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 Kickass together. Hi everyone, and welcome back to another fabulous episode of Make it Kickass. I'm Isaac Watson and I am so excited to be joined here today by the illustrious Nessa Jimenez and our special guest, gary Hirsch, who I've known for a number of years and I'm excited to bring him in. Let me tell you a little bit about Gary. Per his official website, Gary Hirsch is the co-founder of On your Feet, which is a collision of art, business and science that designs and delivers groundbreaking interactive experiences for the world's most innovative brands through trainings, events, retreats, team sessions, innovation workshops and more.
Now, on top of that, gary is a renowned artist, illustrator and muralist, with public works featured in numerous US and international cities. Gary also has over 20 years of teaching and improv experience, has drawn over 90,000 robots now and, fun fact, I was scrolling Instagram the other day and someone that I follow I think does not live anywhere near here made a trip to New Orleans and took a photo in front of none other than one of Gary's murals, which, if you know his style, stands out because it is so quintessentially Gary. Gary Hirsch, thank you for being here. We're happy to have you here, Hi sir.::
Thank you, Do you really think they went? They didn't go just to see that mural? I bet they stumbled into it by mistake. That would be my guess, but I still that makes me smile.::
for sure they may have, but I immediately I could do nothing but comment and be like that's my friend Gary's mural. That's cool.::
That happens. I have them around, and sometimes this happens and it does always make my day when people connect me to the work, so that's very cool. I'm excited to be here. You guys, Thanks for having me Awesome.::
Yeah, thanks for being here. So through your work, we know that you say that you help clients create, relate and communicate. So how does improv play a part in that, how does it help you achieve that and why is improv so important to you?::
Well, that's the sweet spot. I started this work over I think it's around 28 years ago and it just happened because I was, and still am, an improv performer. I got a huge amount of delight of making instant stories in front of an audience with other people. And even if you just think about that idea, which is you've got people get up on stage and they have no plan and they have no script and they have to figure out how to work together to create something for this expected audience. And when I started to do this work, it was a really quick discovery. It wasn't just me, it was what the people I was working with. We were like where else could this be useful? Was kind of the question.
And the improv dynamics are completely in play in any kind of an office, business, any group setting where people have to make things and be in relation with each other, and so what improvisers do? Those behaviors became really interesting to us and on your feet, and we just started experimenting with it. How could you use this when people get together who need new ideas, or how can you use this when you're getting leaders together to develop a strategy? And it was through experimentation. We're like, wow, it works and it's fun, which most of these kind of conversations and settings aren't, so that's an added benefit because you end up smiling. So that's kind of how we use it.::
So what is the magic there, though? What is it about improv that actually creates these little moments? I mean, I've witnessed this in seeing some of the work that you've done. I've had similar experiences in other settings. What is that special sauce that makes it so fantastic?::
Yeah Well, the idea of improv gets categorized, so that's like an entertainment form. That's whose line is it anyway. A lot of people are like, oh, I could never do that. I'd like to go watch it, but, god forbid, I actually would do it.
But the things that it has deep roots in are things like interactivity, co-creation, experience. So you guys work on conferences, right. So it's like when you go to a conference and if you go to potentially a typical which I know you don't create conference where essentially designers of this experience or they don't think about as experience, they're like let's have an agenda, let's see how many speakers we can get and let's see how much information we can get through the small hose into the brains of the people who are out in the audience. So you're thinking about improv and thinking about colliding let's say, a conference with improvisation. You start to think about things like the special sauces experience, get people to learn through doing the special sauces, interactivity, connect people with each other.
Those are still things that happen on the improv stage. We've just used it in an applied way. So I think the special sauce is you make things with other people that are unexpected, surprising and memorable. You can take those same skills and foundations and design things with it. So, for example, instead of just starting right away with let's get started, you can start by saying let's connect you with each other first, so you know who you're in the room with. Just that simple thing can make a massive difference. That does come from deep improv roots that then get brought into this world.::
So when you talk about co-creation and collaboration, what do you mean when you say that? And when you bring it to events, what are other ways that you bring it? Because you're right, I think that when you talk about improvisation, I'm like, yeah, that's great to watch. I'd never do it. So how do you break through that wall that people have?::
Well, so it's great. It's kind of like so if people know they're coming to train with us, they typically get wind of the fact that we use improv as part of our methodology and you have to do some things in the room really quickly to help people be able to access it, and part of it is to do what you've just done, which is to kind of voice. You can't pretend like people want to do this. You can't come in and go think I've seen this. You can't come in and go like hey guys, this is going to be really great and really fun and you're going to do improv. People are like running for the doors, so instead you have to say things like all right, here's what you should know about us. We do these things and we work with improv.
And here's what happens when we say the word improv, most people in the room either feel two emotions. They feel dread or fear, which immediately, actually, people in the room will go. Oh yeah, I do. And then you say well, tough luck, because we're doing it anyway. And literally that realization that they know that we know that this is actually weird and hard potentially, and we're aware of it. First of all, that makes a huge difference.
Second thing you do is you have people do something immediately. That is really that doesn't hurt. That's actually like wait, I just did this. That's the thing I've been so afraid of. So here's an example of it. And again, it all depends on objectives. We design to objectives, and these are business objectives. This is not like hey, fun day, now pay us for it. It's like no, we actually need to come up with three new ideas for a strategy for our campaign. I'm just you know that's a generic one, but to do that, you have to connect the people in the room first, and so the way to do that is there's many different methodologies or different experiences, but there's one that I love and I'm really in love with, and I'm happy to even have to do it with you really quick if you want. Is that a yes?::
Oh, that's for work. Wait, fear and dread.::
Fear and dread. So good, we're going to do it anyway. All right, here's what we're going to do, and we'll try to remember this because it has a bit of a visual component. But since we're doing this through audio and visual, we'll try both. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to think of two things in your life that are your favorites. So, favorite anything. You eat, something you like to eat, you like to do someone you really like. It doesn't matter what they are, just two of your favorites. Get them into your brain and then I'll hub with that. So, isaac, what are your two favorites?::
My dog Zeus Zeus, dog Zeus and popcorn.::
Popcorn Great and Nessa. How about for you?::
I thought of K-pop and my two nieces.::
Awesome. Ok, so here's what we might do. And imagine this is in a room full of 200 people and they've written these things down. The first thing we would do would be like, all right, you're not going to improvise, oh no, god, terrible, and you have them, just literally write them down, turn them and show them to as many people as they can in two minutes. So there's this massive speed date that happens and you're supposed to have these little micro conversations. So you two might be like, oh my God, k-pop, yeah, I love BTS, me too. Move on, right. It might just be like that quick. So people do this and the room is just full of people talking about themselves, things they know really well, nothing scary here, that's easy. Then you go freeze and you have them pair up, which is easy because you two are now a pair, and here's what you tell them. And again, we'll get to the objectives in a minute. We're just going to give you the experience. You're going to play it.
So I want you to take things off of your list and combine them with things off of your partner's list. So, to remind you, isaac, you've got Zeus, your dog and popcorn, and now you've got K-pop and your two nieces. So you're going to combine things off of each other's list and here's the goal. We're going to come up with, made up products and services that do not exist in the world by doing I will give you an example just from your list Wow, there are millions of them, right? So, for example, you're going to come up with a K-pop-themed popcorn that, when it pops, it does little riffs. These don't have to be actually practical. It does little riffs of you know of K-pop songs. So, whatever the hell, that is because I don't know. That's an example that does not exist in the world, so it counts, right?::
So let's see what you got.::
Let's see if you've got anything else that shows up. You've got again Zeus popcorn, k-pop, nieces.::
I was going to say like a line of clothing, like K-pop clothing for your pets, for your dogs, Completely.::
Like already you can be like oh my god seriously, I know we're messing around, but that actually could work.::
Yeah, I know People that will buy that.::
Definitely. Yeah, yeah, good one, isaac. Do you get anything else that shows up from that?::
Like kind of like a doggy play date, but for the little kids, so they can go play with other people's dogs.::
Oh right, so you get your nieces and you sort of pair them. It's almost like a rental moment. So for these families that don't really want to have a dog but their kids are bugging them for them which that's got to be a market somewhere Excellent. So then you've played this game and so here's the thing we might say around this and improv Already, we'd say things like that's it, you've improvised because you've co-created.
You asked about co-creation. That's it. Co-creation is where two people, under the right conditions, can make something that they couldn't make by themselves, and that is exhilarating and that is surprising, which we don't often experience in a work setting. Exhilaration and surprise. Now this seems like fun and weird and whatever, but actually the behaviors that have shown up from it are useful. So here's what you did. You were a little vulnerable because you shared with us a little bit of your favorites. That's taking an idea that's in your head or something about you and you put it out into the world, and then sometimes we'll have them, like I said, what people literally write it down and talk.
So there's this huge sort of market of ideas, and then what you did, was you did the thing that Steve Jobs talks about, which is like there's really no new ideas anymore.
There's just new combinations. And you did it, you created with each other in a non-judgmental way. You were just curious with each other. So we can extrapolate these behaviors and go all right. That's that game, which, by the way, is memorable. People don't forget when they do things like that. Now let's look at the things you're working with. What are the ideas you have around? The problem, the issue, the challenge, the new strategy for the ad campaign, and so behaviors going.::
Yeah. So this moment I love that you said the word vulnerable, because I was also thinking about vulnerability here you have, like you've caught us up in this little brainstorming activity and a way to connect with each other. That kind of audience engagement is something that a lot of event people are seeking right these moments where we have these shared experiences, we can co-create, we can riff off of each other, that kind of stuff. At some point we're going to stop talking about the pandemic I think we're probably five years off from that but talk to me a little bit about how you've seen audience engagement change since the start of the pandemic, because it was such a socially isolating experience for all of us. It's been a massive rollercoaster, lots of emotions, lots of all kinds of stuff. But in your work specifically, how do you has it changed? How you approach people, the types of vulnerability you're teasing out? Talk to us a little bit more about that.::
It's fun. I was talking to somebody today and they were like and we were he sort of wasn't joking, he's like is it over? Because that really is a question. Like it hits so suddenly with such a demarcation of like now, but we are just in this kind of nebulous fade out, maybe, phase and I think that's really significant. I mean, I personally, the reason I do this work, is because it helps people feel differently. I really do care about business and I do care about what their products are trying to make and their challenges, but really I care about the people and so you're.
It's a good question and, I think, the pandemic. We have no idea yet how this is impacting us in an emotional and our mental wellbeing, I believe. But when it comes to this work, what I noticed was one thing we thought we were done because we were an experiential company. We were about getting in the room with people and doing things and really thank goodness for my business partner, brad Brad Robertson, who were co-partners, co-owners of the business he was like no, I don't think we're done, I think we can do something with this, and he teamed up with our with a behavioral psychologist that we work with and worked on how to do this, on Zoom, and the thing is they developed this idea called ACE, acknowledge, connect Explorer, and it's psychologically from the science.
Part of this is what people need it and still do right now. They need to be able to acknowledge their current reality and over COVID it was like a current reality sucks for the most part and, again, not everybody, which I'm reminded of. Some people like this is awesome I am home with Zeus, I don't have to leave, it's like you know. So, again, that's not everybody's experiences are the same, but you need to acknowledge you have to let people socialize around it. Here's what's happening for me right now you can create experiences for that you know. Go find an object or represents how you're feeling at this moment. Throw it up in the screen, like you can create interactivity even in that experience and the environment. Sorry, go ahead.::
Do you find that they're like the virtual component of things as as distance and as kind of walled off as the screen and our cameras are what you just described as something you can't really do in person, which is to essentially invite everybody else into your home and into your space? Did that like? Did you see different ways of how people were relating to each other through that? Totally?::
Yeah, I mean, the killer with this is that they can just turn the cameras off, which then then get you know. Then that's the end. But so there's a little bit navigating around that. But absolutely think about. So here's how improvisers, this is how improv comes back.
Improvises think anything that happens on stage is they call it an offer. So if I get up on stage and I trip or if I'm wearing shorts, it doesn't matter what it's an offer, it's just like what's the offer here? How can we use it? That's what improvisers think, because they have to generate things immediately. So be able to turn a camera on in someone's living room is a different offer than how they got dressed up to come to the board meeting. That's a second offer. So suddenly you get to especially if you experience people in both environments you get to expand the width of offers you have about another human being in your world. I mean, isaac, you got things on the wall back there. I did the zoom. This is fantastic. I did the zoom.
This guy had this picture of this like look like something out of the seventies, but this woman just eating a pancake and sausage on his back wall. I was like what the hell is that? And I said, and everyone else goes, you don't know what that is. I was like no, because I'm not pop culturally savvy. That was Ron Swanson from Parks and Recs poster of the woman like his like, right, so like, suddenly and this guy, by the way, did not present as the Ron Swanson fan, like he was just, or this person right, like.
So you learn, there's the offers become. It's an exchange of offers, though, because you lose the offer of being in the physical space, getting the mirror neuron connection, but you gain offer of being able to see physical space of their own personalized space. So you've got offer exchange. That happens different, not the same. You can't treat them the same, so you have to utilize the offer that's there. I mean look, breakout rooms in zoom. I keep pump, pimp in zoom because all the other platforms, whereas I can tell don't let you do all this stuff. But zoom, you can just kind of go, hey, go have a three minute conversation and come back about X, boom, pair them up, they do it, they come back. That's cool. There's like a do it that. But you can't do it for too long because this interface, over time I think it does kill brain cells. Actually I just feel like it.::
I feel, stupid, and so is there anything that you learned from this period of the pandemic times that you're now applying as you, as you've come back to in person events and things like that? Yeah, totally Like you know what I really miss is chat.::
So like I miss being able to go because here's the here's, there's good and bad, right, like here's the thing. You, when we do things, we often debrief them. So let's just take that same experience we just did. One thing I would do would be if we did this in a room full of people. I would say, well, tell us the new business and services that you got right. So let's imagine there's 200 people doing this instead of just the two of you.
Well, in real life, people raise their hands and you hear a few and it's great and you get to interact and banter with them. But man on zoom, you just kind of go put it in the chat and then you can be like 200 new ideas. So I've actually requested like, can we still? And of course now and you guys know this better than I, when it comes to conference technology, I'm a moron, but every time I go to one and there's a good conference organizer and good tech person, like you guys are, I learn more. So, yeah, of course there's like word cloud apps now, and you can be like what do you think? And you're in?
So some of that stuff. That is, that coming together is kind of interesting and kind of cool. The other thing that I think that's true about live events, though, is you can feel people craving that connection, and, yes, it's different now. I think that, and the guy that runs WordPress was doing this before the pandemic. He was like we're going to have people be 75% remote, 25% when they come together live, but when they come together live, it's criminal to do anything you could do remotely.
So do not do the PowerPoint update when we're all hanging out. This is where for us there's actually an advantage connection and acknowledgement and storytelling with each other. Things that you just can't really do remotely are going to be even that much more important, and if people can grok it, we'll be busy, which will be really cool because you can help. Yeah, yeah, yeah.::
Fantastic. So, on the flip side, have you noticed any mistakes that you've seen clients make, either before they've brought you in to support on something or as you're going through a process with them that you would say serve as warnings to other people to look after?::
Yeah, well, who am I to say that's a mistake? But I think, because everything's an offer, right, yeah, it's an offer, good point. Or I'm also very interested in just experimenting and trying stuff. But here's one though I think I feel like I'm a bit of a broken record on, because typically and I'm just going to stick with events because it feels like we're talking about that, so, and you'll appreciate this, I think typically what happens is a client will call and they'll say we want to do an event and here's the agenda, so they've already just leapfrogged into. And the reason they've done that good reasons for it is because they or someone above them, their boss, has been like we need to do these five things, so let's go do it.
And the big tip that I think mistake, I don't know. I think it's a mistake because I actually think you get what happens is you get drugged down the sort of tactical wormhole of how are we going to get all this done? But they forget an incredibly important step. So I think there's a step before that, which is the objectives step, and the way I think about objectives is I put it into sort of noun language what are you, they, your audience? So you have to get audience focused immediately, which to me is the key to everything.
Focus on the needs and issues of your audience, everything will become clear. Yes, you want to do things. There's things that you need to get done. But think about it this way what do you want them to walk out with and articulate it and tell them often and early, and do it as nouns. So I want you to walk out with an ability to new information, about confidence in. So if you create those things, then you ask yourself, well, what do I need to, what needs to happen in the conference for that to occur? Well, ability to, I'll have to train them in PowerPoint or whatever. Probably not that. So that means that's going to be on my agenda.
It's how you build an agenda. You think about your objectives, what needs to happen, and that's how it works. So people forget the objective step and then they overpack their agendas because the boss comes in at last minute and says, oh my God, we have to show this deck too. And there's no. If it doesn't fit in the objectives, don't do it, or change the objectives to fit it. So this is kind of an ongoing thing and it seems really obvious to me. But then I have to get off my high course and just help people understand it.::
I think we're right there with you. We have a similar frustration when we see clients come to us with a lot of decisions already made about either the program or even you know they've booked a venue and committed to dates and they haven't really done that strategic legwork of who is this for? Why are we doing this? What are we wanting them to take away from it? All of that is really critical information to start with, and that's the stuff that we love to help co-create with our clients right, and I'm sure you do too.::
You said something really important which seems so obvious to us, because we're like in our own little bubble here, but the idea of think about it as a triangle. I think in any let's call it say conference or presentation, you've got your presenter or the people doing it, your content and the audience. So those are your three apexes of a triangle. Typically, what happens is the people who are doing it think a lot about the content. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, we got it. Okay, who's going to be the speaker? Who's going to be the speaker? Do you know anybody that? I've heard that question a thousand times. And then they download their fire hose of content to their audience.
And there's this other part of the triangle, which is the presenter, the people organizing it and the audience. They should be being massively curious. What do these people need? And I need to articulate it to them. So they should say here's what I know about you before they start. And then they say, based on that, here's what you're going to walk out with. So the thing that's obvious to us is audience, audience, audience focused. It is not obvious to people because people are worried and they're scared, and when they're worried and scared, they do what they think they're supposed to be doing and they forget about the dynamics between the audience and themselves, and I think that's really fun to help them with, actually, yeah.::
And I think, like for us, at least for me, when we work with people that do that, especially the oh, we have to add this in, Like just ask them why. And if they can't answer, why, like that's when it's a great time to have that conversation Like okay, so if you don't know why you want to do this, like presenting this to the audience, they're going to know even less about why this matter was just.::
I'm like, hold me to where. It's like yeah.::
Exactly, I completely agree. Okay, so I have one final kind of wildcard question for you that's surfaced up out of a couple weeks of conversations between Nessa and I and a couple of our other guests, as we've been recording these how I think, especially coming out of the pandemic or being whatever this question, pandemic, question mark thing is, I feel like there is this, this continual drive for us to figure out how to be more human in the face of a more and more anti-human world, society, economy, whatever you want to call it. How, in your vision or dream or brain, can we make events more human?::
I think it's such a great just bandwagon to hop on. I'm completely with you. I literally that's language I use with almost everything I do, which is how can we have people feel more human with each other now?::
How can we do that in this experience, this event.::
Here's one way to think about it Create moments of the unknown. Don't program everything. Create structures that allow for freedom, right. So here's something we'll do. I've done this before and it's a high wire act, but I really think it helps. So we will get up sometimes to be the interstitial experience between speakers. Right, you got 20 minutes of this person and then there's 20 minutes coming, but we're in between. We might pop up and say all right, audience, you're going to vote right now because you can have one of four things. You can have a connection experience right now. We get to meet more people in this audience. You can learn something new because we've got some content and we know some things. You can reflect, which nobody spends time doing, on the things you've already heard. Or you can just get some play and energy Vote, scream, yell, throw paper, I don't care, that's an easy mechanism.
And then you give it to them so you can create more humanity by creating more things that can emerge. Can you create structures that allow emergence Right? Can you have people who can kind of go hold on a second? We actually program 30 minutes here, not just for Q and A, but we're going to put each speaker that has been here already around the room and you get to kind of rotate and walk and just see what shows up with them. It's nothing like. Can you let go of some control? I think allowing for more humanity, that would be the short answer.::
That is fantastic. I think that I would especially advocate for that in a virtual setting as well. I think one thing that a lot of people have realized with the return to in person is how much room there is for that serendipity and that freedom of choice outside of the program. I think building that into the program is also important and I think if there are ways that we can continue to facilitate that for online events, that's going to help them become even more personal, more vulnerable. I hear you.::
Look, the thing that I think is missing, that we can create the best things that happen in conferences or at the edges. You know this right. It's like, yeah, they're in the main room, but when you're out there getting the snack and run into the person that changes your life, or the breaks are really where it's all hot. That's where it all comes down. How do you recreate that in a way that works virtually? That's still a challenge.::
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 Kickass 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.