Amid Covid, i3 Events Pivots to Create Dynamic Virtual Platforms for Corporations, Associations and Nonprofits

When Covid-19 hit, countless companies — especially those with in-person conferences and events geared toward 500–5,000 people — were forced to pivot.

Neela and Keith Johnston, owners of i3 Events in Glenview, were on standby, ready and willing to help their customers adapt swiftly and seamlessly. In March 2020, the Johnstons shifted much of their focus to virtual events, using a wealth of experience dating back to 2008 when they used a satellite truck to broadcast a meeting.

“Keith, with his technology expertise, has been connecting people virtually for years,” says Neela. “We advised our clients to continue to engage their audiences despite Covid-19. We showed them how we would use strategy, creativity, and technology in a virtual setting to keep their meetings and events dynamic.”

“Increasingly, I’ve noticed that people are starting to confuse engagement with being engaging,” says Keith. “You have to use a multitude of tools to keep your audience’s attention — so off we went!”

An executive prepares to offer his keynote remarks in a virtual meeting.

The Johnstons, along with their key contractors, created new platforms for clients, securing over 40 meetings in 2020 for various associations, corporations and nonprofits. Instead of booking ballrooms and breakout rooms, they partnered with full-service studios that include interactive backdrops and top-notch production teams. 

One of i3’s first clients to take the virtual leap was The Global FoodBanking Network, a Chicago-based international nonprofit organization that advances the work of food banks in more than 40 countries.

GFN’s annual flagship event — the Food Bank Leadership Institute — was scheduled to take place in Mexico City in March. The event was canceled because of Covid-19, but GFN realized it was essential to provide a forum for its global community to share innovations and best practices, and to collaborate to solve common challenges as hunger rates increased amid the pandemic.

GFN chose to partner with i3 Events because of their experience in virtual events and knowledge of different technical options, all shared in a friendly and collaborative manner. In order to accommodate busy schedules and customers in multiple time zones, GFN has hosted 18 short sessions since Covid-19 hit rather than replicating a three-day event online. The sessions have ranged from keynote remarks by recognized global experts to small peer groups discussing specific challenges in a region. With overwhelmingly positive feedback, GFN has opted to extend its virtual FBLI through this summer. 

GFN shifted from hosting a three-day conference to offering 18 short virtual sessions. i3 Events built the sites, managed all virtual components and were integral to the overall execution.

“Thanks to the knowledge and expertise of the i3 Events team, The Global FoodBanking Network has been able to provide vital support to our network of food banks throughout the pandemic,” said Anthony Kitchen, director of programs for The Global FoodBanking Network. “Being able to provide the food banks with a virtual forum to collaborate on solutions and share innovations has been pivotal, and i3 Events has made this possible.”

So what does 2021 look like for events? According to Neela and Keith, virtual meetings are still going to be the norm, but they are planning for some hybrid components.

“As great as we feel about helping our clients bring their meeting visions to life virtually this year, there’s no replacement for face-to-face interaction,” Neela notes. “We already have some exciting ideas in place for clients who will combine dynamic virtual content with safe in-person meetings. It’s an exciting time for us and our partners as we enter the new year.”

The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is an international non-profit organization that nourishes the world’s hungry through uniting and advancing food banks in more than 40 countries. Last year, GFN fed 16.9 million people through a network of more than 56,000 social service and community-based organizations. For more information and to donate please visit