TNW2020 Conference

Having just attended my first virtual conference, I was very impressed with how everything was set up and how well it worked. The TNW2020 conference was hosted on Hopin, which provided a very sophisticated and seamless event experience. The talks were held on different “stages” as they usually would be, and attendees were easily able to navigate through these and tune in to the talks they wanted.

It was definitely a good way to do things as none of the content or quality you would usually expect from a conference was lost, and there was the added advantage of being able to watch everything from the comfort of your own home. As was mentioned by several of the speakers, there is something intimate and personal about having so many video chats with people at home. 

The schedule was incredibly full but here are five of the most prominent key takeaways.


The collection and use of data has been under a lot of scrutiny recently, especially since the wider public are beginning to understand how we (humans) are being monetised for profit. Whether or not social media platforms have an incentive to keep people on their platforms and use triggering content to do so has been questioned. 

However contrary to common belief, Facebook and Pinterest admitted in separate talks that they have found that neither advertisers nor their audiences like polarising click-bait. For advertisers, all the online fighting causes their brand to suffer, and while users may respond emotively, they are actually discouraged from long-term use of the platform. Instead, both platforms have found that it pays to be positive.


Despite research proving that diverse teams promote better business performance, the rates of the participation of women and minorities in tech and senior positions has remained low and relatively unchanged from last year. It has been proven that job satisfaction, and subsequently productivity and overall business success is improved by establishing a culture that fosters the opportunity for people to want to stay and grow, and by building an environment where everyone, including underrepresented groups, feels like they belong.

Several leaders spoke about how change must begin at the top. Once there is a more diverse representation in the board and senior levels of a company, this will translate down to the rest of the business. A company and team of people is representative of its leader, therefore it is the leader’s actions that set the tone and establish the expectation for the rest of the company. 


It is another important topic but while many companies like to shout about environmentally friendly measures they are planning to take, far too often these are just nice concepts that are lacking with the follow through.

As was mentioned with diversifying businesses, any impactful change must begin from the top and this is the same when it comes to sustainability. Investors and procurement need to be the driving force that puts sustainability at the core of a business. Profit is still preferred over purpose, and a value needs to be put on sustainability for this to change.

The capitalist system means that a financial return is required for something to be considered a good investment. However investors need to think about returns more holistically and begin considering the existential risk further down the line rather than just their immediate return on investment. Measuring the impact and financial returns together is what is needed moving forward, even though this may appear financially riskier and requires longer-term thinking. Investing in businesses with a strong sustainable ethos (in practice, not only in theory) will without a doubt be more beneficial for any firm in 10 years time.


Along the same lines, brands are being put under pressure to do better by ever more informed customers who care about environmental and social issues. Being more open and honest about the impact of a product or service on the environment is necessary to protect the long-term viability of a company.

What makes a brand irresistible these days is being committed to their corporate social responsibility (CSR), also being transparent and honest about it. It is a topic I previously discussed in another article about cause-related marketing, in which I highlighted the interesting statistic that 70% of millennial consumer purchase behaviour is informed by a brand’s commitment to CSR. Empathy, authenticity and consideration are key marketing tools, and personal is the new professional.


The same point goes for communications between employees. This year has been hard on everyone, and it is so important to treat people with empathy. Every business has gone through a process of adaptation, and companies have a responsibility to not only keep employees safe, but also physically and mentally well and healthy.

When communicating digitally we often forget there are human beings on the other end, however working from home and communicating via video calls from our personal spaces has added a level of humanity. One of my favourite talks was with Arianna Huffington (co-founder of The Huffington Post and founder of Thrive Global) about mental resilience in the workforce, in which she mentioned how in one video call, she happened to see her colleague’s husband walking past only in his boxers. 

It is not only funny but situations like this remind us that we are all human: everyone is at home dealing with partners/children/flatmates/pets and other general home life, and that it is completely OK and no one should apologise for their life. This has become the new norm and no matter how long it lasts, it definitely provides a chance to consider the ways in which we are working and communicating with each other.

It has also validated the need for more business leaders to understand the connection between mental resilience and productivity. When people are stressed, we move into fight or flight mode and are less able to focus and be productive or creative. For decades, it’s been expected that people in high-powered or senior roles power through burn out, however science and data is proving that you cannot be an effective leader operating like this. As Huffington accurately said, leaders must put on their own oxygen masks first before being able to help anyone else.

The ultimate lesson to leaders and businesses is to recognise that the wellbeing and mental health of your employees (including the leaders) is not a peripheral, nice-to-have, fuzzy thing, it is fundamentally central to the business metrics, and is absolutely essential.

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