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How we made our first-ever digital summit, Forward

After months of planning, sourcing over 30 forward-thinking speakers, creating a jam-packed agenda and securing 10k+ sign-ups. (Phew!) Forward is officially done and dusted… for now. But more on that later. 

Hosting our first-ever digital summit was a lot of work. So, what went into creating this event? That’s exactly what this blog post will be diving into. 

Did you miss it? No problem! Sign up here to watch Forward on demand. 

Why Forward? Why now?

An event like Forward is something we’d been dreaming about for a long time… We work alongside, and learn from, so many brilliant companies every day, be them customers, partners or friends of the brand. Then 2020 happened, and we were even more inspired by how these companies navigated the pandemic, and continue to do so. 

An uncertain time was quickly followed by positive, people-first initiatives that every company worldwide should aspire to. For example, the importance of mental health had never been under the microscope more and companies had never been more open to flexible working.

As we saw more and more businesses lead the way in authentic leadership and empowering their people, we knew it was time to create an event that ties in with our vision: to make everyone feel valued at work… And that's when Forward was born.

Sourcing our forward-thinking speakers. All 35 of them…

An event is only as strong as its speakers…

So we began searching for the industry leaders and the big thinkers, people who we could all learn a thing or two from. We were looking for passionate and honest storytellers, people like Geoff McDonald, Co-founder of Minds@Work, Marc Mckenna-Coles, Diversity, Belonging and Inclusion Lead at Spotify and Pen Hadow, Arctic Explorer and Ocean Conservationist.

As we started to announce our latest speakers, interest was so high! So, we upped our speaker count from 20 to 35 and added a secondary virtual stage. 

We had to answer a lot of questions to really find the best people for every topic. Questions like what companies are really nailing diversity and inclusion?’ Who is vocal in Corporate Social Responsibility? And what companies are consistently rated the best place to work? 

A huge thank you to our MC of the day, Nathalie Nahai!

We had the pleasure of Nathalie Nahai, host of The Hive podcast, MCing at Forward. And she was an audience favourite!  

Nahai is an international speaker, consultant and author of two books: the recently published Business Unusual, and business best-seller Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion. Given her field of expertise and her topical podcast, The Hive, Nahai was a natural fit to play the role of master of ceremonies on the day. And we were totally proven right. 

Breaking up the day… musically

Forward was a one-day event and we were live for 8 hours. Now, even with incredible topics, that’s a long time to listen to some pretty pressing topics. So, we brought in the fun with a bit of music. 

Instead of just placing a static placeholder on the screen while attendees at home put the kettle on, our friends (and customers!) at Sofar Sounds took over and invited five musical guests to keep everyone entertained. And it worked a treat!

Here’s who joined us during the day:

  • Brekky Boy, a Sydney-based jazz group. They’re a piano-driven instrumental trio who play in jazz bars and on mountain tops — and now at Forward
    Rikas, a German four-piece band
  • Joncan, a flamenco-funk fusion acoustic guitarist
  • Rue Brown, a multifaceted singer based in Brooklyn. Brown is the perfect blend of jazz, hip hop and soul
  • Karmic, a Los Angeles-based electronic pop band who meld '80s-influenced dance beats with female vocals

Designing the studio 

Workspaces are constantly evolving. The lines between our personal and work lives became extremely blurred during the pandemic as we all worked from home. 

We needed a studio design that reflected a forward-thinking workplace. Now, we aren’t talking about worn-out grey carpets, white lighting or 1980’s desk dividers. Think: plants, warm lighting, pastel colours. We wanted to bring an element of ‘home’ into the office. 

Thanks to Danish-born design companies HAY and Muuto for donating beautiful furnishings to help kit out the studio and highlight our Nordic heritage.

Nordic design principles sit at the heart of Pleo’s brand identity, as well as our offices’ interior design. Not only do we love both of these companies, but they also focus on innovation and new directions, much like Forward too. 

Getting everyone at Pleo involved

Getting Pleo’ers interested in Forward wasn’t a tricky task. The topics were timely. The agenda was engaging. The lineup was inspiring. But before we cast the Forward net, we wanted to get everyone at Pleo on board too and give them a role in bringing people through the virtual door. 

We created an internal registration campaign, everyone was given their very own Forward sign-up link that we could track. After just a few hours, we already had a leaderboard. People were very vocal within their networks shouting about Forward, getting people signed up who really cared about the topics. 

What did we learn from the process?

That people are fundamentally good. As our MC Nathalie Nahai, outlined on the day, it’s up to us to define whether we’re in a time of peril or possibility, and the latter is only possible if we group together and make good happen. 

We explored a number of pressing topics, from diversity and inclusion to mental health and resilience to sustainability. Undeniably, these topics aren’t the easiest to talk about. Yet our speakers stepped up to the game and all our attendees engaged and showed genuine interest on how we can all make the world of work a better place, for all. 

On the day, we asked our attendees: “Are you feeling hopeful about the future of work?”

And 90% said they're feeling hopeful.

Now, that’s pretty promising. While these last (almost) two years have been pretty turbulent for the world of work, there’s no denying that we’re starting to unlock a forward-thinking road ahead that puts people at the core of business. 

We’ll see you again next year… But until then, why not check out our main takeaways from the day?

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