Episode 4

Published on:

25th Sep 2023

Crafting an Authentic Learning Experience with Breanne Dyck of Visionary CEO Academy

Have you ever wondered how innovators use live training sessions to build deeper connections with their audience? In a candid chat with Breanne Dyck, co-founder of Visionary CEO Academy, we learn how she uses live trainings not only to connect authentically but also as a powerful lead generation tool.

Drawing from Breanne's personal experience in higher education, we explore the concept of an "imperfect approach" that Visionary CEO Academy swears by. You'll find out how this methodology allows them to navigate unfamiliar situations, creating optimal outcomes for everyone involved, and how it can inspire your audience to do the same.

We also discuss strategies to elevate your virtual retreats - transitioning in and out of the experience, creating a sense of space, place and community, and even the use of swag to enhance the whole experience. So, join us for an episode packed with unique strategies and insights that could revolutionize your business approach.

"It's so important that we make those human connections, and we show up as humans with other humans to create that trust and that rapport." -Breanne Dyck 

Guest Bio

Breanne Dyck is the co-founder of Visionary CEO Academy a “coach-sulting” firm where she along with her partner Jill Joevenazzo help business owners build sustainable businesses, get better results, and regain work-life balance. Her goal is to help entrepreneurs create the company they've always dreamed of. 

Learn more about the Visionary CEO Academy here.

Learn more about how to bring your community together with purpose at geteventlab.com 

Key Topics and Takeaways

0:00:07 - Live Trainings and Building Connections

Breanne Dick, co-founder of Visionary CEO Academy, speaks about how live trainings can be used as a lead generation tool to help connect with people and serve them better. She explains how these trainings allow her to show up in a more real way and create content that can be repurposed afterwards. Breanne also shares how these live trainings help her connect with potential and existing clients, by disarming the perception that she is intimidating and inspiring them to take action.

0:12:23 - Imperfection in Business and Client Relationships

We explore how to make the most of unfamiliar situations and how to approach conversations and situations in order to create the best possible outcome for the people involved. We also hear how the team at Visionary CEO Academy uses an "imperfect approach" to their work and how this influences their clients' and audiences' ability to do the same. Finally, Breanne shares a story of how she used an imperfect approach to her work in higher education and how this resulted in almost a hundred percent completion rate in her program.

0:22:10 - Teaching and Creating Effective Virtual Events

Breanne Dick speaks about the power of experiential learning and how it can be applied to teaching. She shares her personal experience of creating an online course and how she came to the realization that it wasn't about what she wanted to teach, but what she wanted her students to learn. She emphasizes the importance of giving students the time to do the work, rather than focusing on what can be told to them. Breanne also shares how this has changed the way she runs larger events and encourages others to get their students to do the work first before explaining why it was important.

0:29:56 - Creating a Virtual Retreat Experience

We discuss how to create a virtual event that feels like a retreat. We share ideas on how to bring participants out of their day-to-day and the importance of creating a sense of space and place. We go over the importance of transitioning in and out of the virtual event experience and the necessity of connecting with others to build community. We also look into the multi-sensory experience of the event, how to craft a toolkit with useful items, and how to use swag to support the experience.

Want to dive deeper? Take our free 30 minute training, Community Event Mastery. Access it here.

Additional Resources

Next episode: Engaging Events: Business, Fun, and Human Connection

This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Welcome to Make it Kick Ass, where we help leaders of growing communities bring their people together with purpose and lasting impact. Join us as we explore how to make events engaging, exciting, energizing and profitable so that you can build a healthy, sustainable community. I'm Isaac Watson, founder and lead strategist at Kick Ass Conferences.


And I'm Nessa Jimenez, operations Manager, at Kick Ass Conferences.


Now let's make it kick ass together. Hello everyone, welcome back to Make it Kick Ass. I regret to inform you that you are stuck with me alone today and our guest Nessa is not with us, but she is here in spirit, of course, and I am here with our special guest, brian Dick, who is the co-founder of Visionary CEO Academy, which helps client-based business owners build a more sustainable business so they can get more results for more people, get their life back which is a very important thing and create the kind of company they always wanted to work for. Brianne, I've known you a long time. I feel like this is the Isaac and Friends show these days. How are you welcome? Thank you for being here.


You know, it is a beautiful sunny day. I don't know, we almost could use some rain. I don't want to say that. I feel like I should be knocking on wood as soon as I say that, but it is a beautiful sunny day. It is the Isaac and Friends show, because I get to talk with you and with Nessa in spirit. So, yeah, let's do this thing.


Excellent, excellent. Okay, I want to kick us off by starting around some of these live trainings that you do regularly. This is something that I think at least that I've seen that is a little more unique to what you've done with your business, and I do consider them events, so I want to talk about them in that context Specifically. Why have you chosen to do live trainings and not just post them as videos or blog posts or like downloadable webinars?


I mean the short answer is because if I say I'm going to go live, I'll actually record the video. I mean that's the honest and true answer, which is, yeah, if I do things spontaneously, if I'm like I'm going to record a video, it just number one, it gets me doing it actually live. So if you put me in front of a camera and I have my talking points, I have my script, I have my whatever, it'll take me 30 minutes to record a five minute video because I will stop and start and restart and however many takes, they put me on a live training or a live video and it's one shot and it sometimes is a disaster. Sometimes it's great, most of the time it's great, but it gets done. And that's one of the honestly the biggest things for me is I get it done and it allows me to show up in a way where I can just show up. I don't have to feel like I'm being over prepared. I can be more real. I know there's a strategy behind it For me. A lot of it is Facebook live and that kind of thing and all the algorithm likes it and you get comments and you can engage with people and all of those things are true.

But again me knowing me, I'm the kind of person that if I give a training or I do a video, no one actually engages with me during the video because they're all too busy like writing notes.

This is what I've been told, and so it really is completely selfish at the end of the day, because I can record a live video. I get the energy of live video, but I can still use it as a recorded video. So I've got these training videos that I might have recorded them a year ago live, but I can always bring them back and use it. We edit them, we use them as client materials. Often, actually, where our trainings come from is it's not that, oh, I need to do a video for marketing, I need to explain a concept to a client. So, rather than me going and creating something just for that client or just for a few people that'll see it, why don't I put it together where, whether it's an impromptu training, whether it's a scheduled training, whether it's actually an event why don't I put my energy there so that I'm creating live and then repurposing after that?


So, in the context of your business, which you told me earlier you like to call coach salting, as this blend between coaching and consulting, tell me a little bit about what that does for your business. I mean, it sounds to me like these live trainings are largely used as a, I guess as a demand generation or a lead generation tool. How do they help you connect with the people that you're trying to reach and serve?


One of the biggest things for us has always been this question of how do we show people what it's like to work with us, because, or even how do we show people Apparently, when I write, I come across as intimidating. I don't understand this. I don't think I'm scary, I don't know. Isaac, if you think I'm scary, I don't know, but apparently I can come across as very intimidating. And so when I'm thinking about how I want to connect to people, a lot of it is how can I disarm that? How can I show that I'm a human? How can I give the experience? Because if you're thinking that I'm intimidating and you think that the stuff I talk about, oh, it's really smart and I think we should, I need to learn this and study it and whatever, that's not putting someone into an action, taking mindset whether that person is a potential client or they're actually a client, if they're feeling intimidated, if they're feeling like I'm this sage on the stage, kind of thing, that's not going to inspire them to want to connect in the way that really serves our business. As you said, it's coach-selting. It's not a bunch of modules and you go through them and never hear from the person that you're working with, except maybe on a massive group call. It's very much one-on-one, very much intentional. Let's work on this stuff together, let's collaborate, and if you think that every time you're going to be coming into a call it's going to be like getting called into the principal's office, you're not going to be inclined to want to come to those conversations, and so a lot of it is number one.

As I said, it's how I show up. In a way that's easy for me, but it also, I guess, softens some of the rough edges, makes me more human, and that's the other thing I enjoy about doing it live. It's not polished. I don't take out all of the places where I stumble or misspeak.

I'm disarming, not through some kind of crazy marketing Sorry, I don't want to use the word crazy, some, the form of ridiculous marketing veneer that we're putting on but rather it's just me and I can be myself and I can show in real time what's important in that conversation, like what I just did there. I just corrected myself on a term that I'm trying to erase from my vocabulary because it's ableist, and if I had a perfectly manicured video, I would not be able to demonstrate that value in action, whereas in a live video. When I'm connecting with people, I can show hey, I'm not perfect with this stuff, I mess it up, and this is an important value to me. And if this value speaks to you in the same way that it speaks to me, then we can create a better connection.


Yeah, you said well, you had me thinking about this being kind of an outcome driven process, like the way you think about this is not just I'm going to teach X. It's more about identifying how, especially in the moment with a live training, you can adapt to the audience's needs and help them actually achieve what you're going through, or understand what you're going through. More than just here's a curriculum, I'm going to just like blurt it all out and call it good. How much of that outcome kind of mindset do you use going into it If it already do it on the fly?


I think I've been fully indoctrinated into outcomes. First, thinking, just in general Good, you know whether that's looking at business more generally, looking at you know a project that I'm taking on, even thinking about teaching and learning. One of the first jobs I had before starting this business was working in post-secondary and we were specifically working on helping people learn, and you know how do you create a better educational environment, and one of the things I remember from that which was so important, is it doesn't matter what you want to teach. It matters what you want them to learn at the end of it, and that is what I'm always thinking about. What I'm going to be giving a training is yeah, what's the outcome of this?

Not for me, because I know that if I am able to help the person on the other end, I always think of it as one person. I don't ever think, yeah, I could be in a room of 300 people, it doesn't matter, or talking on a Facebook Live to no one, it's just me thinking about the person that's going to be listening to this and what do I want them to get out of it? What do I want them to learn? What action do I want them to take at the end of it and at the end of the day, again, coming from an education background, I perceive those as the same thing, because my favorite definition of learning is we know that someone has learned when they have the opportunity to choose a different action than they would have before.

So if I'm going to be doing a training, what I'm really looking for is what is the action that I want someone to take at the end. If that's a training with a sales outcome, then the action I want them to take is to learn why this is a solution that's going to solve this problem for them. If it's a training that I'm doing for more general marketing, then it might be more about I want you to learn what is actually going on beneath these symptoms. If it's a training that I'm doing for clients, it's what action, what behavior do I want to incentivize and change within the clients that we've got? So I'm always thinking about it through this perspective of the action and the outcome that's going to come at the end of it, and that feeds naturally through the way that I'm trying to present things.


Yeah, a word that you used earlier was human, which I love because Ness and I have been having lots of conversations, as we've been recording this season, with people about how to make events more human, and you talk about treating your audience as like one individual that you're focusing on. What are some of the ways that you especially, as I think about your business being so values driven and focused on human to human connections and interaction and learnings? What are some of the ways that you adopt a human first approach to the work that you do? That's a big question but I'm going to throw it out there anyway.


It's a big question and if you're just listening to this one on the podcast, you can't see me smiling, because there's a bit of a joke that goes on within our team, but also with some of the people that know we best, which is that I am not naturally good at humane.

This is not a natural gift that I have Whether it's undiagnosed autistic or something else we don't know exactly what it is but humane is challenging for me and has been for as long as I can remember, and so I think that's part of why, when it comes to the business or to these events or to these trainings, why I'm always thinking about the human on the other side, because it doesn't come naturally to me. It doesn't. I'm not the person that's going to walk into a room. We hear about these mastermind dinners that happen. You'll get 10 business owners in a room and everyone will have a great time and at the end of the night, millions of dollars of business will have been done. Right, all these agreements and all this, all of this. I have heard about this. I believe it's true just because of the people I've heard about it from, but I know that whenever I've been in one of those rooms, I've had great conversations and a great meal, and I walk away with no business because I have no idea what's going on around me, right? So this is something that I've had to learn, and I think that that you know.

Another story is before. I don't drink coffee. I'm sorry all of you out there who are big coffee fans Team Brienne hashtag. Team Brienne is anti-coffee. Team Jill hashtag team Jill that's my business and life partner is pro coffee. You can like sound off on social media about which team you're on, but you know she would go to a coffee shop and I would go along and I'd get my hot chocolate or whatever it was going to be, and I would rehearse what I was going to say before I would get up to the counter to make my order, because it was such an unfamiliar situation for me. And so I was always thinking how is this conversation going to go? What is this person going to respond? What do I say if they say this? What do they say if they say that and that?

Lens, when it comes to the business, has forced me to always say what is the other person going to be responding to? What am I creating in terms of opportunities for the other person to respond? And again, because it's not natural for me, I have to think about it being one person. My brain can't process the impact that I'm going to have on multiple people, but I know I can predict, kind of play the conversation out of my head, and so, even if I'm speaking on a stage and there is no actual back and forth, it's a keynote or it's some kind of other speaking opportunity where I'm just talking at the audience, I'm still in the back of my head thinking about the conversation that I'm having.

So I'm going to say something. What's the question that they're going to ask? The question that that one person is going to ask is this so here's where I need to go next. If I go there next, then what's going to be happening? And so I'm developing everything we do through this almost call and response type of energy, which then, when you pair that with our company's purpose which is we believe that every person is a person first, last and always that gives not just me that focusing lens of how is what we're doing really going to impact the individuals, but it gives the entire team something to go back to. That's our highest value. If you ever are not sure about what to do in our company, you have a problem in front of you, you have a situation. The question is what's the best outcome for the people involved? And looking at it through that, human impact is the foundation really of how we make decisions and how we choose to interact with the people that we serve.


Yeah, you used the word imperfect or imperfection earlier, thinking about the live trainings and how they force you to just roll with the punches. You're doing it live. You got to go. I think this imperfect approach to what you do is also embodied in your client work and full disclosure brands company was one of our clients. We've also been part of their coach salting group in the past, so I've seen this firsthand and I see like one of the things whenever I talk to somebody about what you do is I will tell them that, like Brian and Jill are people who walk the talk like it's not just you know recommendations or flat out advice, it's drawn from their own experience. So if you take this imperfect approach into your work and you're integrating it so fully, how do you see that influencing how your clients are showing up to do the work or how your audiences are showing up to do the work? How does that help your ability to support your clients in the community that you're building? Thank you.


I'll tell you a story again here that I think illustrates this, which is that Once upon a time, as I said, I used to work in higher education, and so when I started the business, I didn't know what I was gonna do when, through a number of false starts and trial and error, I found myself Developing course materials. In fact, isaac I think that was how we met was that we worked for us the same project. You were on the event side and I was on the curriculum side of it, and and I Remember anyway, I was helping people build courses and I had like the most imperfect version, right. I had just like a Google doc and you know, like no instructions other than like just here's what you need to do to do this exercise, like super bare bones, not like pretty, not like the fancy PDFs and the membership side, like there was none of that. There was none of that, and we had like almost a hundred percent completion, right.

People got like ridiculous results, like it was, it was really, really solid, and so I ran the program a few times. I was like this is great, like I was honing it in, I was iterating. Every time I did it, I was improving it. I was like, okay, we got this dialed in now. So now I'm gonna go and I'm gonna be like making the pretty version and I'm gonna have videos where I teach this stuff and I'm gonna like have it all on this like course site or membership site and completion rates dropped.

And more concerning for me was that people stopped asking questions and I was like yeah, it's like I know you should be, like I know you should be struggling with the material at this point, like there are certain points and I think everyone who has any kind of training that they provide you know that you cannot prevent your, your audience, your community, your client. You can't prevent them from struggling at some point. Right, they still are gonna have a point where it's like something They've never done before and it's gonna be either technically hard or mindset hard, but they're gonna struggle at some point and it doesn't matter how great you make material, they're still gonna struggle and so I was like, okay, like this part of this program, you should be struggling right now, which means you should be asking me questions like this is why I'm here.

Yeah, I am here to be answering this question because I know the only way you were gonna solve this question is by, like, actually working it out. You know, talking it out, whether it's with me personally or in a group, whatever, but, like, the only way you're gonna solve this is if you actually ask me questions. Why are you not asking me questions? And it turned out, the reason they weren't asking questions is because the materials seemed too perfect. They, in the first version, where the materials were imperfect and I was presenting them as imperfect, the clients assumed that, hey, this material isn't polished, it's not finished. I can ask questions because it's probably a problem with the material, not with me. But when I had this perfect version and it was all shiny and was all polished and it was presented as here's the material. This is what you need to learn.

Then the clients, when they encountered a problem, started to say the problem must be with me, like I'm not getting this, I must be doing something wrong, and it it almost brought a level of shame in and that, for me, was really instructive. It's not to say you can't have shiny materials, that you can't have things be. You know, even thinking about events right, like there's a reason to have a well-produced event, to be able to have things that are polished, and you still need to show some of that imperfection To be able to even get feedback, to be able to get people to engage, to get them to ask Questions. We see this on a jiu-jitsu practitioner, and our instructor always says if you don't understand something, that's my fault, not yours. You're not supposed to be good at this stuff yet, and I think that's the biggest lesson that this, this energy of imperfection, can bring, which is you're not supposed to be Understanding all of this. You're not supposed to be an expert in this. That's why you're here, and so if you're not understanding something, that's my fault, not yours.


If if the audience hasn't caught on to this, you're a really great teacher. Like this is one thing I've learned about you over the years, and and just hearing you talk about this in the way that you've learned these things, is so insightful, because I think a lot of people, especially for those who are building communities and those who are Trying to help serve their audiences are always looking for ways to improve their own teaching skills. It is not something that comes supernaturally to me. I've always struggled, when I do presentations or my own webinars and things like that, to actually Do more than just like lecture about something. Right, can you talk? Maybe there are a couple other ways in your experience that have helped you develop your teaching skills. I think this, this moment that you told us the story about, is a one great example. I'd love to know if there are a couple others over the years that have really influenced your style and the way that you focus on engaging with students and keeping that outcome first. Mindset.


Yeah, again, I mean I was. I was really fortunate that I worked in in higher education and it wasn't in the university, so I was working in essentially a trade school. How do you teach Electricians to be electricians through distance learning?


by the way, you can't do hands-on.


How do you teach a plumber to do plumbing or a welder to do welding if you don't have them physically besides you the whole time? And that experience really taught me number one, what we said before, which is it's not about what you want to teach, it's about what you want them to learn. And by what we want them to learn we mean what do we want them to be able to do differently than they could before? So that question always has kind of been rambling, you know, in the back of my head. But when it comes to actually putting that in practice, going back to that example I gave of, you know, the course I had where was really rough the first time and really polished the second time. So, in addition to polishing the materials in the new version, as I mentioned, I did a bunch of videos. Right, it was all the rage about ten years ago.

Yeah video course and you know you had to have your modules and, and Etc, etc. Etc. Etc. And so I spent a lot of time creating these videos and like explaining things and and here's the thing I Knew as I was recording those videos that I didn't need them. I knew that, I didn't know, but I thought it's gonna be good for marketing. I can say that this has videos in the course, right, so we fast forward.

Completion rate was down, people weren't asking questions at the places they should have been asking questions and and nobody watched the videos. I Spent all of this time like I went and looked at the stats and it was like okay, maybe the first video they watched like 80% of it and the second video like 50%, and then they never watched the rest of the videos. Hmm, and I was like chagrin does like okay, brianna, you knew better, like you know from from your time working in higher education. You knew better, but you had to have this experience to actually learn it. Which is my point in all of this story is Stop thinking about teaching as something that you do and start thinking about teaching as Giving your audience, your students, your clients, your whomever, time to do work, and Every time I have worked with someone to help them whether it's market better or have a better program, or I've worked on training events.

I've worked with people working on speaking. You know all of these kind of things and the number one thing that I always say is you're talking too much. Teaching isn't about what you can tell someone, it's about what they understand. The way we come to understand things is not by hearing it, it's by experiencing it. When it comes to thinking about how you can teach something and this dramatically informed the way that we run our larger events, which I know you want to talk about, isaac, as well we would have two three-day events with our clients.

The question, as we were creating the outline, creating the scripts, creating the run of show, was how little can we teach them and how much time can we give them to do the work? In fact, putting on my research nerd hat for a moment, there is actually a lot of research out there in a whole bunch of different fields that says people will learn better if you get them to do the activity first, without any explanation. Just give them instructions and tell them what to do. Don't tell them why it's important. Don't tell them what they're doing. Just get them to do the thing and then after explain what it was that you had them do and why it worked. It makes people uncomfortable, which is good if you're in an event setting and you need to wake people up and not get them to go into this place that they've been listening to all of these other speakers during non for who knows how long.

Maybe you're the last speaker before lunch and you need something to shake people out of their comfort zone.

One of the best ways to do that is make them just slightly uncomfortable by getting them to do something without telling them why. Then, afterward, tell them why. And because of how we learn, we learn experientially. Then we can add on the and this is why this happened. This is why this worked. This is what you did.

When you did this, we can actually solidify the learning in a much more powerful way. If you have a 30 minute training block, you can spend 15, 20 minutes of that basically doing nothing other than asking them questions, getting them to reflect, asking if it's on Zoom, asking them to share, asking them to do work. It's not that you just go silent for 20 minutes, but it's 20 minutes of them putting in the effort, them doing the work, and then you can tie it back together and say as a result of the work you did, number one, what did you notice? Because they'll come up with amazing reflections and learnings on their own. And then here's what I noticed as the expert. Here's what this tells us most people teach too much, which I realize. I am monologuing now and so I'll probably stop. Ha, ha ha ha.


But it's fantastic because I think this is really really important for people to get, and also, this format is a podcast right, Like you're not doing a live training on how to teach better, so you're not asking us to do the work.

But I also love that you're essentially writing my segues for me into the next topic. So I do wanna focus on the virtual events, the larger events that we have produced for you for the past two years, which is your annual strategic planning retreat, and I'll offer a little context to the audience about this so they can kind of come in with a frame of reference. So clients in your program go through a regular quarterly planning process with you to set their goals and their the work that they're gonna do for the next three months, but then you also take them through a strategic planning process for the whole year, and when you approached us a couple of years ago to bring this in, you were looking to do something a little different than your quarterly planning process, and I would love to first explore with you what those first kernels of shaking it up were for you and, essentially, what was the outcome that you were hoping your clients were gonna take out of this.


Well, number one I didn't want it to be a boring event where we were just gonna sit on Zoom, because this was after the pandemic had started and we were all plenty tired of.

Zoom by that point. But I think, beyond that, one of the things that was really important to us as you had mentioned, isaac, is we do quarterly planning, and my style is very direct, very to the point, and when I'm teaching, as I said, like you're gonna be working a lot, and by the end of a half day of quarterly planning, people's brains were kind of done and so, yeah, we wanted to do something bigger. We wanted to do something to look at a year, not just at three months, and we knew that it couldn't just be Brian designing how this event was gonna be or Jill designing how this event was gonna be, because if people were brain fried after three hours, there's gonna be no hope for any of us at the end of three days. And so the hint for us was ultimately in the name. It wasn't just annual strategic planning, it's the annual strategic planning retreat. So how can we take it from a training? How can we take it from a webinar series? How can we take it from the stuff that we do anyway and put it into a different mental container for the participants?

Not only because we knew we needed more time, but also because when you are a business owner, especially when you have a very small business, you're doing maybe half a million dollars a year, which means you are still doing a lot of the work yourself. You are still in the day-to-day of the business a lot. That means you spend your time and energy in a particular mindset. You are in the day-to-day, you are thinking about how things happen and what needs to happen. Strategy doesn't operate at that level.

Strategy has to inhabit a different brain space. It has to have an energy of expansion, it has to have an energy of spaciousness. You can't rush these ideas, and so we needed to have a different container so that we could create space for these people to move and transition out of their day-to-day, inhabit a more visionary strategic place. And then we also had to take care to bring them back to the day-to-day, kind of like when you go on a vacation right, if you just go. I remember going camping one year, and it always would take me two or three days before I could actually relax and be okay, I'm good, I'm camping now, and then coming back from camping, one year we made the mistake of going to the grocery store to pick some stuff up on our way back in, and the grocery store that we stopped at happened to be attached to a mall and it was sensory overload it was too much.

It was too loud, it was too bright, there was too many people. It was just way too much. And so, when I think about creating a sense of space and place, that was what was important for me. I wanted our clients to feel like they were going on retreat, but we couldn't go on retreat. So, how do we create that in a virtual setting, with all that goes with it, including the transition in the experience while you're there and the transition back to reality?


I love that concept and I remember you coming to us with that and that kind of lit up, like you know, my brain as far as like what we could create together. I also remember you having a pretty healthy priority around the clients connecting with each other and building community through the work that you were asking them to do and through the experience that they were going to share together. Through that, the kind of ideation, the strategy process that we did with you and Jill, we came up with the idea to, as a virtual event, to create a physical experience that went along with that. We wanted everybody to share in this same moment, and so, as we worked on the run of show and developed the program for it, we identified areas where there might there would be useful tools or pieces of physical experience that would be helpful for people to go through together. And we crafted this toolkit, which was essentially I don't want to call it swag because it's not, it wasn't the same thing- as swag at a conference.


I think that was the point, right Is it wasn't swag.


We had a notebook, we had colored pencils, we had and now I'm totally blanking on what else was in there but we had, essentially for the first year we actually had three boxes, one for each day within a larger outer box, and everybody would open it together and discover what was in there. We had some tea, we had some chocolate, we had all of that kind of stuff wrapped into it. Because we wanted it to be this, this multi-sensory experience that they could all share in. Tell me a little bit more about. I mean, we essentially pitched this to you as the big idea as we went through the strategy process. Can you talk a little bit about kind of how? Like how did we, how did we do on that? And like how, how did you then integrate that into, into the work on developing the program and the curriculum around it?


You know it's we talked about before how we don't learn by just having information coming to us. We learn through experience and so, even just from that perspective, being able to look at the experience we wanted to create and then apply that to you know, the actual sensory experience that would go along with it. That was something that that you know. In a in a live in person event, we often think about the lighting, the music, the, you know as well as the speakers. But you know, and the seating, you know, is the seating comfortable? You know these kind of things and and it's a sensory question, I was looking on Facebook today and does anyone still use that app?

Have we gone to threads and come back? I'm not sure. Anyway, I was looking on Facebook, I was still on Facebook and someone had said maybe it was on threads, I don't know. Anyway, someone had said you know what, what are. If you could change one thing about most in person events that you go to, what would it be? And the number one answer was more breaks. The number two answer was better snacks. I thought, huh, that's interesting and it reminds me like this is why we put chocolate in the boxes, this is why we put tea in the boxes, not just because you know we wanted to give something away, but because we knew at two o'clock in the afternoon people were going to need to pick me up and a square of chocolate would do that. Or we didn't just include one tea. We had herbal tea and caffeinated tea.


So you could choose.


Do you need your caffeine hit in the morning to wake you up and then herbal so you can sleep at night? Or maybe you need that afternoon pick me up with the caffeine, right? And so we were thinking about how can we use this quote, unquote, swag to support what we're trying to do with the experience. So you know, how could we do that? And we tapped into all of the senses, right. So through taste, we did this, through touch. We had sensor.

The first year we had a scarf and we used the scarf as a metaphor for leadership and we had a great facilitator who actually took us through some movement, so that we were engaging with something physical and moving our body, because that's so important when you're sitting in front of zoom for hours on end.

We had smell. There was candles, there was, you know, different scents, even you know, from the chocolate, from that kind of thing. We had obviously the visual, but not just the visual of being on zoom. We had the visual of, you know, crayons, being able to have some time to draw, to be able to express ideas in different ways, and sound. We had a meditation bell that we would use so that we could create a different space, so we had our quieter reflective spaces. Then we would have certain sessions that were teaching focused. We would have sessions that were, you know, breakouts, where people were connecting and communicating with them, and for each of those to have their own different feeling and their own different purpose would give a different experience, and that experience would mean they would learn something different. And so it all ties back into this idea of if you want people to learn, you need to give them an experience that supports that learning.


Yeah, I think of all of these tools and items as cue moments.

Right, you know, when you're orchestrating a stage production of sorts, you have different cues, whether that's a speaker walking on the stage or music coming up.

y you know, this was December:


Yeah, and in addition to that, I mean absolutely yes to everything you said. I think the other thing that it allowed us to do was it allowed us to help people know how to feel, and that you know we talk about. You know isolation. We talk about the challenges of being on Zoom. We talk about all of these things. We talk about heavy programming, we talk about really thinky work, and it makes me think about the role that music in particular plays in film and how you have themes for different characters and even if you're not aware that you're listening to so-and-so's theme, you'll see it threaded throughout and you'll hear it threaded. And when you listen to the soundtrack, you can hear, you know there's these five notes that show up over and over and over again and it's used to reinforce what's already going on. And when you're doing, you know, an in-person event, you can use music in a way that is different than how you have to use music in a virtual setting, because you're just listening through two earbuds or through artificial speakers you don't have true surround sound.

Sound competes, and so we couldn't just rely on music to be able to provide this to us. We had to involve the other senses in different ways, and we also had to take something that was not coming from the computer. There had to be something that was physically with the person that they could relate to to be able to anchor them into the sense of what am I doing, where am I doing it? What energy? Energy management is probably the biggest thing, especially in a virtual event, is managing the energy of your attendees and being able to say, through these cues this is the level of energy that we're asking for from you, gave the attendees a sense of familiarity with what was expected of them.


I love that. I want to wrap up focus a little bit on community building, and I would love for you to speak from your experience about building the client community that you have over the years and the things that you do to cultivate that, and also knowing that a lot of your clients are active community builders, whether that's entrepreneurs that have a membership site or who are doing group trainings or things like that and I'm going to let you take this in one of two ways. Whichever you wish, choose your own adventure. Brian Either, what are some of the most successful things that you've seen lately from a tactical standpoint that support building inclusive, holistic, human-centered communities? Or path number two, choose wisely is like what are some of the common mistakes that you've seen that you might caution people against?


I think the answer to both of those, for me, is going to be the same, so I'll give you a two for one deal. Great, which is to say that I think it's really easy for us to focus on the community as a mass and as an entity and to lose sight of the individuals that make it up. Ultimately, when someone experiences community, they experience it first as an individual. I do not go into a community and experience everyone else's experience. I only have my own experience, and so when we are curating, cultivating, cultivating, building community, it is experienced individually. And I think that's really important because, yeah, we can focus on the mass of people, the 300 people in your membership site or the 10 people at this event but at the end of the day, what is my personal experience is going to dictate? What do I feel in relation to the other people in this community? And so you know simple things like being a facilitator and saying, hey, you told me about this.

I heard someone else talking about the other this the other day. You two should connect Right. And now I've created a situation where it's not I'm talking to these people separately, but now they're talking to each other, and maybe I'm creating a situation where there's three or four people that should all be coming together. And so, yes, community can happen on scales large and small, but even within those large experiences, large communities are made up of sub communities. Sub communities are made up of individuals, and if you're not attending to the needs of the individual, they will not be able to participate in community. You have to do both. You can't just do one or the other.


Thanks for listening to this episode of make it kick ass. We hope you found it entertaining and helpful. Posting a community event is on your radar. Visit geteventlab.com to take our free 30 minute training called community event mastery. That's geteventlab.com or use the link in the show notes. Make it kick ass is hosted by Isaac Watson and Nessa Jimenez. Post production audio by Chris Nelson at Mittens media. Our theme song is feel it by dojo for crooks. Make it kick ass is a production of kick ass conferences and event strategy and design agency serving leaders of growing communities.

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About the Podcast

Make It Kickass
Community Event Mastery
Make It Kickass explores how leaders of growing communities can make conferences with impact, gatherings with purpose, and an attendee experience that knocks their socks off. We uncover the strategies, tactics, and tools we use every day to bring our clients’ conferences to life. If you've ever wanted to host a life-changing conference, this podcast is for you.

Find us at kickassconf.com or geteventlab.com

About your hosts

Isaac Watson

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Isaac Watson is the founder and Executive Producer at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. Isaac helps community leaders develop and deliver transformative events for their audiences and inspire them to build a better world.

A maker and introvert at heart, when he’s not working his magic behind the scenes in event strategy and production, he’s usually at home in Vancouver, Washington working on remodeling projects, gardening, cooking, learning to sew, and building LEGO.

Nessa Jimenez

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Nessa Jimenez is the Operations Manager at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. She coordinates the day to day work with our clients and vendors, keeps all of our projects rolling on time and now edits and produces the podcast.

Nessa lives in and works from Puerto Rico. When she's not working, you can find her reading a book or trying to figure out how to keep her plants alive.