Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been no shortage of curveballs thrown at the energy industry. When I first heard that the Electricity Distributors Association (EDA) EDIST Conference was going to be virtual this year, I wasn’t surprised but at the same time, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.
On January 13 and 14, 2021, the on-line event took place and we participated as an exhibitor showcasing our Envari and CableQ products and services. The Electricity Distribution Information Systems and Technology Conference and Exhibition (EDIST) is an annual conference and trade show that addresses engineering, operational, IT and management issues faced by local distribution companies (LDCs). For years, suppliers, manufacturers and service providers from across Ontario have been gathering together to network, share ideas and showcase their products and services. Each year, I look forward to the meet and greets and open mic jam sessions, which have been long standing traditions at EDIST.
EDIST is a multifaceted trade show held by utilities for utilities. The following is a firsthand account of my experience exhibiting at a virtual conference for the first time.
The challenges and opportunities of networking virtually
On first impression, one of the things that stood out to me was the familiar approach to the user interface of the virtual experience, which offered user features such as display booths in the exhibitors hall, a lobby with a live agent at the info desk, an auditorium for live keynote presentations, and built in video chat capabilities. This was encouraging and it signaled to me that we weren’t heading into completely uncharted territory.
The event served as a great platform to touch-base and catch up with friends and colleagues from around the province. With a general networking chat room which showed you exactly who was online, it was easy and convenient to find familiar names and send them a personal note.
As an exhibitor at a virtual trade show, the biggest challenge for us was making new connections with first-time participants through text chat. Reason being, a virtual experience enables guests to split their attention between chatting with multiple exhibitors, listening to keynote presentations and responding to normal workday issues. Compared to traditional conferences, this makes it more challenging for conference goers to devote their undivided attention to exhibitors.
While there is no substitute for the connections we make at face-to-face networking events, EDIST’s virtual conference was well-organized, well-executed, and well-attended. All in all, this proved to be an invaluable experience for us and we look forward to attending it again next year.
The trending theme: Remote work
Fitting within a virtual trade show experience and with the conference’s theme, The Power of Resiliency, a common topic of discussion among both exhibitors and attendees was working remotely. This was a topic of special interest for people who work in the customer service side of the industry. There were keynote discussions on the challenges of COVID-19, and chat conversations often gravitated to talking about the transition to “work from home”.
Other discussions centered around platforms that facilitate remote work for customer service staff, LDCs sharing their approach to financial assistance programs for vulnerable customers, and infrastructure enhancements that support a work-from-home culture.
A spark of support and camaraderie within the energy sector
One thing that stood out to me was the camaraderie that exists between organizations in the energy industry. This sentiment was clearly evident during the conference’s live open mic and jam sessions. These sessions are a longtime tradition of the EDIST conference and it’s where familiar faces and new attendees meet up to get to know each other, play songs, have light hearted conversations, and unwind after a busy day at the conference.
The EDA hosted a Zoom call this year for the networking and jam session, and although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I came prepared with my guitar at hand and a few select songs in mind. I was pleased that many others were there too, and we had a great time catching up, trading stories and playing a few classic rock, country and Canadiana songs.
As vendors, we attend conferences to make new connections, but we share a common sentiment that we’re all in this together and willing to support one another in any way we can. COVID-19 has changed our lives, our business practices and the way we connect with others. Although this has been a tough year for everyone, a year unlike any other, a virtual conference like EDIST has managed to find creative ways to bring people together from all corners of Ontario’s energy sector and they did it with great success! Living up to the theme of the event, this year’s EDIST conference was a true demonstration of the energy industry’s power of resiliency.
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