Ten things Kissing With Confidence learned from hosting a conference for 200+ delegates last week.
There are environmental, financial and cultural reasons why virtual events will be a big part of our future. You can bring international colleagues together quickly, cheaply, without stamping your size ten footprints on the planet and jet wash the patio at coffee break. Time difference challenges don’t vanish, but negotiation is around start and finish times, not opportunity cost and jet-lag. Michael got up at 5am recently to deliver a pitching masterclass to lawyers in New York, Washington, Tokyo, Singapore, Dusseldorf, Madrid, Paris, London, Amsterdam and Dublin.
REMO is a terrific platform for conferences and we know our onions, having delivered on WebEx, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Teams, Google Meet and even an awayday on the Bevy! We went for a dual-tech, REMO/ZOOM mashup to provide the best delegate experience for this event. Remo showcases how to ‘work a room’ and table hop virtually; Zoom is terrific for breakouts, is more visual and tactile, with the opportunity for multiple seminar tracks, like a real conference venue.
‘VIRTUALLY YOURS: How to Win at Zoom’ was delivered from Ardfern, Tunbridge Wells and Glasgow on 19 January to a global audience. Here are ten things we learned
ONE: IT’S NOT LIKE BOOKING A REAL VENUE
Change your mindset. Envisioning physical conferences of the past boxes you in and curtails creativity. In January 2020 we got 80 into The Lighthouse in Glasgow and, if you thought nothing had changed, it would be ridiculous to expect over 200 delegates at a conference in January we only gave the green light to in November.
In the face of some resistance I insisted on January rather than February, chapeau to the team for making it happen.
Now we are planning a series of events, marketed globally, that we expect large numbers at. This is entirely new thinking.
- It is unhelpful to envision physical conference venues at the early planning stage
- Think big, truncate your timescales, take risks
- Know what’s available, debate your options, decide quickly
TWO: HAVE AN IN HOUSE EXPERT
Last summer I had a stressful speaker experience, stuck outside a virtual room where 250 delegates were waiting. No one had a clue how to get me in because there was no tech expert on hand. Eventually I lucked out and found a virtual back door.
Do not rely solely on the fast-talking youngster from the platform talking to you over the ether from San Diego, camera off. Michael and Julie are our go-to people for all things tech. From the outset, Michael has known what facilitators need to know to be effective. In fact, he obsesses about it. This is fine by me. Julie, helped by Greg and Ciara, knows everything else and if not she knows someone who does. Yvonne was in on the REMO planning discussions to add some heft: a dream team.
When you are having an event for 200 in a venue near the train station, 42 minutes from the airport and an hour from the Big Smoke, there is a lot that needs to be right if it’s all to go off smoothly; it’s no different virtually. Waiting for 200 to appear out of the ether was like wondering if the cool kids will come to your 21st birthday party. You need to have the right venue and do lots of ground-work in the run-up.
- Identify a few key people who love the tech and will willingly become expert
- Encourage them to be evangelists
- Have the REMO tech help on the day, it’s expensive but worth it until you are up to snuff
THREE: DON’T HAVE A TECH TAKE OVER
It’s not about the tech. If the platform experts stage a coup you will have an 11 minute technical intro with more bullets than the gunfight at the OK Corral and a pre-event video where someone with no eye contact mumbles for five minutes.
Michael and I are at different ends of the spectrum in many ways; he wants step by step instructions and I am keen on simply saying, “If you don’t know Zoom by now; you will never, never, never know Zoom at all.” The sweet-spot is in between and we reach that by discussion and debate.
Have a small group discussing fiercely what the tech spec needs to be, but have a non-techy with the final say.
- Bring the tech spec to the group and have trenchant discussion and debate
- The tech spec for speakers is different than that for delegates
- Tell delegates the minimum they need to know and have help on hand throughout
FOUR: NO AMATEURS
When the CEO is introduced at 9am they should look like Emily Maitlis or Huw Edwards reading the news, not the local Mafia Don in witness protection. Every hand over must be as sharp as Martin Sheen’s snappy dialogue with Stockard Channing in West Wing.
We are almost a year in and it must not be amateur hour.
We delivered our first online workshop on the Friday of the March lockdown and our biggest ever Rainmaker programme over May and June; a steep learning curve over three months, stress testing our abilities in a new environment.
Not everyone needs to be an expert and personal environments will be variable, but being competent and professional is not optional. There is no excuse for displaying your double chin, nose hairs or polo shirt you do the gardening in.
- Get the camera at or near eye level; use books to achieve the right height
- Sort out your sound, ideally without headphones, unless you are an Easyjet pilot
- Help everyone to be more professional and cut some slack, but not too much
I have been in the habit of sorting the kitchen 70% every evening, leaving the shitty jobs undone. This meant a joyless morning, with pans under scummy water in the sink and worktops needing wiped. The extra ten minutes it took before bed to come down to a pristine kitchen was time well spent.
Prepare properly before your dress rehearsal. You were not good enough to wing it in the real conference room and virtually you are even more exposed.
Take note of the feedback from your rehearsal and amend your material; you will feel much better being prepared as you see the numbers ticking up rapidly as delegates log in.
- Put notes on the wall behind your screen
- Plan to finish early and you might not go over time
- If you are very good, know that preparation is about your less experienced colleagues
Practise and preparation are not the same.
Nicky and I had a few meetings as our sessions were linked and back-to-back on Zoom, and on our Friday run through I realised my first ten minutes were too close to Michael’s last ten (I think everyone enjoyed seeing me squirm).
Had we left everything until Monday’s dress rehearsal we would have been up against a very tight schedule to get everyone in the right place.
When considering how much team practice to do, think of the weakest link in the chain not the strongest. Some might need more help with material not tech, so look at things from all angles.
- Have a dress-rehearsal on the platform you will be using
- If you don’t own the gig be a pain in the ass to those who do
- Know how to share and what you will do when it inevitably doesn’t work
SEVEN: DO NOT OVERSHARE
The Maister & Green Trust Equation- on the journey to becoming a Trusted Advisor- essentially says as you increase your deposits of credibility, reliability and intimacy in your relationships you can show more self-interest.
Ironically when networking virtually we need to share more, or you should at least know there are benefits to the many facets of personal disclosure. Oversharing is becoming a bit of an art and sparks myriad interesting conversations.
But stay away from the share button. Michael and I have worked with pitch teams since lockdown. I took a losing team from 69 slides to zero after a big loss, then ironically put four visuals back in: that’s four slides for a 60 minute pitch.
Your default position on a real stage is standing front and centre, moving towards the audience with confident, open body language and a well-modulated voice. What we need to see on the virtual stage is you channelling that vibe, not a visual we can’t read.
- Default on the screen is your big, smiling, well-groomed face
- Ask, does this visual make the boat go faster?
- Know your ‘why’, get a structure and create a story before reaching for the tech
EIGHT: SET DELEGATE EXPECTATIONS
Because we set expectations early at our conference, between 9.30am and 10am thirteen delegates ironed a shirt, seven washed their hair at the kitchen sink and 237 Zoom meetings were cancelled.
From the outset delegates knew it was camera on, microphone off; round table networking on REMO; two workshops with interactive breakouts over on Zoom; back to REMO to do some active follow up; finish at 12.30pm with open networking until 1pm (we extended this by half an hour as delegates were still in the room).
The best football coaches I had were those who set clear expectations. Ronnie, a terrier of a man, always started on time, worked us hard and let us know exactly when we would stop for a kick-about. If we played the game. Ronnie was ex-army and his style might jar today but he would have insisted you contribute, because it’s rude not to.
Not everyone complied fully, of course, but if you set things up from an early stage you have a better chance of success.
- Start on time, keep to time, finish on time
- Explain when the breaks are and make them generous
- Be assertive, clear and keep instructions simple
NINE: PLAN YOUR FOLLOW UP
Plan to be bold, try new things and take risks. In 2021 I want a Zoom call with Dolly Parton and the Pope. It’s a new world so there must be a chance. Maybe Dolly will sing ‘9 to 5’ at our next conference.
Last March we developed KWC WONDERWALL which we ping to every delegate after events; use Linked In more strategically (sorry if we are annoying you a little); and try new projects out on a regular basis.
There are a hundred ways to follow up, 70 we’ve collected over two decades and another 30 from past few months. Individuals can get tremendous traction after big events much quicker and cheaper than in the old world of trains and planes and flat whites. Businesses can be on it immediately with a virtual army, deployed with clear instructions and plans to measure success.
It’s the Klondike just now- rapidly evolving for all of us- and we will learn from both the feedback and follow up for this event.
- Be organised and professional… but be bold
- Personalise everything and remember the phone still works
- Measure the results
TEN: SHIT WILL HAPPEN
Recently I was the only speaker at a conference, but spent the first ten minutes admitting the dozen delegates who turned up late as I was the sole host. The client and I have since had a laugh about it and it won’t happen again, but something else will.
As you approach the time when a tsunami of humanity will come online at the last minute you need someone to turn the fan off, or every minor drama becomes a crisis. Cool your jets as nobody has yet died from not being able to immediately fix a three second echo.
Tension is a given and feels different when there is no nerve centre in a messy conference room with consolation pastries, retro sweets and the detritus of the hard work of 16 hour days.
- Be the person who has perspective and stops hyperbole leading to hyperventilation
- Have a quick and dirty debrief immediately and a proper one a week later
- You’re on mute
See you at the next conference, you’ll find me on REMO.