21st April 2021 ff15

The world just got smaller – Emma Barr

As the world began to shutter up I received an email to invite me to interview for the FastForward 15 programme it was a ray of hope in uncertain times. The interview process taught me a lot about myself and not to be so afraid of my vulnerabilities. I wanted to learn new skills and gain confidence in a safe space whilst growing my network.

When lockdown one began virtual events were not part of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) event programme. Like many in the events industry over the following weeks the RCM embraced a whole new way of working whilst continuing to support their members and I feel proud of the role I have played in this.

In what is an increasingly different events world the RCM has delivered a diverse series of events, including virtual conferences, a festival, webinars and activists training programme all without ever meeting face to face. From our kitchens and bedrooms we have streamed to hospital staff rooms, parked cars and members’ homes. There have been many challenges and successes but those involved have delivered over 100 events relying on a lot of good will, patience, tea and cake.

One of the greatest challenges has been managing expectations both our own and our members. Many of us were unfamiliar with the technology so being kind to one another and ourselves has been vital. Pets, children and significant others have all become part of the wider RCM family and it is not unusual to hear dogs barking, cats appearing in front of cameras or do you want a cuppa interspersed through an event.

Technology glitches are the one part of the day we can’t control, patience and a smile have overcome what previously would have been insurmountable hurdles. Back-up systems are more essential than ever and the support I have received from colleagues whilst I rapidly type to embed a new stream in the conference platform has been heartening. Never more so have regular debriefings post event been needed, the opportunity to talk about issues and let them go so you can sleep and not dwell is essential for my own wellbeing.

This year the RCM has started to see a new cohort of members engaging at our events. Previously travel costs, childcare or caring responsibilities have prohibited members from attending, the virtual world has opened up new opportunities and ways to learn. During events we have encouraged our members to share photos of where they are and what they are up to. We have had members watch events on the beach, walking the dog or taking time out at work with a cuppa. We have encouraged members to take time for themselves with many events having a mindfulness session or time for self- reflection. Our Activists all received a snack pack with tea, coffee and biscuits to encourage them to take a break.

The success of the RCM virtual events has made us stop and think about next steps. What is very clear is that virtual events will never replace face to face. Networking is essential and whilst emojis are great they can’t supplant human interaction. The focus on events going forward will be to continue engaging with the new cohort of members and ensuring as much content as possible is available online.

2021’s challenge is delivering a series of monthly webinars tapping into the issues that are important to members. Learning more about exploiting technology to make my role a little easier and keeping our members engaged.

My time as a mentee is coming to end but the connections I have made and the knowledge I have gained will be so valuable for my future endeavors. The group of 15 extraordinary women have been there through a turbulent year. We have laughed, cried and raised each other spirits, I may never have met them face to face but trust me when we do it will be cocktails all the way. I have enjoyed watching this incredibly talented group come together and can’t wait to deliver our virtual fashion show. For me FF15 has been a highlight of 2020 and definitely one of the best decisions I have made.