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. Welcome back. We are here with another episode of Make it Kickass. I am joined by Nessa Jimenez, operations Manager. Hey, nessa.::
Hi Isaac, hi everyone.::
And I am Isaac. As you know, some people call me event sady, and you can too and we are here with a follow up episode to our interview with Brian Richards, which was our last episode. So if you haven't heard that, head back there and listen to it first, because it will make a lot more sense that way. It was fascinating conversation with Brian. I think this was the first opportunity that we've had to get a little more in the weeds on the production side of things with a guest for this season, and so we talked a little bit about event technology and how to serve an attendees needs from a technological perspective, talked a little bit about virtual events and things like that. So I'm excited to follow up on a couple things with that, and so I'm curious like what stuck out to you, nessa, from that conversation. Was there anything major that you were like, oh, I hadn't thought of that before.::
Well, I mean, first of all, I really appreciate that he has experience with online events before COVID. I think that's a very helpful perspective. I think something that stood out immediately from that is this idea of keeping it simple, avoiding complexity, streamlining as much as possible. Yeah, and I know that you and Brian have talked about this before, because he is a fan of like keep it simple, keep it simple.::
Yes, you know, and I think I've always admired how streamlined his technology is and the stack that he uses and everything.
But it was funny.
I almost called him out in the episode and I will just say I do not mean to like throw him under the bus by any means.
I think he will appreciate this, but in the past he has told me that he is a by default, a lazy person and he qualifies that by saying, um, he's like, ultimately, like I don't want the efforts that I go to to do something to go to waste, and so he tries to be very efficient with his time and to focus on what leaves the most impact.
And I think that comes through in what he was saying about keeping the production process and the programming as simple as possible, because you can have the highest impact that way. If you are really, uh, putting a lot of scrutiny around your uh, the amount of time that it's going to take to do something against, uh, the potential payoff for that going well, then you can make sure you're balancing that, um, that workload in a way that's going to have the most impact on the attendees, and I think that that's really important. I mean, as I mentioned in the episode. We've fallen into that trap before, where we either are over programmed to the event or we went a little over complicated on things and it ends up just introducing a little bit too much chaos, I think efficiency is the key.::
I mean, I'm not a fan of measuring the quality of something based on the time spent on it. The quality really is the impact that it has, right? And so when he says he's lazy, I've heard it said that lazy people are the best at, uh, figuring out how to do things the most efficiently, because they don't want to spend a whole bunch of time on it so somebody you want to have on your team and and and it and it shows in the end in the final product.
Right, like just getting to the point focusing on the most important uh payoff at the end.::
Yeah, uh, I was talking to somebody else recently, um, who was saying was this Tara? Uh, when we were talking to her talking about how the second we start, um, using terms like efficiency and optimization and things like that, that those are terms for machines, not for humans. It was Tara, wasn't it?
Yes, it was in her interview with her and that, like that, has stuck with me a bit. Like you know, as someone, as as an elder millennial who derives a lot of personal value from the work product and the productivity and the accomplishment of doing a thing, uh, it takes a lot to kind of separate myself from that notion and to think about. You know, yes, we can have an impact on things. It doesn't necessarily mean we have to break our backs over the efforts we're going to to make that happen.::
And you bring up a good point, though, because efficiency, while, yes, it is like an, an anti human, it has been used in anti human ways. Um efficiency for efficiencies sake versus being efficient in your work to allow you to enjoy your life right.
Cause if you're being efficient to cram more work into your day. What's the point of the efficiency right? The efficiency is for us to do the thing and then have more time with our family and doing things that we enjoy, so that that's a great point. Of efficiency is great, but if we're using it for the right reasons.::
Yeah, and that I think that's the thing that laziness or a lazy approach to things can actually benefit us is that it's not about being efficient so that we can cram more and more into it. It's about being efficient so that we can then take the time to rest, and that's more sustainable. We avoid burnout. That way, we live a more well rounded life. We can prioritize our other values, pursue hobbies, things like that. All of that is important. That's part of what makes us who we are, and if we're simply optimizing for everything all the time, then we're kind of chasing the wrong goal.::
Yeah, optimizing just to do more. Why more Is there a use to the more? Is it adding something better? Is it making things better? Or are we just wanting to add more? Because why not? Right, we got the time, so let's do it, and we're kind of related to that, this idea of the complexity versus simplicity of things, which I appreciate. I think it ties into sort of the tech side of things and a big takeaway from our conversation. What I was hearing from Brian is the best technology really is the technology that gets out of the way.::
Right and we want it to open doors to opportunities to access versus being an obstacle to accessing those things.::
Yeah, I think we it's really easy, it's really easy to overcome. I mean, the whole tech industry wants us to adopt more and more tools and services and platforms and this, that and the other, and, at the end of the day, a lot of it is already too bloated, and so when you start cobbling it together, you're like, ok, well, I'm using this piece for that and this piece for that, but they also do this and there's that, and suddenly you have a tech stack that is like hyper inefficient or requires a bunch of manual effort to integrate with each other. Right, like. You know, what was did we have when we were manually exporting attendee registration data into an event platform to try to generate access codes?
Right it just it turned into a hot mess.::
And it could have been way simpler than that, and and that was just an experience we had where we're like, yeah, that we can fix that next time, make it simpler.::
Yeah, it was supposed to help and it didn't. It made a lot more work, like hours, more of work that we wouldn't have had otherwise, and that, and that's frustrating. And when things go wrong, when the tech goes wrong, I think it can be worse than if we didn't use the tech in the first place.::
Like Brian brought up a simple example of a printer to print out badges at registration, right, mm. Hmm, so if it goes well, ok, you printed the badge, the person moves on. It's not really an added value, nothing's happening there. That's like surprise or delight or amazing. But if it goes wrong and you've got somebody standing there five to 15 minutes while you're fighting with the printer, you're getting frustrated, you're trying to figure out, you're trying to fix it. That has added immediately a negative experience because they're annoyed that like they've got to stand there away and it's not even like what's the big deal. Like you know, I could be doing X, y and Z. So instead of adding, you've actually taken away in an attempt to I don't know use tech for, just to have the tech right, just to use the printer and you think it's so, so, so, slick to use it, and then it ends up making you just look really bad, like you don't know what you're doing.
I think that also applies to swag. So he brought up a great example of thoughtful and useful swag and immediately what came to mind is the wrong swag makes enemies of people, and let me explain that. There's a lot of people that hate swag because it's very wasteful. Eco-friendly people are very anti swag. If they're at an event and they see swag, they will take a picture of it and they'll post it on social media and talk about how it's such a waste. Then this company is awful for doing this. And then a piece of swag turns into like a huge PR nightmare that you could have avoided. And again, it might have been better to not even do the swag for the impact that it was having. It created a much more negative impact than any positivity that it could have gotten.::
Yeah. Yeah, I was thinking about the printer thing and I'm like you know that I'm a fan of a certain kind of thermal label printer. Yes, yes.
But the reason that I'm a fan of it is that it's fast and it's very reliable, Right. And what's interesting like I hear 100% of your brain's viewpoint on this and something that's really important to me in the events we produce is that as much as possible, I want to avoid othering people, making people feel like they are of a different class at the event, and this kind of goes into the topic of virtual versus in-person events and hybrids. But I want that experience to be as equal as possible across all attendees. And in my mind, one of the tiny little experiential things that can affect that is oh, I have a handwritten badge, but you have a printed badge, Right, and so that can raise questions around.
Oh well, were you, were you last minute addition, or did they screw up, Right? Did they print your name badge wrong? Um, or, and it just like it adds some friction to the attendees experience when they're relating to other attendees, and so that's why I I I want to have as, as as much parody as possible across things like badges and, um, those little experiential pieces, to avoid that. Uh, the friction that comes with that other ring, which I think is, is at least really important to me. Now, does it have to be a fancy thermal label printer? No, it doesn't. It could be much simpler than that, Um, but if you are being really intelligent and applying a little bit of laziness to your solution hearing, I think, um, you can find something that's really clever and fairly frictionless.::
And I see your point. But also it's like that phrase what's the phrase? The forest for the trees, right, like, like if? If you're getting so stuck on that one thing that it's making you miss the whole context of everything else we have to do for the event, like that that you've we've messed up.::
So I totally understand about wanting to parody and all of that good stuff, but I do think at the end of the day you have to get to a point where you're like this is just silly, you know this is just we encountered that last year, um, with an event, uh, that we did in New Orleans where we had badge blanks, and there came the question Okay, are we going to preprint these badges, how are we going to deal with late registrations, things like that?
And ultimately we decided that, in the effort of simplicity and, quite honestly, a little bit of laziness, um, we were going to just have all attendees hand right and then decorate their own badges, because this was an opportunity for them to get a little creative. Um, they can share whatever name they want to be called by. Um, they can put a little personality into them, into their badge, and that helps spark relationships and conversations and things like that. And it takes the tech out of it entirely right, and that worked to our benefit and people loved it. We had sticker sheets and markers and all kinds of stuff that added a little bit of fun and some activity to something that could have otherwise been over complicated.::
And that's an example of where simplicity benefited both sides. So it benefited the attendees because they had that fun little experience, and it benefited us as the production side because we had less to do right it's simplified our work, but I think, um, we always want to make sure that it's as simple as possible for the attendees side, even if it does add more complications to us, right? I think that that with the badges, that was just like a happy little kismet right Of. Like both things. Both sides got benefit from it.::
Um yeah. Um good.::
Oh, I was just going to say, even from a production side, talking about simplicity, because a lot of the things we talked about with Brian focused on the attendee experience and again, like, yes, we always want it to be more simple for them, but from a production side, not necessarily are the tools going to make production easier for us. Like, sometimes it does get in the way, like the example you mentioned about the access codes and all that stuff that sometimes just the Google sheet or a spread is street is the answer Sometimes, you know, and it makes everybody's life better.::
I think it's helpful to think about especially your event technology from a like minimum viable systems standpoint.
Yes, I think that you can apply a lot of critical evaluation to the tools that are being thrust upon you as like, oh, this is the best event platform in the world. Oh, this is a great registration system. And just take a step back and think what do I need at the bare minimum, and what is the simplest thing that can solve that? Um, and start there, and that way you don't get kind of uh, starry eyed over the bells and whistles of whatever tech platform is trying to throw their features at you. You know absolutely.::
It is very easy to get caught up in the bells, whistles, the shiny object syndrome of all these tools, on all these apps which it's so easy to do. I mean the demos always make everything look so much better and so much more useful and like oh, streamline and awesome. Um, that might not necessarily be helpful in reality.::
It's true, uh, so I want to talk, to spend a little time talking about, um, something Brian brought up, which was this bifurcation of attendees, which I thought was so. Bifurcation is like a split right, um, and he and I had talked about this previously and I'm really glad he brought it up during our interview, um, because I think it signals a significant shift in the way we are conceiving and producing events in 2023 and beyond. So, to recap what he said, he felt that, at least in his space, what he was seeing is that people who are wanting to attend an event to learn from the content are more likely to attend an online event because they're interested in the content. The content is easier to consume, either on demand or piecemeal. They it's cheaper to be educated that way because you don't have to travel, right, you don't have to worry about the expenses there and you can especially from a professional standpoint, you can weave that learning process into your existing workday to some extent.
And then the other side of it that he was talking about was that if people are actually more interested in networking, building friendships, relationships, pursuing career advancements and the more relational side of things, they are more interested in attending events in person because person to person, face to face, interactions tend to be more beneficial for that, and I want to set a hybrid aside from the conversation for a little bit, but I was just really fascinated by that observation that he had because it hadn't really occurred to me and I think he might be onto something Like I think this might be a shift in how we think about whether an event is going to be online or in person, in addition to other factors. But I'd love to know your thoughts on identifying the two audience needs and how we can create something specifically for them.::
I wish I had thought to look up the study because I swear a couple of months ago I read a study that was done that relates to this, where they confirmed that same conclusion where if people want to learn, they'd rather be online and if they want to network, they'd rather be in person. And I feel like that's common sense, because if I just want the content me having control of the content I can play it when I want, where I want. I can speed up the playback. It's just more convenient and it's a better learning experience.
I feel like for most people there's others who are more hands-on, but that's a whole other thing. So it doesn't surprise me at all and it just means that when we're in these early planning stages, it's another factor to think about, it's another criteria to help us make decisions. Is this event about learning, teaching, transferring knowledge, or is this event about connecting, networking, making those business-to-business relationships or getting you that job that you're looking for? I think we just get to add it to the list of considerations and I think it's helpful. I think it kind of simplifies that go-or-no-go decision if online or virtual, because it's pretty clear if something is for educational purposes versus networking purposes. I've never approached an event where we weren't clear on, of those two objectives, which one it was.::
Yeah, and I think that that emphasizes the value of that strategic planning in advance, right, because if you're already deciding what the format of your event is and you don't know what your attendees are actually looking to get out of this, then it's kind of the cart before the horse. I think it's really important to think about your audience's goals. It's something we do with our clients at the very beginning of our project. Is you know what are the client's goals, where do the two intersect and how can we create an event that supports as many of those as possible? Then we figure out what the format should be.::
Right Because that is a tool and a form of distribution. It is not the actual event, it is not the content. Right If it's online or in person. You still have a lot of work to do. That's just one decision of many, you know.::
And the truth is, most events are a mix of both right, and it's about identifying what your highest priority is and which format is going to suit that best, and then how you can weave those other elements into it.::
And they'll continue to be. And just by the nature of social media, the internet, you're always going to want some kind of trace of your event online anyway. So it's not like you're not using any virtual components at all ever. It just adds a couple of other distribution. You know the things that we need to take care of.::
Yeah, especially, I think, as common as it's become to post talk videos online afterward, right, whether those are paywalled or not, the kind of perpetual access to the content changes the way that people approach an in person or a live event, in particular, whether it's online and live or in person and live. Because if they know that there's going to be recordings available, then, for better or for worse, they may choose not to attend a session or to focus their energy on the relationship building, Because that's what's better done in the moment, right, it just depends on on what their goals are.::
It's so weird Now that you mentioned that, though, because I feel like I want to say 10, 15 years ago, there would be conferences and you'd never see those talks. You'd never see those videos online, ever. They just didn't exist. The talk happened. Maybe the speaker recorded it for themselves, for their own purposes, but nobody was thinking about, hey, we should record this and put it online. Nowadays that is totally common and totally expected, but there was a point where you'd have a talk, a whole day of talks, and that's it. It's gone. It was happening and it's done.::
I think at the time that was like a key marketing strategy, right, like develop the FOMO. Nobody knows what happened here except the people in the room, and so you just want people to go out and talk about it, and if you miss the content then you better come next year, you know. But I think that that shifted with. You know, maybe this is the dominance of streaming services, Maybe it is the nature, the growth in the nature of how we consume, like YouTube videos and, and you know all my courses and things, but yeah, but I would also say that the jadedness of the marketing of FOMO and people being burned a few, too many times where they felt the FOMO, and then they showed up and the event was crap and it wasn't anything that they needed, wanted.::
They didn't get anything out of it. So they became jaded and they were like no, I'm not going to you know F the FOMO, show me what you got. I'm not wasting my time on this like weird little tease thing that we've got going on. So the marketing forcing events to actually put up.::
Yeah, it puts a lot more pressure on the organizers to deliver Of course, but.::
But at the end of the day, it pushes us towards better quality, because now you're not going to get away with being good at the tease, being good at the oh, you check out what I got over here and you're actually forced to show me quality content, show me resources, show me things that I actually need and want.::
So, moving on to from tech to production, I really appreciate, like I said before, that he has experienced this virtual events before. It was a cool thing because I feel like he's in a position of having a long term experience and long term like 20, 20 vision, if that makes sense, like knowing what worked back then and applying that to the place we find ourselves now. And I want to talk about first this thing and we've been guilty of it of trying to do too much in a virtual event.
So what are your, what are your thoughts on that?::
I mean it goes back to the laziness factor, right, like I think you have to be. I think a lot of people who host events or organize events they treat their event a little too preciously, like they think a little too highly of it, like, oh, if people come they're all in right, like you just like you're a little oversold on the on your own value, and it's easy to do it, especially as an indie organizer like you can get your ego wrapped up in it, and I get that.
You get high on your own supply. Yeah, you do. And I feel like you just have to take a step back and, like, put yourself in your attendees shoes and say, look, you know, if I were, if I were attending a virtual event today, how much energy and time and commitment would I have for it?
if it was not my own thing and think through like meal schedules and other responsibilities. Am I checking in on work? Am I you know how's my energy level? How long can I sit in my desk chair before I need to stand up and walk around and play to that? Like that's your strength in being able to play to those needs effectively. Longer breaks communication, like we learned really quickly.
when you have a break, people need to know exactly how much time they have left right, get a count on clock on the screen Because they're not actively tracking a schedule in the same way, making time for stretching or different kinds of activities, all kinds of things that you can do to cater to participating online in a way that keeps energy up, that keeps their brains engaged, that keeps them excited and gives them the space to do what else they need to do, so that they can focus attention on it.
And I think you know if you're trying to cram too many things into it, you're doing them a disservice. I think this is part of the reason why I've always been an advocate for a single track conference over a multi-track conference.::
Yes, I've never been a fan of the whole multi-track thing.::
Brian was talking about the burden of decision and I think that it's it's too much. It's just too much. I mean, like you know, sure, I was just at a conference that was multi-track and had 200 sessions over three days, and that's overwhelming. First of all, to pick your schedule, but then, like what if there are two sessions you want to go to at the same time, Like you? Just, you have to make a choice and then you feel you're constantly questioning if you made the right one, right.::
Right, yeah, you feel bad either way.::
Yeah, exactly. And then you're like sitting in the session and you're like, oh, this was garbage, Damn it. I wish I'd gone to the other one. Right, yes, Right.::
No, totally. And then that's like it's a disservice to the speaker as well, because you're not paying attention to them. You're thinking about you know what you could have been doing, where you could have been hanging out. Yeah, I think for me multi-track doesn't work, because it's just too many decisions, too much worrying about. You know, should I be here, what should I do? What's the best? Once you put them in a position where they're having to choose which of these is better, that's just rough on top of all the other stuff I'm trying to do. And that doesn't even count people who are neurodivergent, right, or they have other things that they need to stay aware of to be able to participate in an event fully. Yeah, I want to stay away from that kind of stuff.::
Yeah, I think the other thing that I really appreciate that he said and this was a soapbox we stood on for a long time and still do is virtual events, trying to imitate in-person experiences.::
And they're still trying to do it. I'm just like why, when have you been?::
Yeah, it is not literally a virtual event, it's an online event. That's a key. One of our clients pushed us on that nomenclature, which I thought was really helpful to think of it, as this was a different type of event entirely. This isn't a virtual facsimile of an in-person event and you can't achieve the same things. Brian was talking about the hallway track. Right, this is this common theme that when you go to an event, it's often in the liminal spaces, the margins, when you are making connections with people and having great conversations, and those are really hard to recreate online, because, as an attendee, I'm staring at a screen all day instead of being surrounded by a room of people or moving around physically in a space, and so we have to let go of certain aspects of that that we cannot reproduce, because just trying to mimic this stuff is not really possible, right?::
And with online there's the burden of making the first move on every attendee, whereas in person you could just be standing there in the hallway, something funny happens or something silly, something unexpected, and boom, that's your open to start talking to anybody, right? Whereas online you're having to consciously approach someone in a way that is more forced and more intentional and that can also be more intimidating than that hallway strategy of in person.::
I am such a fan of just human connections and supporting and encouraging each other. Right, I was at a conference recently and I'm walking from the expo floor over I think I was headed back to my room or something and I see a woman who had just finished a leading a session. She had the most amazing jumpsuit on, like bright colored, looked immaculate on her, and I couldn't help myself but walk up to her, tap her on the shoulder and say I'm sorry, I have no idea who you are. I was just walking by, but you look amazing.::
Yeah, there you go, and did you like take a smile on her face.::
Oh, thank you so much. I was like I want that jumpsuit. She's like, well, I'll tell you where you can get it right, and that was it. And then we walked away and like I wasn't trying to make like a professional connection with her, I was just trying to be a human being and give someone else a compliment, and that is something that in my mind, in person, like you can really only do that in an in-person space.
I don't know how else you would do that through an online event, right, I mean maybe they're doing it online is creepy, though.::
Somebody just said you DM and they're like I like your jumpsuit and you're like eww.::
Oh, now I will say remember, we were doing an event two years ago and we had pre-recorded the talks and one of the speakers was wearing this like yellow dress. Oh, I remember. Yeah, so in the live chat when her video started playing everybody was like oh my God, brittany, that dress is impact like amazing fire.::
And so you get some of that. Yes, but like they all had to see her, like you can't do that with another attendee because you don't know what they look like.::
But again that happened in like a chat in a group setting. If you're DMing somebody to give them a compliment online, that is creepy and weird.::
Especially if you're a stranger.::
So it doesn't necessarily work, because I can't read your body language and your tone and all these kinds of things. I just see this text and I'm going to interpret it as creepy. Yeah, that's what it says. So there definitely is a learning curve, a gap. I think maybe one day we can get to a point where it's not creepy or it's easier to have those quote unquote hallway conversations in an online setting. But for now, right now, it requires attention and it requires intentionality, which is why, when we've done our online things, I've hosted networking events right when I am, purposely there to facilitate these conversations and starting these conversations for people when they don't have that, like Kismet, random happy stances in the online setting.
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 and event strategy and design agency, serving leaders of growing communities.