As our global crisis marches on, businesses, emergent ideas, and creative concepts need to adapt and make peace with the fact that the large, in-person events we all know and look forward to are on an indefinite hiatus. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying travel, gathering, and social restrictions, all the festivals, business conferences, retreats, annual meetings, and even lunch meetings we had planned for 2020 had to be cancelled or postponed, some with very little notice. It’s certainly been a disappointing year for live business dealings, but instead of taking all the planning and effort of an in-person event totally off the table, why not work with Ashworth Creative to transform those ideas into a virtual conference?
It Began as a Retreat
The original concept for Knit + Escape, our very first large-scale virtual event, was created by Eve Ashworth and her partner, knitting influencer, Kristy Glass, in early February 2020– just a few short weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began dominating news cycles and shuttering businesses. Originally, it was meant to be an in-person knitting and experiences retreat set at the Roxbury Experience in the Catskills region of New York State, but when restrictions on large gatherings and international travel still hadn’t been lifted by late summer, Eve and Kristy made the decision to push the in-person retreat back into late 2021.
It Became Something More
Disappointment over the postponed retreat didn’t last long, and within moments of rescheduling their initial plans, Eve and Kristy got to work on a different idea: a virtual knitting, crocheting, and all-around fiber-centric conference. Making use of tools such as Zoom, Swoogo, and Sharpspring, as well as various social media platforms, Knit + Escape was able to get the word out to the knitting and crafting community at-large.
Careful Organization Was Our Main Focus
Due to the volatile nature of event planning in 2020, many of the ideas Knit + Escape had for the original, in-person retreat needed to be retrofitted to the virtual sphere. In order to retain what made the original event idea special and unique, Knit + Escape needed to offer more than just virtual lessons on knitting. Rounding out the weekend, Knit + Escape featured vendors, charity events, trivia giveaways, demonstrations from well-known brands such as Harney & Sons Teas, fiber farm tours, and a showcase tour of the venue that will eventually host the in-person retreat in 2021, the Roxbury Experience.
Another detail that quickly became vital as the event planning unfolded was making sure Knit + Escape instructors, demo artists, and vendors were trained on how to use available Zoom controls and functions in a professional capacity. While knitting and crafting are already activities well suited to at-home practice, it can be really difficult to instruct participants and lead classes without seeing completed work in person, and meeting each class participant at their own, individual pace. Likewise, many of the vendors signed on for the event were not used to showing off their wares over Zoom.
In an effort to ensure participants were offered a seamless and well-presented experience, instructors were encouraged to invest in external cameras, consider their lighting source, and familiarize themselves before the event with the technology at their disposal. The result was a series of classes and sessions that were not only informative and well-rounded, but visually appealing.
Nearly 650 Participants, but Still a Cohesive and Enjoyable Experience
Despite the massive social media followings of several special guests, steady promotion, and a well-designed web presence, few could have predicted the size and scale of Virtual Knit + Escape. Just ahead of the three day event, Knit + Escape amassed 627 signups, which resulted in 537 attendants in 78 sessions, which worked out to be about 25 students per class and well over 60-160 per demo. Comparable online knitting events with a level of social media engagement totally dwarfing Knit + Escape’s reach were pulling in numbers much smaller in relation to their followings.
It quickly became clear in the weeks before the virtual event that Knit + Escape would need more than just one instructor, vendor, or artist leading session, so each Zoom session was outfitted with a moderator and a floating tech expert. While the event was live, questions were answered in real time, using an on-site chat widget on the Knit + Escape event hub to better serve participants who wanted more specific instructions for navigating the virtual event space, or were otherwise interested in learning more information about the rapidly moving event.
The limits of virtual conferencing may at first appear considerable, but in reality, moving an event online actually opens up a whole new world of opportunity, mainly, the destruction of travel considerations. A virtual conference does not require that any one participant be in a specific location, and as a result, the event can be opened up across borders and time zones. Knit + Escape participants joined in from all over the globe, with the top three countries of origin being the USA, France, and Canada. A significant number of knitters and crafters from Australia logged in, too, despite the time zone conflict. Instructors, likewise, were not limited by zip code, and presented directly from the USA, the UK, Brazil, and Iceland, among others.
What’s Next for Virtual Events by Ashworth Creative?
Now that we’ve wrapped up an inaugural event more successful than we ever could have dreamed, and the ongoing uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t budged, Ashworth Creative and Knit + Escape have already begun planning several more virtual events for the first quarter of 2021.
Interested in seeing what your business or brand could accomplish with a virtual event or conference? Let Ashworth Creative help you hammer out the details. We apply our best talent to every project, ensuring your message is honed to perfection. Work with our team, and see what we can do for you.