. I think if anything, 2020 has taught us that it's really not about the hand, the cards that you're dealt. And it's not to minimize anyone's difficult experiences this year. But at the same time, it's how you play the hand. And I think that kind of being able to be adaptable is a good thing. I think you can do excellence, you can achieve excellence with what you have. So that's kind of a big take away this year. 

Chris Byers:
Yeah. You know, I can't tell you how odd it is that this year I've talked about grief more in my work environment than ever or at all. It was this odd, like I kept asking this question, what is this wet blanket that's on everything? And someone was like, oh, that's grief. Like, Oh, OK, that's some insight for me. 

But I appreciate your thought that we still have this opportunity to overcome that and provide kind of hope in a way. So tell us how you have reimagined the eduWeb conference? 

Megan Miller:
So we kind of you know, I'll say I went myself and my fellow co-chair who I was working with sort of the administrative oversight of this conference kind of knew, we were kind of keeping an eye on things for a while, knowing that things weren't looking good with this pandemic, that it starts in January, it seems like, is this is this going to be a blip on the radar? What's going on? And then seeing the intensity grow and recognizing that, OK, this is a big deal and this is likely to impact us. And what can we start doing to think through? 

I'm a project manager as well. And one of the things that's really big in project management is calculating your risks and identifying the risks and what your risk tolerance is and which risks need to be addressed versus which risks do you need to mitigate versus which ones do you just kind of say, I'm going to deal with the fallout once it gets here. And obviously you can't just deal with the fallout when it gets there, when it's a major international conference where you have people, you know, trying to plan travel and everything. So we started thinking early on, we need to understand how our presenters feel about things in this current environment. Would they even want, you know, to come present at a conference, would they even want to get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City and do a presentation? Would they even feel comfortable with that? Are they even going to have funds to be approved to do that, even if they felt comfortable with that? Because budget cuts are coming probably for higher ed.

And so starting by thinking through all of that and thinking about what that experience would look like through those presenters who are pretty pivotal for, you know, a conference, you have to have presentation, which is where we started, putting out surveys using Formstack, asking our folks who've been selected to present what what are they thinking? How do you feel about things? And definitely saw a lot of trepidation in the responses that we got in terms of I'm not going to be able to travel. My budget is frozen. We're on a travel freeze until next year. 

You know, I live with folks who are a high risk. I don't want to risk it, et cetera. So we started knowing pretty early on. OK. This is going to shift the thing about virtual events. You know, we made the call later in the spring to shift the virtual. But the thing about virtual events is that it requires you to basically start all over again and completely rebuild from the bottom up. It's like, OK, we have so many things we have to rethink, with everything. What's the price point going to be? We have to rethink what the venue, quote unquote, going to be in terms of what tools are we going to use, what other technology do we need that we didn't have?

How are we going to manage all these changes and also make sure that we're communicating to participants in the audience and creating something that still matters and they still want to go to in the midst of this webinar fatigue that I think we're all experiencing. 

Andrew Meyers: So I work in operations for Hope College in Michigan. And, you know, we, like many schools, have had to pivot all of what have been in-person high touch experiences. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I've seen, not only at Hope, but we're just observing the marketplace and kind of a tendency is to say, OK, here's what worked back in Philadelphia last year, let's try to replicate that for eduWeb 2020. And resisting that impulse is really important because the two just don't translate. We had a wonderful event this year, but it was very different from what would have taken place in Salt Lake City had we been there. So that's just kind of something that has been on my mind, this year that digital is not an analog. But as we saw, it also opened up opportunities that we didn't anticipate in terms of engagement and, you know, attendance  and access. 

Chris Byers:
Well tell us more about as you've thought about maybe creating the right experience in a digital world. What are some things that you've thought about as important to kind of this journey and how you reimagine things. 

Megan Miller:
An in-person conference automatically creates different barriers for attendance. You know, because there's travel involved and there's costs involved and things like that that, you know, that not everyone can swing. And that's kind of just the reality of in-person conferences. So one of the things that we started really immediately thinking about was we're moving to this virtual side of things and what is our preference here? Are we wanting to draw as many people in as we can, or are we going to try to recoup costs? And I think we realized early on that this was a really great opportunity for us to expand our community and open the doors to folks who had probably for years wanted to be part of eduWeb but couldn't because, you know, either institutional funds for professional development were limited or travel's not feasible for them or the demands of their day to day job keep them from being able to be away for several days in a row. Things like that. 

And we said, let's start by identifying ways to make this more accessible to more folks. And so we made a really deliberate choice to create a low price point for folks. People could attend live sessions like they could get a pass to do all of the live sessions over the course of the week. And it was 20 dollars to do that. You could also purchase a pack for your entire team to attend for about 200 dollars. Departments could suddenly, for less than the cost of airfare to get to Salt Lake City. You can have your entire team having this professional development experience. And I'm really proud that we went that route because I think that it opened the doors in new ways and created a value, and it offered something to a lot of people who really needed that experience. And a lot of times, they were those folks on the front lines of higher ed marketing who oftentimes don't get as many professional development experiences, but being able to offer that to a larger group of folks is really meaningful. And I think that's something we're all really proud of because we're able to provide something that was really important to folks, to the people who needed it most. 

Chris Byers:
I tell people often, because we've had actually a remote team for eight years now, and I say, you know, it's kind of a humbling experience because when you get to walk in to your event, you see all the people. And even though your numbers are higher and maybe a digital event and the way you kind of reimagined is wonderful, being able to include a lot more people, but it's such a different experience to create that celebration. I'm curious, how did you get the energy for your team who's working on this to say, hey, let's keep going, let's keep doing this well. Cause I know that completed event in a physical world, you just kind of know what that feels like. How did that change for the digital world?

Andrew Meyers:
I found the unknown of doing this virtually to be kind of really interesting and inspiring to kind of think about, OK, let's do this, let's pull this off. And there's a sort of scrappiness to people in higher education, I think, about just getting the job done. And so I think there was quite a bit of intrinsic motivation among the team to like, let's make this excellent. You know, we were kind of by the time that we were able to finalize our plans to go virtual, we didn't have a ton of time to regroup and do this. But what I observed was everybody kind of, all right, let's make this happen. And I think we were rewarded, unfortunately not rewarded by looking out at the ballroom of three, 400 people, but observing a level of connection. 

You know, one unique dynamic of doing this online is that for our keynotes and breakout sessions, there was this really lively chat going on during those sessions and people communicating, as well as a continuation of what I've observed of the event in general, which is a really robust backchannel on Twitter, just kind of talking. And then that invites people who aren't at the event or aren't participating to attend. You know, I think one really interesting thing that kind of got us really fired up was those people still buying tickets day two, even day three. And so they were seeing what was the chatter online and saying, I want to be a part of that. And you can't do that in a physical event. You can't hop on a plane and go to the event. So that was a really kind of rewarding aspect of the virtual experience. 

Megan Miller:
Yeah. And I would add to that in terms of like, [00:20:04]how do you stay motivated? Because it's exhausting for sure. And one of the things that our team has done so well over the years is that we have gelled together really well. We really care about each other a lot. And I think that team development is so crucial in these moments because we cared about each other's success. And so when one of us was trying to get something done and we were feeling overloaded, like we automatically cared and they're like, I can't, I need someone to run through this thing with a vendor and I can't do it right now. So I'm trying to manage this, that and the other. And, you know, someone be like, oh, I'll hop in and help you out with that. That's no problem. And because we trust each other and care for each other so much, it creates that camaraderie that you can't manufacture. It has to be built and developed. And so I think that's the other thing that has been really important and really helpful. This mutual respect and appreciation for each other and we want to see each other succeed. And we also don't want to let each other down. So that's really helped us to be really, Andrew said before, scrappy and resourceful with each other and be able to pull something like this off. 

I think the only other thing I would say is that we also are really good at communicating with each other and our Slack channel was hopping all week long, that's for sure. I live on the West Coast. And so, you know, I tried to be at my desk at 7:00 a.m., but that's 10, 10 a.m. for all those East Coasters. And so I get up in the morning and I'd have like 50 Slack notifications. All right. So we were definitely in regular communication with each other and really clear about what was going on, what we needed and how we could help each other out. And that makes a huge difference in keeping us motivated and keeping us effective. 

Andrew Meyers:
I'd add, I just think it's wild to think, you know, five, 10 years ago, for sure, you couldn't have possibly have done this. And it's just amazing to think about the cadence of technology in the last 10 years. And I kind of think about where we'll be in 10 more years. But how that aspect, too, of being able to pull it off is really rewarding. 

Chris Byers:
Well dig into that a little bit more, because one of the things I think is really challenging in a virtual remote digital world is starting new projects, pivoting. Be it what you get out of what tend to be more maybe in-person interactions at times I think gets lost or can get lost in a digital world. So, yeah, tell us how you kind of made that pivot and got people moving in the right direction. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think one thing we didn't anticipate was in the week leading up to it, you know, you sort of take some things for granted about being in-person. You know, for instance I, along with the track chairs, sort of manage all of the presenters. And we had, you know, 40, 50 presenters and we had to train them on the technology. And you don't have to train somebody to show up to a breakout room and hook up their computer and do PowerPoint. But, you know, there's a learning curve to any new technology platform. And so we ended up doing a lot of, actually for basically every session, an individual training with the presenters. And that was really rewarding because it kind of put faces where, you know, in the in-person event, you probably would not have interacted with all of the presenters. They would have just shown up, done their thing. We would have kind of heard the feedback. But that ended up being a really positive aspect of this. 

Megan Miller:
I got to run quite a few of those trainings as well with folks and being able to connect with those folks in advance and have like a little bit of a conversation and be able to, I think, help assuage some of their anxieties a little bit more because we were able to actually have conversations with them beforehand. I think people are anxious, no matter what, when they're going to give a presentation. But when it's in person, it's kind of like, okay, well, we'll see you 10 minutes before the presentation and we'll get you mic'd up. And there's not a lot of time to talk through it. But I think that was really, really helpful as well. It gave the presenters more confidence and gave them more of a connection to us. And I think that is really beneficial in terms of continuing to foster those relationships. Like I said, helping those presenters to be as successful as possible because they are really what fuels this conference is that information that they're willing to share and provide. And so we want to make sure that they're able to be successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
Well, so you got through the event. You learned a lot. You no doubt asked your attendees what what did you learn? What did you like? What does that tell you about the future? What do you expect kind of going into next year? 

Megan Miller:
I think it has inspired us to rethink a lot of things for what we offer for our community, realizing, OK, there are a lot of opportunities out there beyond just that annual conference that people are wanting and needing and that we can give them. And so, you know, we're looking at building out more regular kind of discussion roundtables for folks to be able to participate in, you know, in terms of we had during our event, we had the beginning and end of each day. Some of these we called them roundtables or topic tables where folks could all turn on their cameras and have a conversation about a specific topic or more general chatter, which is really great. 

We had one that we called the group therapy that was so successful that it ran over by like 30 minutes. And then we offered like two more of them because it was so successful. People just needed to talk. And so that kind of has made us realize, like, OK, going forward, if we can facilitate opportunities for folks that have these conversations with others in their profession who are encountering some of the same challenges, that is meaningful and that's needed. So thinking about how we can do that, thinking about how we also can offer more regular communication and education throughout the course of the year, so that we're not just a one hit a year conference that happens that's fun for a couple days. And then we go back to the real world. But where we can be more of a regular presence to provide professional development and provide community building and help folks explore new insights and develop more experience and things. I think that we're really excited to try to expand some of that based upon what we now know. 

Megan Miller:
We're hopeful that next year we'll be able to be back in person. But things are really uncertain right now and we don't know what things will look like. Even a few months from now. And the reality is, like no one ever really does know, you'll hope for the best plan for that.But I think that this has taught us how to be more resilient and scrappy and thinking outside of the parameters we originally had and be able to pivot like it. You know, you keep using the word pivot, learning how to pivot more effectively. 

Andrew Meyers:
And I think many thought at the beginning of this year that there was sort of the demise of in-person events. And, gosh, I really hope I get to go to that Billy Joel concert next year. But I think, if anything, we're learning how to adapt to our current circumstances. And I think if we just keep doing things the same way every year, we never grow. And I think it's often these sort of drastic changes in our circumstances that force us to rethink things. And ultimately, I think can give us hope for the future. So I'm excited about that aspect of things. 

Chris Byers:
I think you make a great point in this. I think we all thought we had more control. We all thought we knew what was going to happen. And this is simply a reminder to us that's really never been the case, we just thought it. And so keeping our mind open to new opportunities and new ways to think about things a lot. I love that thinking. What is your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity and in particular in pulling off an event? 

Megan Miller:
I think, like I said before, that whole adage of don't make perfect the enemy of the good. Don't be so focused on exactly how things are supposed to be in your mind that you inhibit yourself from being able to do the things that you can do effectively. My husband is a clinical psychologist and he always says he really hates the word should because it creates these sort of expectations of what we're not living up to or not doing that, you know, inhibit you from, you know, it's something that stunts your development instead of making you feel more inspired to move forward. 

So, you know, getting rid of that should in your mind and instead saying, what can I do? What are the opportunities that are there? Let me just kind of push out of my mind this is what's supposed to be happening and instead say, OK, this is my reality right now and I can't do anything about the fact that it's not what I expected. But I can do something about how I respond, because I think a lot of times what happens, that reason things get so overly complicated is because we're trying to replicate what in our minds we think some things are supposed to be. And because the circumstances around that aren't ones that are favorable to things being that way, we're creating much more complexity for ourselves and really setting ourselves up for failure. So I would say the most important thing is to recognize that things aren't going to be always the way you expect them to be. And when you keep pushing toward that, even though, like, it's been very clearly shown that there's a barrier in the way that won't be moving, you're just make setting yourself up for exhaustion and complexity, you're more likely to be unsuccessful as well. 

Andrew Meyers:
It's easy to be overwhelmed when your circumstances change and you have a hard time defining really what's essential. I think about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and the whole concept there is to do less, but to do it better. And I think we live in a time now where there is an infinite amount of information, infinite number of options and ways of doing things, and it can be paralyzing. So I think to get down to what is essential and do that well, I think that's really what we did with our event is decide, OK,  what's the essence of this this event? Let's do it really well in the online space. And I think we were successful with that. 

Chris Byers:
And maybe add to that what is just a basic kind of go-to productivity tip that you share with people around you? 

Andrew Meyers:
Megan is saying don't open that can of worms. 

Megan Miller:
How much time you got? Because Andrew is going to talk for a while now. 

Andrew Meyers:
OK. But I'll just give you one that I think is goes right along with what I just said about Essentialism. I think a to-do list can become kind of like what I just described, sort of paralyzing in its length. And so the number one advice is don't do a ton of things, don't have a ton of things on your list for the day. Pick three, pick your big three, and that's not my own advice, that's from Michael Hyatt. He talks about having that focus. And so pick three big things that if you at least make an attempt at, you will know you've been successful for that day. I've done this for a long time and it's a total game changer. So that's my productivity tip. 

Megan Miller:
I would say along with that, I am a certified project management professional. And so there's a lot of body of knowledge around project management, specifically in terms of what's required to do that effectively. And I think the biggest thing about project management, which feeds into our day to day as well as regular operations, is that we have to make sure we control the scope of what we're doing. We need to define what are the goals, what are the things that are fitting within those goals. And those are the things we're going to do. It's really, really easy to fall into what we call scope creep, where we're kind of seeing things that are tangentially related to what we're trying to do. So maybe we should just might as well fold those in as well. We're going to you know, it's in all of a sudden this the what we're doing went from being this simple task to this kind of behemoth of tangled priorities that are keeping us from actually getting to that finish line. 

So I would say when you have either, a huge project that you're doing or just a simple task. And each day you need to kind of get to the essentials of what that is and say this is these are the things that I'm going to do with this. And these are the things that aren't going to be included with what I do, because it's not going to help me be successful. And that doesn't mean that you're not delivering an excellent product or doing excellent work. It just means you're doing the excellent work that you should be doing. There's that should word. But, you know, you're doing the excellent work that is required to achieve that goal versus the things that keep you from being effective and efficient. 

Chris Byers:
How will you be reimagining your work moving forward? 

Megan Miller:
I work remotely already. I've worked remotely for over a year. And so I'm pretty familiar with the land of Zoom calls all day and all of that. And I think that, you know, right now, things are a little different. I've got in the next few rooms over a virtual third grade class and a virtual kindergarten class going on because my children are, you know, out here at home with me. And that creates its own series of challenges. What that speaks to is that there are going to be different things that you have to adapt to then. Then I would have had to ever think of doing previously. So I think it creates one a greater level of appreciation for the opportunities with the time that I do have, to maximize it and make it more efficient to really win. There are opportunities and spaces in my day to really get down and get focused on my work that I should take advantage of those and really lean into that. 

I think along with that, one of the things that I think that has adapted my work, I think that I'm realizing more and more the importance of more communication with folks. You know, I think that it's easy when especially if you're in an office setting where you see folks regularly, it's kind of easy to take it for granted. You're going to pass people in the hall and say hello or you're going to talk at the coffeemaker, things like that. And when you're working remotely, you don't have those opportunities. So the need to communicate with others more effectively, more regularly and more intentionally to build those relationships requires more. Like I said, more intentionality. 

So that's the other thing that I've been really trying to focus on as well, is that intentionally building those relationships with those I work with so that I'm able to, you know, come alongside them. And, you know, when we need to work together, we have a greater level of trust and camaraderie with each other, you know? And I don't need to be their best friend, but I do need to have a good relationship with the folks I work with. That requires a little bit more work than it was before. 

Andrew Meyers:
I think prior to this crisis, our administration wasn't really open to remote work. It just didn't seem necessary. But then it's clear that the team I manage basically can do its entire body of work remotely, with the exception of printing some papers and even that we could manage through some kind of workflow to do remotely. So I love that there's an openness now to that. After a couple of months of being remote, I've just floated to my V.P. like, hey, this is great. And it's along the lines of what Megan said, the ability to get into that sort of deep work state. That is really where the best work gets done. It's a lot easier to come by in a remote setting where there are far fewer interruptions and distractions. That comes with its own set of drawbacks, to be sure. You know, in terms of team culture and so forth. But even that's overcomable. I think this has caused everyone to rethink what's possible. And ultimately, that is a positive thing. 

Chris Byers: As we wrap up this episode featuring Megan and Andrew from eduWeb, there's a couple takeaways I'd love to highlight. The first is really leaning into adversity instead of backing away from it. Taking these things that look like big barriers and setbacks and really turning them into opportunities, I think that is a wonderful thought. It's harnessing the power of technology, taking what's already available to us to pivot and make quick changes and be effective. 

And then, you know, that last thing we got to talk about, they're really limiting scope and focusing on those handful of top priorities. I think that's so important right now when we're all overwhelmed with emotion and what's going on. And so being able to kind of narrow down and say, let me do just a handful of things and do them well. 

Well, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation here on Ripple Effect. And we're curious what you think of it. Give us a review or shout out online, tell us how we're doing and we'd love to hear your feedback on this particular episode or Ripple Effect in general.

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