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Tolling Points

Virtual Meetings Build Camaraderie, Bring More People to the Conversation, Heath Says

By: 
Bill Cramer

Dee Anne Heath, Director of Government Relations and Communications at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, is one of the Chief Meeting Organizers for IBTTA’s Virtual Annual Meeting and Exhibition September 14-16. In this interview with Tolling Points, Heath talks about the value of virtual meetings—as a stand-in during a global health crisis, and a format that will continue to serve the tolling industry after the pandemic is over.

In business and in life, it’s always a stretch to try something new. But for Dee Anne Heath, Co-Chief Meeting Organizer for IBTTA’s Virtual Annual Meeting and Exhibition September 14-16, there’s so much to like about the online format for this year’s conference.

No one would have picked a virtual meeting as their first choice for a new innovation, and we’re all still looking forward to the next time we can gather in person. But Heath, Director of Government Relations and Communications at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), says this year’s event will extend IBTTA’s reach and build its professional community as effectively as anything the association has done in its 88-year history.

“I’m hearing it everywhere, from our organization to the community service group I belong to,” she told Tolling Points last week. “People who used to target their business development in a single region are now reaching out all over the country. And for conference participants who never would have travelled, the virtual forum gives them a seat at the table.”

At CTRMA, that matters most to the “up and coming employees who are just starting their careers, who might not get a chance to travel for several years,” she adds. When the Annual Meeting convenes online next month, all 30 of the agency’s staff will get to attend the sessions that best align with their work, not just the four or five who would have been budgeted to attend an in-person event.

“We all benefit from the content at an IBTTA meeting, but now that will extend to people in the industry who are just starting their careers,” sharing their own innovative ideas while taking the opportunity to learn from industry veterans.

“That networking is critical in both directions,” Heath stresses. “If you’re just starting off in transportation, you get access to people with 25 or 30 years of experience and so much historical perspective. If you bring ideas and knowledge from another industry, or another generation, you can share them more easily. It means everyone gets exposed to these really foundational opportunities that IBTTA creates.”

Just Like Face-to-Face…But Better?

Whether it’s a stakeholder open house for a local project or a meet-up in a virtual exhibit hall, Heath is excited about online meetings as a way to supplement—and in some ways improve on—the interactions at face-to-face events.

“IBTTA’s live vendor forums are amazing,” she says. “So is the exhibit hall. You go into this big room, everyone is there, and you can drop in at all the booths.” But at the same time, “there’s a lot of other activity going on, and the bells are ringing, telling you to go to the next session.” So it can take a bit of persistence to stick with a topic until it runs its course.

In an online Zoom demo or using the REMO app, “you can have conversations that feel like they’re a bit more on-on-one. You can go deeper.” It’s still a temporary fix, Heath acknowledges: “There’s no way to negate that being in the presence of a person is a very different experience than video. But I do think there’s an opportunity to get some very good engagement with people.”

And in some ways, starting the conversation online primes everyone involved for a follow-up that would always take place via phone, email, or Zoom—even pre-pandemic.

The Virtual World is Here to Stay

It may have taken the shock of a global health crisis to bring virtual meetings to the top of everybody’s agenda. But Heath notes that the world was already digital, long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Face-to-face meetings of all kinds are important,” she says. “But in the absence of those opportunities, which is where we are, you can find some really meaningful ways to engage.” During the Annual Meeting, one great example of that engagement will be the virtual Technical Tours organized by CTRMA and the Texas Department of Transportation. While CTRMA’s tour will focus on tolling infrastructure, it’ll also give participants a sense of Austin as a community, with “just a little snippet of what you might experience when you’re here”—which everyone is hoping will happen in 2022.

“While we’re excited about being able to meet in person again, hopefully in 2021, seeing how the Maintenance Workshop worked in July and how this Annual Meeting will work in September gives us a sense that we could be moving toward some kind of hybrid,” she adds. “That doesn’t mean the typical IBTTA conference would go virtual, but now we have a new landscape to deliver content and create opportunities for more of our community year round.”

And while everyone in the industry is coping with the pandemic, and all the changes and disruption it has wrought, IBTTA’s virtual presence has been a solid point of reference

“I love it that so many of the webinars I’ve participated in have talked about the uncertainty in our industry, and in every industry,” Heath says. “Everybody is grappling with what the future looks like and how we plan for it. But the virtual presence shows you that you’re not in it alone. All of a sudden, I’m onscreen with 50 or 100 other participants, seeing notes come up in the chat box saying that we’re all going through the same things. You can talk to people you might not have encountered face to face, and it builds a great feeling of camaraderie and community.”

Sign up today for IBTTA’s Virtual Annual Meeting and Exhibition September 14-16.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, August 18, 2020 - 10:45

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