Episode 12

Published on:

23rd Oct 2023

Mastering Virtual Events with Brian Richards

We welcome event production expert Brian Richards, who brings over 15 years of experience. Brian shares insights on maximizing virtual event production by understanding systems and breaking them down. He discusses his journey in virtual events and the two essential elements for success. We also discuss trends in event sponsorships influenced by the pandemic and a glimpse into the future of the events industry.

Guest Bio

Brian Richards is an event producer and web developer at WPSessions and has been involved in events for 15 years. His speciality is currently in stellar virtual event production for his own conferences as well as others. Brian helped many clients pivot to virtual events during the pandemic and organizes WordSesh and WooSesh, two entirely virtual conferences for WordPress and WooCommerce professionals.

Learn more about Brian's work at WPSessions.com

Key Topics and Takeaways

01:45 - Maximizing Virtual Event Production

We start the episode with Brian sharing insights on best practices for virtual events, navigating the pivot to virtual events, and two essential elements for a good event.

11:56 - Shift in Sponsor Trends in Events

Brian shares his thoughts on the future of the events industry, and how sponsors have shifted strategies due to the pandemic.

19:00 - Hybrid Events

We talk about hybrid events and explore the difficulties of providing an equitable experience for both audiences, cost, effort, and warning signs.

30:48 - Using Technology in Event Planning

Brian discusses tech tools for virtual events, audience engagement, accessibility, data collection, and event software.

36:47 - Simplified Registration and Engaging Virtual Events

Brian talks email authentication, pre-recording talks, and having an outcome in mind to ensure event success.

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

Additional Resources

Next episode: Less is more: Streamlining event tech

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

Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Welcome to Make it Kickass, 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 Kickass Conferences.


And I'm Nessa Jimenez, Operations Manager, at Kickass Conferences.


Now let's make it kick ass together. Hello everyone, welcome back to another episode of Make it Kick Ass. I am Isaac Watson. I'm joined, almost as always, by Nessa Jimenez. Hi, nessa.


Hi Isaac, hi everyone.


And we have a great guest with us today, my friend Brian Richards, who is the event producer at WP Sessions and has been involved in events for 15 years, give or take in various capacities. His specialty is currently in stellar virtual event production for his own conferences as well as others. Brian helped many clients pivot to virtual events during the pandemic. We met via Twitter may it rest in peace a couple of years ago and quickly latched on to each other's colleagues and friends, and we got to meet for the first time in Boise, idaho, at Craft Commerce this past June. Brian also shares. This is why we're friends. Actually. Brian shares in my love for all things Lego, and that is often a topic of discussion with us, but we're not going to talk about Lego today. I don't think so. Hi, brian, how are you? Thanks for being here.


Hello, thank you for the warm welcome and introduction and it is a pleasure to be here. I'm excited to talk about events today and, who knows, maybe even Lego.


We'll get some good Lego analogies in, I'm sure.


We'll try to work them in. So, brian, when it comes to event production, tell us a little bit more about the roles that you play and how those roles contribute to the overall event experience.


This is fun. I do and have done everything when it comes to event production For my events. Until very recently I was a one man show. I did the pre-planning, the speaker wrangling the sponsor, outreach and wrangling all the design, the web production, video production, emceeing, occasionally speaking at some events, showing up in roundtables or filling in when a speaker was absent and everything else in between before and after. My weakest point is actually running the marketing myself. I understand all of the different aspects of event marketing. I'm like, yeah, we need to do that, and then I get sucked into doing other things. So I'm at my best when I have someone else in charge of all the marketing aspects, and for the last couple of years I've had an amazing executive assistant. Her name is Jacqueline and she takes care of many of the operational things that I would otherwise let fall through the crack for far too long. So there you go. I do a little bit of everything.


That sounds a lot like the relationship between this and I. I'm interested. Other than that it's far more than an executive assistant.


So, out of all of those things, though, what do you like to do the most? What do you like to spend most of your time?


Boy. I really enjoy working with the speakers to carry through the vision for an event because I have this knack for just understanding a complete picture of anything. My background, even before doing event production, is in development, so just understanding systems and breaking things down, and I think for event production, where the rubber really meets the road, is getting speakers on boarded with that vision and helping them bring out the best possible presentation, because for a lot of people that's the defining thing of the event. Despite the fact that most people go to hang out in the hallway track and meet each other and network and everything else, bringing the right speakers together is frequently what draws all of the people to an event for the first time and, for many of those, keeps them coming back. And so I enjoy working with the speakers a whole heck of a lot.


I like to say that you really just need two things to have a good event you need good content that comes to the form of speakers, and you need good attendees, and if you don't have either of those, you don't have an event.


Yeah, so a physical event that I was hosting in my hometown for WordPress called WordCamp Grand Rapids. Wordcamp, for anyone who doesn't know, are all volunteer-led, locally organized all around the globe, and as I started putting together my dream list of speakers that I would like to come to where I am so I don't have to fly to where they are, I got to about a dozen or so people who I privately reached out Like would you ever consider traveling to this? And all of them said yes. Like, oh my gosh, even if nobody showed up, I would have a lot of fun just with these speakers here and then, similarly, talking to everyone in my local community. They were thrilled to show up to see those speakers, but I also would have had a ton of fun just hanging out with the people from the community, even if none of the speakers were there, so it was like the best of all worlds.


That's great. So I think what's interesting about your experience is you, especially as you've navigated pivots with clients into the virtual space. We did the same with a couple clients and I would love to talk a little bit about some of the, about the planning and production process for that and, like what, what kinds of common mistakes were you seeing either clients make, or which mistakes did you maybe make as you were figuring all that out, because I think for a lot of us it was kind of the wild west what kind of big kind of learning points or takeaways did you have through that process?


The something that I knew early on, because I was running virtual events even Prior to the pandemic, as an alternative to going to a physical event. If, like hey, everybody in the world, you can come to this thing and you don't have to leave your house, how great is that. But that still didn't save me from making mistakes throughout the pandemic and such. But the most common mistake across the board is trying to do too much in a virtual event and similar to that is trying to make a virtual event as Similar to a physical event as possible. They are not the same thing and should not be treated the same way and, in my current opinion, should be as short as possible To meet the goals of the event.

And so I have, from my own event that I'm running in October, three days that are approximately four hours apiece. That Should be exactly enough. People can jump in and out each day. They get to hear from a variety of speakers. If they stay for an entire single day, it's not too much of a commitment, but it's bordering on at four hours. It's like, oh, I have to take time off of work to do this, but nevertheless thinking of events a virtual event as a smaller scale and different thing from a physical event Tends to help tremendously, and I could unpack that a bunch of different ways, but I'll pause here because I think I answered the initial part of the question.


I, I agree. I think we made that mistake with one of the first virtual events we did in 2020, where we over programmed it and we kind of knew that we had to split it from two days, two long days, into three, but we still, like crammed way too much into there. I think it was a lot of learning that that we, you know we have to we have to fight a lot of attention spans when people are watching from home and, like you know, you can't just like sit in your desk chair or at a standing standard, a standing desk, for six hours. Right, you got to like move around. You still got to build in bathroom breaks and, you know, sometimes some people need to walk their dogs or play with their cats or whatever. Right, like there's a lot of things that people still need to do that that you don't have to address as much with an in-person event, because they're they're there and they're committed to attending. Right, and so there you kind of have captured their entire attention as opposed to fighting everything else that's going on bingo.


Yeah, and one of the One of the many ways that that plays out is with things like sponsor interactions right at a physical event.

You've got maybe an expo hall or a room or Some kind of hallway where sponsors can physically be present and invite people to come up to their table any number of ways and Interact and have conversations, and the most common way this was translated From the beginning of the pandemic onward was oh well, we'll have a virtual booth and we'll have someone there in a zoom room ready to chat with you anytime you join in, and I did my best to talk sponsors out of that, even going so far as to not allow it at my event, just because nobody wants to do that.

The person who's in charge of the booth on the sponsor side doesn't want to sit around in a Zoom room waiting for people to show up. The people attending don't want to blindly enter a zoom room where they are presumably going to be sold to, even if that's not what's happening. That's the expectation. Like, as soon as I get in here, the attention is going to be on me and that's just gonna be awkward and uncomfortable and I don't want that, and so I tried to guide their attention to other opportunities besides that, because, first, that's uncomfortable, but second, for what you said everyone's attention is far more split when they're at home. You haven't captured all of it, as you saw.


So what did you find was successful from the attendees standpoint? Because I know the sponsors always have their priorities and they think they know what they want. But what? What good ideas did you have? How did you redirect those?


I. I found the most successful approaches to be to invite sponsors to participate by giving talks, and I know Attendees, for sure, are jaded, and other folks get jaded like they just bought their way into this, which, true, and they could make it a 15 minute or 30 minute sales presentation, but I also actively talked them out of that. Like I know, you have sales metrics to hit and if you try to just sell During this, it's not going to work. So instead, let's figure out something that is interesting to the audience and, by the way, your solution is also a good answer to the problems that you bring up. But if you can focus on, I'm teaching the audience, giving them something interesting and useful, they're going to come to you and they're going to want to buy what you have, and so that, paired with a dedicated email to the registered Attendees saying hey, don't forget to check out Stripes session on blank or Amazon's session on what have you, both increased attendance for their for their session and because of the direction of teach them something, they ended up At least the ones who reported back to me ended up having a much better response than they had anticipated, which felt really good. Yeah, that's great, one of the best Presentate.

One of the highest ranked sessions at one of my events, according to the attendees for a after-event survey, was a 15-minute sponsored talk, which drove me nuts because of how much time I put into planning things. But the sponsor took my direction to heart and they were a cart abandonment Email solution. That was where they started, but then they ended up providing emails and all kinds of other useful tools to merchants and they had two different 15-minute talks. One was like the nine emails every store owner needs to send, and then the second one was a detailed look on the the order confirmation slash welcome email that every customer must receive, where most stores like here's what you bought, thanks. The effective stores like hey, we're so glad that you're part of this that I here's coupon for your next order check this out, don't forget to enjoy this benefit of the thing you purchased. And they made it really personal. Anyway, the those two talks were the highest ranked among all of the sessions that I had curated for that event. I'm like man. Well, good for them.


I mean, I think that's a that's a massive success, like and I think you should be proud of that, because there is there's a lot of sponsored content at events that attendees just roll their eyes at or, you know, just feel like is a sales pitch. But to have redirected them into something that was so useful and so Well received by the attendees is huge. That's fantastic.


Thanks. So, in terms of following that about the sponsors, do you feel like in the past couple of years they're starting to shift and actually get it? Because I remember in the beginning of the pandemic, oh my god, they were so stubborn and especially the larger companies very attached to like KPIs, like this thing, this number, this thing, this number, and they, we just Struggled so much to get them away from that. What, what pattern or trend are you seeing right now in that?


Yeah, I have been privileged to work with some pretty amazing sponsors for my events who are very receptive to the direction I give them not all of them right, especially at the beginning, like you said. They're just like no, we need, we need to have a booth. I'm like, okay, you can have a booth, I'll make sure to put links to it and we'll let the attendees know. And then, after the event was over, I'm like so how'd the booth go? We had about 15 people show up like, yeah, right out of 2000. That's not great. Let's not do a booth next year. I Didn't say it quite so bluntly, but like we'll come up with a better strategy next time. And so it's. This year.

I've definitely noticed a retraction of sponsor dollars and it's because the event landscape has bifurcated right. Instead of having an event that people go to, it's now well, here's the virtual side and here's the physical side. And the people who really cared about the learning Like to go to the virtual event because they just want to hear what the speakers have to say and they don't participate in any of the other in-person things. And the people who really like the hallway track and networking, getting to see people go to the physical event and Barely attend any of the talks. And it's just weird thing, and sponsors always, always, always prefer physical events because there's something more tangible about it. They have different opportunities to meet with and attract leads, and they lose some of those in the physical or in the virtual event, and so their dollars have started to disappear, actually in both places, because they're like well, we have to be much more concentrated and careful in how we're spending this.

And so the sponsors that I have this year aren't as well. I guess they're in two different camps. They're the ones who really care about their KPIs and hitting their targets, and then there are the ones who just care about general brand awareness. Like, we want to be part of this, we like what the community is doing. We want the community to know that we exist and are here for them. So all the places where we can get our name, that's amazing, right, like I think of those as the Coca-Cola sponsors. They don't need to have their name on every billboard in a particular stadium, but if they don't have their name on every billboard in the stadium, suddenly they lose a percentage point in that area and it goes to Pepsi and like ah well, this is now a material difference, and so they recognize it and they will keep sponsoring things, even though it seems like they might not need to.

And then the smaller ones, or the ones who are against the ropes like we really need this to come through, we need you to deliver this many leads, we need to see this many conversions, but even so, they've become amenable to like. Well, if that's super important to you, as it should be, let's try these right. Like let's make sure we have a pre-event email that goes out. Let's make sure you have a swag offer that's actually compelling, and not sign up for one free day or a seven day free trial or take 5% off. Like nobody cares about that. Like it has to be a big, useful thing. Get our download a free guide on blank and a free week trial to our thing, right.


Do you I mean thinking about the future of the events industry do you think the split between audience goals will persist? Do you think it will unify in the end?


Boy? I sure hope so. I've been thinking a few years ahead. Like I said, I've been running virtual events since it before. Before it was the cool thing to do or the necessary thing to do, Right, a necessary thing to do Because it presented a great alternative to these events that people wanted to go to but couldn't actually reach for any number of reasons. I could say, hey, I'm bringing that same talent to your home and it was amazing and it was fun and we had tons of engaged people participating in the events.

And then the pandemic picked up and everybody was really jazzed about virtual events for the first half of the year and then pretty bored and spent for the second half of the year, and that's basically been the energy the whole way through. And now physical events have by and large returned and people are thrilled to be back and engaged in those and that's been awesome, except for the bifurcation that I mentioned. I don't know that it will unify to how it was before. I think there's still some transformations ahead of us, but I do think largely you know another, we'll say two years from now, most people will have come back to physical events. The virtual events will be left to folks like myself, who started and preferred and choose to be in the virtual event space, and we'll get the best of everything in each of those.


You know, one word I haven't heard you say yet is hybrid, which I think is becoming a bit of a dirty word in the events industry. What are your thoughts on like, especially if you have a bifurcated attendee base? Is there value in hybrid or not?


Yes, I think there will always be value in a hybrid event If it's done correctly. Many folks do it wrong and then like hybrid events are terrible. I'm like what you did is terrible, yes, I agree, but a hybrid event done correctly isn't Right. So to be properly hybrid, you need to have a somewhat equitable experience for people who are both at the physical event and at the virtual event. It can't be perfect parody right, like you can't get people at the virtual event side engaged in a physical after party. That's not going to work, that's going to be a bad time. But you can have something different that they're doing as an after party, like some sort of virtual gathering. That's similar but different. But the best way to create parody is in the way that the main programming is handled, like all of your sessions. Any Q&A that happens should happen through a unified platform where, whether the person is there in person or remote can ask a question and those questions are commingled and answered the same. Providing a high quality video stream and audio stream with captions to your virtual attendees can give them a better experience than being there in person.

Largely Like I think about all the times that I've been to a sporting event or concert and there's the jumbotron or big screen somewhere that's showing like a nice close up shot of the action. I find myself even in a physical event, watching the screen, because I can actually see what's happening. And then I go why even come to this thing? Why about, like, just watch it from home and you get this plus, in the case of being digital, access to easy access to the captions, you can make it audio only and listen to it while you're going for a walk, taking the dog out, like you said, or any number of things? And so, yeah, I think hybrid events should stay. I think they should be better considered and not just like oh yeah, well, we'll have a live stream and that's. That's a hybrid event, but I don't know that they will, because so many people get it wrong and they'll it might die out Only because so many people have done it so poorly.


Yeah, I would also add that it may die out because it has become so expensive to produce. I think a lot of event hosts are finding that hybrid is not worth the cost or the effort Because it can so easily go wrong and fall flat, and so they'd rather just do only virtual or only in person, or maybe due to independent virtual and in-person events.


Yeah, that's a good point, I Forget. One of my guiding philosophies is simplicity when it comes to event production and like what is the the core of what we're trying to do here, and Does this thing we're talking about now Serve or detract from that? And so you mentioned, right, you need good content, good programming and good attendees. And then the question is like well, should we have, you know, food service? Like, well, depends, are we talking about? Like snacks or full-on meals? Snacks, definitely, absolutely yes. Meal service is the meal service that has to be provided on the venue better than sending groups of people to a nearby restaurant If you're on the boonies? Yes, have a meal service if you're surrounded by amazing restaurants and can have people Easily get to those and back again. I'd gravitate towards that.

And so every decision I make is like simplifying and trying to reduce the total number of decisions that need to be made. And so when I think about should this physical event that I'm working on also have a virtual hybrid component, I go well, yeah, because we can reach more people at home. Well, what are all the extra things we need to have? Like, no, no, no, no, no. What is it? What is it that the person at home wants to get out of this. What is the? What is the value to them, what is the benefit to them and how does that serve the rest of the event? We shrink it, but yeah, it's even that can become prohibitively expensive when we're talking about, like a multi-track event and all the other technology that needs to come with it.


Would you say that there are warning signs or maybe Anything that you would tell people to watch out for, to warn them that they're falling down that like Cliff of complexity right, that they're slipping down into that? Are there any things you'd recommend for people to look out for?


Yeah, for me, the litmus test is how much of my time is it going to take to deliver this experience and Is that proportionally Relevant to the impact it's going to have? Right, if it takes me Eight hours to do something and the overall impact is Like a 30 second Nido from the audience, no, that's not worth it. But if it's like eight hours and now we've got a full day of awesome programming, absolutely that is super worth it. We could spend double, triple, quadruple that amount and it would still be the right way to spend our time. A Good example is swag. Right, swag is something that's anticipated, expected at every single event and, when done well, is Worth it. Like it.

I remember before battery banks were ubiquitous for mobile phones. Those slowly became like the popular swag thing. I remember the first time I got one like this is actually genuinely useful stuff. Like I'm gonna put this to work, and I guess speaker gifts fall into this. We frequently I Designed and we passed out zip up hoodies for speakers at our events because it was in Michigan in autumn, where it's Nice most of the time but chilly in the evenings and often chilly indoors when the AC is on full blast, and so those were like a very well received, enjoyed speaker gift.

But for the most part swag takes a lot of time to sort out and people don't Actually appreciate it. Like, oh cool, you put your logo on the least expensive version of a water bottle. You could find great. Like I bring home a bag of stuff that like, well, I let me see if I can find a way to donate this right. But if you like, if you put the same amount of effort that you would into getting like a whole bag of swag, into like what is one Awesome thing that we could give attendees as their takeaway? Let's give them a branded notebook and pen. Well, that's practical because they can start taking notes during the event and Even if they don't want another notebook, that's very easy for them to repurpose.

Regift Things like that. And now you've reduced the the effort of picking up swag, getting swag, packing the swag bags to just all right. We've got a box full of books. When you show up to the registration table, person reaches below the table and Passes a book over the table. Welcome to the event. We're glad you're here. Here's your badge, here's your book. Enjoy, yeah, yeah.


I have, you know, I have like five podcast episodes of opinions about swag and. But I was just at a conference where a sponsor handed out some swag At the closing party. They sponsored the closing party and I was actually impressed because they included a beanie which had a. It was a tone-on-tone, so it was a black beanie with black embroidery with their Logo on it. So it's very subtle, which I always appreciate, a subtle branding effort. But I was joking with my friends at the conference. I was like, oh, hey, that's a really good. It was a north face brand hoodie or beanie. I was like, hey, that's, that's legit, that's a good brand, high quality, etc. And I said I bet it would be really easy to pick out all the embroidery stitches and that way I just have a north face branded beanie that I could wear. I was hilarious because at the end of the day, like we don't always want to be wearing some other brand around, bingo, yeah, thanks. But but yeah, you know, intentional, minimalist and High-quality swag is always, always a benefit.


Yeah, and then that that decision matrix applies to everything. Right, like, how many speakers do we need to have? Well, how long is the event? A good talk could be as short as 10 minutes, could be as long as 60 minutes or maybe 90 minutes for a very involved keynote with a lot of different people. Right, like thinking of WWDC, where they bring out the whole company to talk about all the different features. But for most part, right, it's like a 10-minute talk to up to 40 minutes. I'm like okay, well, that means we have maybe 8 to 10 speakers per day for a single track, instead of like well, let's do four tracks and we'll do eight speakers per tracks. We need 24 speakers per day. For two days we need 48 speakers. Like that's just a ton of overhead. A single attendee can't possibly learn from all 48 speakers. And Now you've also introduced decision fatigue of like oh boy, should I go track a, right or track B? And so I always.

I always strive for Simplifying everything, from the programming to the swag, to the after party, to the communication that's going out to the attendees, to the website that you're running. For years my event sites were single page. Here's a big headline of what the event is, with the date. Here's a paragraph to describe what it's about and who it's for. Here's a grid of the speakers. Here's a grid of the sponsors. Here's a Hierarchical list of of all of the sessions and or chronological list, not hierarchical and and that was enough. Right, that that's everything everybody wants to know. And then, for a physical event, here's where it is and how to get here, where we recommend you stay, and and it doesn't need to be any more complicated than that. We don't need to bring in All kinds of fancy animations like make it simple, make it mobile, responsive, prioritize the date, the location and the schedule, mm-hmm, done. Everything else is extra.


And talking about technology, then I want to get into the role that technology plays in creating these human moments, because, ultimately, events are about people, right? So tell me a little bit about how technology helps us create these human moments for people.


Yes, I'm all about creating robot moments. I, for one, am ready to serve our robot overlords. Technology shows up in all kinds of interesting ways. Those are my most favorite. I remember the first event that I went to that had I don't think there were exactly QR codes, but there were probably QR codes on the event badges, and then sponsors could very quickly scan your badge, as opposed to here. Give us your name and your email address and sign on this form or type into our iPad hey, could I scan your badge? Oh, yeah, and then the rest of the conversation focused on whatever we were talking about and not them trying to guide me to filling things in. Similarly, attendees have been able to do that in various ways throughout the years. I think that's pretty neat.

For me, in virtual events, the core technology is whatever is running the actual stream itself and how that gets embedded on the website. Where is audience discussion taking place. And so for the last couple of years, I've concentrated that around Slack, because they've already solved the problem of how do we do threaded conversations, how do we add moderation so we can delete or edit things that shouldn't be in there, how do we handle one to one or one to many private conversations and I'm like, well, slack has this solve, we'll just bring everybody into Slack and we'll just keep doing our normal moderation there. Done For live transcripts. How do we get that through so that everybody can participate, even people who can't hear or easily hear what's going on. Maybe they're in a place where they have to have their volume off. I'm a big proponent that accessibility is for everybody, because captions help everyone. They help folks with spicy brains like mine to be able to pay attention. They help people who missed what was just said to be able to quickly look at the screen to see what was just said, even when they can hear things perfectly. It makes everything better. And in the case of after the event, now all of my transcripts are searchable. So if you're like, hey, where, where did they mention this part? You get right to the exact moment in the transcript where that appears and you can then, if you want, watch the video or just read it and not have to try to navigate a 25 minute presentation to get to that part.

And then, while I love and embrace technology, I love seeing it used in just like simple, elegant ways. So for registration, for example, I prefer to have just paper and highlighters. So when you come in, like, what's your name, I've got the whole list printed out. There you are, here's your thing, there's that. It has.

Frequently I've discovered as an attendee like clever digital solutions will fail in various ways, like I've seen events where, like we'll print your name badge on the spot, which is really handy. If someone registered in the last 24 hours, we have now a name badge for them, except when the printer fails for any number of reasons that printers are want to do that, and so my solution there is like we'll just print a number of blank badges and we have a Sharpie at the desk at registration. Who are you? Oh, no problem, here's your badge, personal, just for you.

And the other novel thing that I've seen is using tech to help automatically create breakout groups in a large space where we've just had a talk and now we're going to have breakout groups about that talk. So if your badge ended up with a green label, go here and it's all randomly generated at the time that, like the badges are made, or however they do it. But they right, it's not super fancy tech, it's like all right, well, let's randomly sort and now we make groups of four. And now, hey you, groups of four congregate based on whatever the distinguishing mark is on your badge. I've seen that for lunch groups and stuff, to great success, yeah.


How I feel like a lot of your opinions on this are informed by your developer background. Probably, yeah, and I'm fascinated by that. I think that's part of what makes it really interesting. I know you were regaling me with a demo of a system that you had developed to maintain your speaker roster and schedule and whatnot for an event website and I think, like I've always been a fan of good data right, especially from a registration standpoint, making sure we're capturing what we need to capture and what we want to capture up front from the attendees. We all know that it's very challenging to get people to fill out additional surveys or provide that crucial information that we need. If you get, you basically get one chance when they register right Bingo to increase your likelihood of a response. So what are some of the ways that you've integrated tech tools or a stack of software to better serve the events that you're producing?


Yeah, so my events don't use any proper event software whatsoever, and I think that's partially because I'm a developer and can build my own stuff, but, moreover, because they all add on extra stuff that I don't need. And so, like I said, the for the longest time my event sites were a single homepage here's all of the details, and then a registration page, and with that comes the registration confirmation page, and then we have the broadcast page where you're actually watching the live virtual broadcast, the swag page and the recordings page, and sometimes those two were together here's all the swag and the recordings, and so there aren't that many pages going on, and so I don't need all of the bells and whistles that many of the event platforms bring. And so I had a basic WordPress site with a simple form to handle registration, and, because I'm me, I could wire up that form to be user registration and not just a contact form. And I say because I'm me, but that's actually also a trick that most of the WordPress form plugins provide is like oh, you want to have user registration? Do you want to have user generated content, where it creates a post based on what they fill in? And so I have a simple form that creates a user account and I ask the most pressing questions that I need and I try to create as little friction as possible.

So, for the longest time, my registration form what's your name and your email address? Submit, perfect, you're in. Add this to your calendar. We'll send you email reminders. You don't need to do anything else. You don't even have to know what your password is, because when I authenticated the pages or restricted the pages, I would authenticate just on email address alone, not passwordless magic link login stuff, because I tried that and people would get stuck because they're trying to watch from their iPad and they don't have their email on that iPad or something like that. And so I'm like, okay, we're just we're going to ask you for your email address and if we find it in the database, you're in, no further questions, and then we can also pass that email address through the URL. So when we send you an email to say, hey, the sessions are starting now, we know your email, because we're sending you an email, we pass that into the URL. You click the link, you're automatically authenticated. We don't even ask for that.

And so from the attendee perspective, they're like, hey, it's starting now Click the link Boop, and then they're watching the broadcast. And the broadcast page is the video as big as is reasonable to fit on the page, with captions directly beneath that and the call out to join us in chat on Slack right beneath that, and then here's the full schedule of events repeated for them. So if they hey, if you forget what's going on, just scroll down below the video. You'll see the full schedule and then scroll right back up and keep watching. They don't have to go anywhere else or do anything else once they're on the broadcast page. And that can just be right. We don't need any fancy tech to do that. We've embedded a video, we've embedded an iframe with captions and we've created links and just put plain text on the page. I mean, I style it to be nice and pleasing to look at, but right, it's just, it's text Like there's no complicated technology going on there.

And then I pour the rest of my time into getting the audience engaged in the conversation, and I've also put a lot of time into working with speakers to pre-record their talks.

That's probably my other secret sauce for running my events, and I've had some custom tools developed for me so that speakers can capture their screen and their camera and their microphone simultaneously but separately, so that we have full control over the layout and any editing that needs to happen before that talk goes live to the audience, and that reduces so so much overhead and possible complexity when running a virtual event. It's no longer a question like is the speaker going to be sick? Is their power out? Did they lose internet? Did their computer crash? Like all of that's gone? Do we have their video? Yes, does it play? Yes, done. We've answered both of those questions and also the complexity of, like, what happens if a speaker goes long and they don't respect the time boundaries Gone. We know exactly how long their talk is, and so now we can adjust the schedule in advance or we can work with them to cut things that shouldn't be there or any other number of problems so Fantastic.


Do you have any parting thoughts on the future of stellar events? What will continue to make them shine above all others?


I think if event organizers continue to focus on what they want for the outcome and what singular outcome they're most looking forward to, they will find that their events are a success Like the more specific you can be in defining what your desired outcome is, the easier it is to orchestrate everything else towards that end.


Thanks for listening to this episode of Make it Kickass. We hope you found it entertaining and helpful. If hosting 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 Kickass is a production of Kickass Conferences, an 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.