The return of the educational and networking events of the UIA, the Round Tables, was warmly welcomed this autumn, with innovative hybrid formats featuring robot avatars, a virtual lounge, green tea and bohemian dumplings. Tradition met flexibility, ingenuity overcame challenges.
Tokyo was the setting for the 9th Round Table Asia-Pacific on 21 and 22 October 2021, at Congrès Square Nihonbashi, hosted by Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCVB), the first hybrid UIA Round Table ever held. This was closely followed on 18 and 19 November 2021 by the 14th Round Table Europe in Prague, hosted by Prague Convention Bureau (PCB) at Prague Congress Centre. Both events took advantage of recent rapid advances in technology for meetings with participants both in person and online, while offering the informative presentations and workshops – and networking opportunities – which associations have come to expect from UIA Round Tables.
The speakers at the former, as they were not present in person in Tokyo, enjoyed being represented by avatar robots on stage, an extraordinary novelty explained by Chris Christophers in his talk ‘How Telepresence Avatar Robots and Digital Twins can enhance everyday communication’, further demonstrated by iPresence by sending robots out into the Lobby during breaks to interact with the audience. Facilitating a panel discussion at the same time as trying to move the robot was, I found, not so easy but it was great fun.
An opening keynote speech at each event was given by Cyril Ritchie, President of UIA, on ‘Associations in the World: Speaking Truth to Power’, and Mr Ritchie also contributed ‘The United Nations and Civic Associations’ to the programmes, both thoughtful and well-informed. For Tokyo, Belinda Moore guided us towards ‘Using Your Strategic Plan to Maximise Positive Impact’ while Toni Brearley tackled ‘Leading the Uncertain Association’. Finances are a constant preoccupation for associations, so the paper on ‘Sponsorship in Post COVID World – How to maximise your revenue’ by Julian Moore was essential listening. Chris Dingcong gave stimulating advice on ‘Building Your Brand Through Your Visual Conversation’ and, in his closing keynote, ‘The Role of Branding for Associations’. Speakers communicated from their bases across the world: Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and Switzerland. But local flavour is a feature of Round Tables and this was no exception: in a live experience, participants on-site and online could share the magic of green tea and its place in Japanese culture.
Participants in the Asia-Pacific event numbered 115, with 43 from Japan attending in person and 72 virtually, representing 29 countries in all. As only Japanese delegates and hosts could attend at the venue, the speakers, international delegates and UIA staff were an online presence. People there in person remarked on the ‘strong sense of overseas’ participants presence’ engendered by use of the robots, and the avatars brought a fascinating combination of fun and technology.
In Prague, five parallel in-depth workshops were presented on each of the two days, with onsite and online versions, covering both present concerns and future inspiration for associations. Nina Gabatan reviewed the methods of her organization worldsteel in ‘The road to membership retention is engagement’. Looking to the future, Sara Polak, prg.ai, spoke on artificial intelligence in ‘AI – the next revolution and evolution of society’, and Marc Mekki, Inspire Limitless, presented ‘Innovation through Design Thinking’. Perhaps the most all-encompassing and ambitious paper was that of Professor Kužel of the International Union of Crystallography, Roman Muška of hosts PCB and Bas Schot of The Hague Convention Bureau on ‘Hybrid Events: Everything you need to know’. Prague and The Hague are founder members of the Hybrid City Alliance, bringing together 24 destinations to provide solutions for hybrid and multi-hub meetings.
131 participants took part in Round Table Europe, from 34 countries and 98 organizations. 58 of the people were onsite, including the speakers, UIA staff and hosts, and some international delegates, while further international delegates joined the event remotely. All those taking part could appreciate the warm hospitality of the hosts, and those present in person enjoyed the conference dinner hosted by Czech Convention Bureau and Zátiši Catering in the O2 universum.
These Round Tables were greatly appreciated and enjoyed by those who took part, whether from near or far. People need to be in touch with people; encouragement for learning and networking is essential: every means possible has to be employed, with presence in person or facilitated by remarkable developments in modern technology.
Planning is going ahead for Round Tables in 2022: in Brussels on 20 May and in Rotterdam on 24 and 25 November, and in the Asia-Pacific region. Do join us!