Katerina Zlatanovska Popova: Hybrid Events Promote Connection and Learning

More organizations are organizing hybrid events due to the new reality caused by the global pandemic. Experts say that they are the future and therefore certainly deserve our attention.


At LinkAcross Development Center in Skopje, we also organized several hybrid events, within the framework of the GrowBiz project, supported by USAID. Those hybrid events were organized during the project in 2020 and 2021. The lecturers at one of the events were Katerina Zlatanovska Popova from Skopje and Gigi Bill from the United States of America.


The reason for this interview with Ms. Zlatanovska Popova is to learn more about her experience as a lecturer at the LinkAcross Development Center and her perspective on the future of hybrid events in Macedonia.

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Katerina, please tell us more about who you are and what you do.


For more than 20 years, I have been actively involved in youth and adult education programs through formal and informal education, working as a professor, lecturer, certified adult trainer, career development advisor and human potential development expert.


Since 2012, I have been involved in activities such as individual and group counseling and projects related to career development. At the moment I am actively participating in the implementation of several projects, including 4 ERASMUS + projects in partnership with organizations from Poland, Spain, Cyprus, Turkey, Latvia and the Czech Republic.


Currently, I am the president of the Assembly of the Association of Counselors for Career Development, ASK. I strongly believe in the power of lifelong learning as well as in the daily challenge to convey my personal life mission to as many people as possible, helping them reach their potential.



How did your cooperation with LinkAcross begin, with special reference to GrowBiz.


My cooperation with LinkAcross started in 2017. Then I needed to channel my many ideas for starting a business. I also wanted to further learn the language and needs of entrepreneurship, as I worked as a Human Resources Manager in a wholesale and retail company. We went through training on setting up a business plan, creating products, setting the values ​​on which the business will be based, customer care. Meetings with inspiring speakers and guests with rich professional and life experience were also priceless.


Since all the lectures were immediately applicable, I continued to use and share them with particular passion in my work as a coach and trainer. So it happened and the offer came in 2020 to join as one of the team of trainers within the GrowBiz program and to collaborate with the extraordinary GeGe Beall creating training on Customer Care and Employee Satisfaction. We created an exceptional blend of local aspect (for which I was responsible) and international experience from an expert with vast experience like GeGe Beall.


Additionally, it may be significant to emphasize that this was happening at the height of the pandemic so all the preparation was online. On the very day of the training, I and only a few participants were at the training center of LinkAcross in Skopje. GeGe was involved from her home in America, as well as the participants from Macedonia and Albania were in their companies.



What is your experience with hybrid events (combination of physical presence and online presence) and please comment on their effectiveness.


The pandemic has forced a new approach to training and skill development. I believe that hybrid events have opened up many opportunities for both coaches and participants. My experience with hybrid events is very positive and I believe that they will continue to be organized even after the lifting of measures and restrictions.


Hybrid events allow easier connection, learning, experience without borders, without additional costs and from anywhere in the world.



What do you think it takes for a hybrid event to be successful?


I think it's the technical equipment and support. It is necessary that all participants, both those online and those in the classroom, have the same experience and opportunity to follow and engage in the activities and discussions.



LinkAcross Development Center is a relatively new space on the market for holding events - online, onsite and hybrid - did the space itself meet your expectations and needs as a lecturer?


The space is extraordinary. Fully technically equipped, functional and practical, thought out in a way to meet the needs of the coach. It also has a pleasant, safe and warm atmosphere for all participants. GeGe and I had the honor of being the first to "test drive" it during our training and I have to admit that everything worked flawlessly, including the technical support we had during the training.



One important component in the success of hybrid events is technology. How did this component help you deliver a focused lecture at the LinkAcross Development Center?


It was truly an amazing experience. The very knowledge that I am in Skopje, the second trainer is across the ocean, and the participants are partly in Albania, partly with me, and partly in their offices around Macedonia and we had a smooth interaction, the opportunity to share both the presentation and the activities made the training one of the best and most memorable in my career.


All of this would not have been possible without the extraordinary readiness and expertise of the team that was our background technical support, as well as the very equipment that distinguishes the LinkAcross Development Center.



In particular, when it comes to hybrid events, how was that balance made between the two audiences – the vitriolic and the physical?


This is where the skill and experience of the coach comes to the fore. The coach bears the responsibility and obligation to maintain the interaction with the whole group and at the same time to adapt to the situation. Fortunately, flexibility is one of my strengths, so I would say that I easily and quickly adapted to the new way of working and delivering trainings online and of course the hybrid events.


The biggest challenge is in the realization of the activities and joint exercises, which of course there is a way to implement them, in this case those who follow the live training work together, and those online meet in the virtual rooms. However, hybrid events have opened up a whole new approach and world of possibilities that we need to continue to nurture and develop.



Do you think that participants of hybrid events and trainings who attended on-site have a better experience than those who participated online? Why?


I would say it depends on the event and the type of training. Coffee breaks are perfect for networking and exchanging experiences and creating new relationships, however there is always a great opportunity for "quick meeting and getting to know each other" within the virtual or hybrid event.


I personally enjoy working "live". I think that the involvement and interaction with the participants is much greater, and of course the environment, hospitality and atmosphere where the training takes place are a key factor for the overall experience and satisfaction of the participants. I am honored to have had the opportunity to be one of the first to work at the LinkAcross Development Center.


Now that all the restrictions are finally lifted, I am happy to plan my next trainings at this very center for clients who do not have their own space dedicated to employee training.



And finally, in post-covid conditions - in your opinion, what is the future of hybrid events here in Macedonia?


I believe that hybrid events, trainings and conferences will continue even after the end of the pandemic. I look forward to the next technological leap when holograms become available as an upgrade to this important new and contemporary model for fostering lifelong learning and professional development.


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