A virtual conference experience like no other

What do you do when restrictions on public gatherings and travel are at an all time high, but there are still hundreds of disadvantaged children across the water relying on your support and fundraising efforts?

In 2020, one of our longest standing charity partners, Hands Across The Water, decided to take their annual leadership conference virtual. If you’ve ever joined us at a Future of Leadership conference you know how absolutely engaging, high-energy and impactful these events are. 

But how do you create that same energy and excitement virtually?

And what do you share as a speaker, when so many leaders are going through one of the most challenging, unexpected and difficult times in their leadership journey?

Well, let’s just say that the Leadership Bytes event delivered in spades. Featuring 12 exceptional speakers and MC’d across two TV-quality studios in Sydney and on the Gold Coast, this multifaceted virtual conference blew everyone’s expectations out of the water.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of this virtual conference.


Leadership Bytes Virtual Conference Highlights


The psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To kick off the event we heard from James Dion, who presented some fascinating psychological insights on the way the global pandemic has (and will continue) to affect us all.

We’ve all heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right? Well, according to James, the global pandemic has dropped us down to our safety needs. This means that we’re all a lot more focused on what we need in order to feel safe, secure and ultimately to ensure our survival. Unfortunately we’re also likely to be experiencing some uncomfortable inner conflict as we navigate our strong desire for safety and security while also craving to have our needs for love and belonging met.

James also pointed out the similarities between the stages of grief and the likely emotional stages we have gone through as a result of the pandemic. 

His proposed ‘COVID stages’ included:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Depression
  4. Grudging acceptance

It’s clear that while we had first hoped that the pandemic would be ‘under control’ within a few months, this situation and its flow-on effects are more than likely to be impacting us for many more months to come. With this comes a grudging acceptance of the situation, from which we can begin to refocus and rebuild.


What keeps people going in times of immense challenge.

Presenting live from our second PTV studio, Aidan Grimes joined the Leadership Bytes conference to share his insights on arguably one of the strongest examples of leadership and teamwork in Australian history. 

The Kokoda Track is something many have heard of, but aren’t deeply aware of. Aidan has trekked 124 times and has a strong knowledge and passion for the story the track represents.

After explaining the history surrounding The Kokoda Track and what the harrowing journey involved for the young Australian soldiers, Aidan shared what he discovered after interviewing the returned soldiers. With so many challenges along the journey, what kept them going (according to the soldiers) was their mateship. They wanted to complete their mission together, as a team, and they were committed to that outcome. The values that drove them and united them were courage, sacrifice, endurance and mateship.

Through history, we are given perspective and examples that can rally us like nothing else. If you haven’t yet read Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons, we’d highly recommend you pick up a copy.



Practical resilience to get through tough times.

If anyone knows how to maintain a strong mindset in the midst of discomfort and challenge, it’s Justin Jones. After completing the first ever unsupported and unassisted ski expedition from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back, Justin went on to cross the Tasman sea from Australia to New Zealand in Kayak. That’s nothing short of extraordinary.

As you can imagine, throughout these adventures Justin Jones and his adventuring counterpart faced some tough days. Situations that pushed them to their limits. One of the things that helped Justin was his mantra of “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is”. That’s a mantra worth sticking up on the wall. Throughout his session Justin also brought attention to the importance of accepting the environment you’re in, and acknowledging that there’s going to be things outside of your control. This goes back to Locus of Control; a psychological concept that’s worth exploring in times like this. 



New rules for a new world.

Mike Walsh is a futurist and one that urges us all to let go of the term ‘Digital Disruption’ – we’re now in an environment of full-scale Digital Delivery, and it’s not going anywhere. Mike also assures us that as we progress into this digital age, robots aren’t here to take our jobs. In fact, robots are here to change them for the better.

While many of our organisations have shifted to working from home over the past year, Mike suggests that a hybrid work environment is set to become the new normal. Yep, a lot of organisations will still have office spaces, but they’ll be optional to work from rather than a necessity. 

As for distributed work, Mike shared the five drivers of distributed work as follows:

  1. Mobility (how + who makes decisions)
  2. Autonomy (empowering action)
  3. Memory (logging history)
  4. Objectivity (looking at the data)
  5. Velocity (methodology + speed)



The next wave of opportunity.

Back in the PTV studio we heard from Mark Matthews, a big wave surfer and a long time friend of Pragmatic Thinking. With an unorthodox approach to preparing for surfing, Mark shared a clip from his training that had everybody in the studio and tuning in live gasping with shock. 

To prepare for big wave surfing, and the inevitable challenges that come with it, part of Mark’s training involves swimming to the bottom of the pool and wrestling with a partner whose only job is to keep him underneath the water until he blacks out. That’s one heck of a training regime! 

As he went on to share, this approach allows him to get comfortable with the unexpected; ensuring that he stays calm under pressure and in situations where a big wave may force him under the water for quite some time.

Mark’s message is that the only way through fear is exposure. You’ve got to want the outcome and result more than you fear it (or the process of achieving it). He also highlighted the importance of having the skills to deal with things when they get hard – whether it’s big waves or the hard conversations at work.



All in all, the virtual leadership conference that was Leadership Bytes exceeded expectations and brought together over 800 people in support of Hands Across The Water. The audience engagement was off the charts throughout the entire event, holding strong from 10am through to 3pm. The live chat was lit up like a Christmas tree, and with the majority tuning in with their cameras on throughout the event we were glad to see so many people responding to the inspiring messages and touching tales with cheers and even a few tears. 

With nation-wide teams tuning in for each of the sessions, there were plenty of flow-on conversations to be had after the conference. That sure is one heck of way to engage your distributed team!

Whether you’re a conference organiser or a leader looking to put together a day of inspiration and education for your people, contact us to chat more about the wonderful world of virtual conferences.