Travel and social distancing restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have profoundly changed the way societies function, and many are seeking direction on how to work towards a more resilient future in a post-pandemic world. These same travel and social distancing restrictions have also meant that the format of business events and conferences, and the way they are planned and executed, has needed to change.
To reinforce its thought leadership position and provide actionable insights for key stakeholders to prepare for the “new normal”, DBS Bank decided to host its formerly physical flagship biennial conference, the DBS Asian Insights Conference (AIC), on a virtual platform. With Pico onboard, the first-ever digital edition of DBS AIC was launched in July 2020. The 2020 edition marked the event’s 10th anniversary by bringing together a distinguished group of global thought leaders, such as former US Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, to share their views on the most pertinent issues facing us in a post-Covid world.
The challenge was to re-create the well-known physical conference in a purely virtual environment while ensuring a similarly engaging and immersive experience for attendees. Given the fully digital nature of the conference, there was also a need to navigate corporate firewalls and other technical limitations. The ultimate objective was to create a uniquely differentiated experience for attendees that would enable AIC to stand out in an environment where webinars and videoconferencing have become the norm, while still adhering to cybersecurity requirements.
Integration of technologies for seamless delivery
“Best-in-class” solutions were selected, and through a proprietary integrator, DBS and Pico customised and integrated these solutions to provide a seamless and a stable online experience for attendees. These included:
Good UX to enhance engagement
Given Pico's extensive experience in show and web production, they designed the AIC virtual platform to be “goofproof” and in doing so minimised attendee drop-outs due to technical difficulties. Attendees began their journey in a 360-degree panoramic event lobby (Fig 2), where they could choose to enter three main spaces: (1) the Main Stage to access live-streams and recordings of the panel sessions; (2) the Learning Hub to access a wide variety of exclusive content, including presentations on economies and markets by DBS subject specialists, and ‘smart investing’ tips by country and asset class; (3) the Networking Lounge where attendees could mingle and text-chat in real-time. A helpdesk was manned by a virtual assistant to answer enquiries.
During the conference sessions, attendees were kept engaged through live polls and surveys and speakers were prompted with Q&As and alerts so they could also engage meaningfully with attendees.
Variety of global thought leaders and meaningfully curated content
The virtual environment meant that DBS could accommodate global speakers who might not have been able to travel for a physical conference due to conflicting schedules. This helped to expand the speaker slate into a truly global mix which provided a diversity of views for an international audience.
The topics of the 14 conference sessions, centred around the theme of “Navigating a post-pandemic world”, were wide-ranging to engage a broad-based audience, from “Building a Food Secure Future” to “Covid-19 Changing Healthcare’s Trajectory”. A key highlight was the DBS Asia Leadership Dialogue “Climate Change and the Great Reset” featuring Al Gore, Nobel Prize Winner and former Vice President of the United States hosted by DBS CEO Piyush Gupta (Fig 4).
Media Engagement Strategy and Digital Amplification
For past conferences, DBS flew regional media into Singapore, but given Covid-19 travelling restrictions, DBS pivoted to running five pre-AIC 2020 media briefing livestreams, one of which involved a fireside chat between DBS CEO Piyush Gupta and UNDP’s administrator Achim Steiner, on building back better in a post-pandemic world.
DBS used LinkedIn and Twitter to provide highlights throughout the event week with speaker quotes and panel summary videos. One month after the event, all conference recordings were made available for public viewing on YouTube. In the run-up to AIC, DBS also made its Group Research department’s weekly podcast show “Kopi Time with Tairmur Baig” available on major podcast platforms.
Despite the short turnaround time of two months, DBS and Pico delivered a virtual conference that was well-received by attendees. The blend of multiple technologies and technical know-how was an industry-first, and for many, a first-of-its-kind experience.
AIC 2020 attracted over 2,300 unique attendees from 6 countries, 155% more than the previous physical conference. High-level statistics are as follows:
We also gauged public sentiment on the event through various public session chats facilitated via the virtual platform. Audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive – many praised the quality of the speakers and the conference content, as well as the highly interactive and immersive nature of the virtual platform. Verbatim comments from attendees are provided in the “Confidential Information’ section.