As a speaker and a plant geek, I present programs to garden clubs, horticultural societies, and assorted other groups. Many of these organizations have had trouble attracting new people in the past twenty years, and their memberships are shrinking. Some of this is due to the internet, of course…people no longer have to gather in a room to network and share a passion. But some of the decline in participation is because people are busy.
Young people are working and taking care of children. It’s not easy to go to a meeting in the middle of a workday, or to skip out in the evening when the kids need help with homework. Many older people are working longer as their interests or financial necessity dictate that they aren’t going to retire at 65 or even 70. And those of any age who are disabled often find it difficult to get out and meet in person.
Now, with COVID-19, people aren’t gathering much for any reason, and it’s forcing organizations and individuals to use digital platforms in order to connect. Frankly, this is a good thing. We should be incredibly grateful that we have such a means to unite with colleagues, family and friends. And we should look at how this will serve us well in the future, even after the pandemic is over.
By holding virtual meetings, organizations might attract those younger people, since they can join in during a workday lunch hour, or after the kids have been put to bed. Those who find it difficult to get out can take part in such gatherings, and groups that wouldn’t have been able to afford a speaker’s travel expenses might now have those people present to their groups from afar.
This pandemic is forcing those who would have never considered participating in a meeting on Zoom or Skype to learn to do so. What seemed difficult in the past no longer looks like an impossible hurdle, and there are benefits here that will serve us well moving forward.
Would I rather present a talk to a live audience? Absolutely. Yet I already see that I’m reaching larger groups and demographics then pre-pandemic. I’ve got large audiences for my talks for my garden center, and have been speaking to groups all over the US and beyond. At a recent GardenComm virtual conference I reconnected with many who hadn’t been to a national meeting in years. This all points to a tremendous opportunity moving forward.
If you’re in a group that’s seen a decline in members, ask yourself how you might use the newly found willingness to connect digitally to your advantage. Right now we’re holding virtual meetings because we have to. In the future we’ll be doing it, at least some of the time, because this way of gathering has so much to offer.