I’ve been running events, in-person and virtual, for sixteen years; ever since I first started up my coaching and training business. My first workshop was in a room above a local hair salon, usually used for training nail technicians.
Back in October 2004, they swept aside the bottles of nail varnish so I could run a very intimate life coaching workshop; one person who’d bought a £25 ticket from a poster I had up in the local village hall, my next-door neighbour and a friend who I pleaded ‘to make up the numbers’.
From there, I got braver and started running half-day marketing workshops, every half term at my local YMCA in Guildford. I ran those for about two years, getting fifteen people in the room who wanted to learn about email marketing, blogging and writing marketing copy. Teleseminars came on to the scene at about the same time, which gave me my first experience of running virtual training. Since then I’m not sure I can count the total number of webinars and virtual training sessions I’ve run over the years; the total probably runs up into the thousands!
But when it came to live streaming my training day, Play Your Bigger Game, I’d always had an excuse to NOT do it.
Play Your Bigger Game became a signature workshop that I’ve run for the past three years to teach small business owners the principles of True Profit Business; how to step up and grow, without burning out in the process. We also run these days to invite those interested in ongoing mentoring and accountability in their business growth journey to join our Momentum programme. With the support of my team, Melina Abbott, Senior Coach, and Alexia Padgham, Customer Support Manager, we have created a slick and efficient process to allow us to run these events effortlessly. I seriously have so much fun running these days and absolutely love the community of high energy people we attract and engage with during the day.
Why would I want to change what works?
Well, that’s exactly what we need to do sometimes to discover how far we can stretch to our fullest potential.
And if there is one huge benefit to our current crisis, it is that we are all being challenged to stretch and adapt to a new way of running our businesses.
As we approached our next Play Your Bigger Event during the threat of lockdown back in March, there was absolutely no way I was going to cancel. There’s a rule I’ve always lived by ever since that first workshop in a nail technician room; never cancel an event, no matter how few tickets you sell.
And ‘not cancelling’ didn’t mean that my event was going to be turned into ‘just another webinar’.
Yes, the content I was delivering could very easily be converted to slides and webinar presentation style. But we knew that it wasn’t just the content that people came for; they came for the engagement, energy and community.
They came to be inspired and to give themselves the space they needed to think bigger.
Once I had decided that we were going to put our full energy into making sure our virtual delivery still had the high energy and impact that many of our clients now expect of us, the challenge was on. I wanted to create my own TV studio at home and set up three different rooms for people to experience; a training room, the main room for group discussion and breakout rooms for smaller group networking and interaction. My photo below will show you the tangle of wires and camera set up that I used to create this on the day.
And what I wanted to share with you here today was some of the key lessons I have learnt from the experience to help you stretch your thinking about running live events, too.
1) Be inspired by what’s (im)possible
Call it divine timing, but a few weeks before my own event, One of Many, a women’s leadership training company, had to make the tough decision to move their own annual conference to a virtual experience. With more than 500 tickets sold, myself included, they shifted the whole two-day event online in just 36 hours. This happened a week before lockdown, so many had already travelled to London, some having flown in from different continents.
The One of Many team stepped up beyond belief and delivered an incredible two-day virtual experience. Inspired by what they were able to do on such short notice and such an enormous scale, I realised the potential of live streaming my own event.
2) Plan … but keep agile
The week before we knew we were going into lockdown, I booked a videographer and his team to come to the day. The intention was that we would still be in the room but open up the event to a live stream for anyone not able to travel or need to self-isolate.
A few days later, more and more events were being cancelled. The venue was still happy for us to be there, but because many people were now self-isolating, it looked like it could only be me, my team and the two video guys in the room.
A couple of days later, I made the call to do the event from home. Even though everyone on the team, and many of my ticket holders, was still prepared to travel at this stage, I didn’t want to take any risks.
A couple of days later still, we were in lockdown. The videographers were cancelled, and my team were still happy to run the day but from our home offices in Surrey, Shropshire and Kent. I got onto Amazon and started to order the tech needed to do this myself. One TV stand and photography stand and curtain later, I had got together my spare tripods, webcams and studio lighting; I had created my own TV studio at home.
Could I have planned it out like this? No. Every day our world was changing and new rules were being set. I held on to my vision of what I wanted to create but stayed agile to re-think all our possibilities with each turn of events.
3) Prepare to the nth degree
I knew many people who’d bought tickets to our originally advertised live event would be wondering how an all-day virtual training session will work, especially as many would be having a few more (big and small) people in the house with them on the day.
All-day virtual events aren’t new but I was guessing that for most people who were joining us, this was maybe their first time. It was certainly the first time for us to be delivering one!
So we got busy the week before, working through all the logistics to ensure everyone was prepared for this new and exciting way of learning and engaging. We covered the timings and agenda for the day, including opening up the Zoom room half an hour before we were due to get started to welcome people in, just as Alexia would have done at our usual registration desk at the venue.
We got comfort breaks scheduled so that everyone could move, stretch and refresh their drinks. And we ran a lunchtime networking to give everyone the choice to switch completely off or join a Breakout Session and have a virtual lunch with us.
In our delegate packs, we gave them full instructions on how to use zoom, including how the Breakout rooms were doing to work, and helped everyone communicate with their family members, suggesting they give them the timings of when you are coming out for breaks and explain to them the importance of giving you this space to engage fully. We even gave them a Do Not Disturb – I’m Playing My Bigger Game’ poster to put on their door.
4) Dress for success
We wanted everyone to be comfortable but to think about how they wanted to show up. This wasn’t a vanity exercise. Everyone may have started to enjoy wearing all-day-PJs but our day together was a day to stretch everyone’s business thinking and turn up for the day as the CEO of their business.
What you wear, including how you style your hair and make up your face, will mentally prepare you to play your bigger game. Not only did this make a huge difference to the energy of the day, everyone loved the opportunity to dress up when they hadn’t left the house for more than a food shop or their daily exercise.
5) Have the right team to support you
Technically I could have done this event by myself, but the reality was to ensure the high expectations that I had set, I needed my full team to support me.
Alexia’s eye for detail for pre and post event planning was integral to the success of the day and she amazed me how she quickly adapted our event ‘ops manual’ to cover everything needed to run this on Zoom. During the day, she managed the attendance, helped out with any technical queries and shared the relevant PDFs and links at the right times.
Melina stepped up and ran both the chat and the breakout sessions, which meant I could focus on the content and being the trainer for the day. Making the decision to put her in the driving seat of the Zoom session and making me co-host was definitely the right thing to do.
We had WhatsApp running so we could communicate outside of the Zoom room, as well as planned for emergencies such as power outages or Zoom booting any of us out.
It was only about half-way through the day that I really appreciated the fact that this virtual day was also being managed virtually, by three people across three corners of the UK. The team doesn’t have to be in the same room as you!
6) Go beyond your thinking, and hold that vision
‘An engaging and energy fueled day’ was my vision and I stuck to it. I didn’t want this event to be run as a typical webinar, where you simply watch the slides and send messages in the chatbox. This day started at 9am and ran through to 5pm so even though we were unable to bring everyone together in the same physical space that we normally do at our Play Your Bigger Game events, we put our full energy into making sure our virtual delivery still has the high energy and impact that many of our clients now expect of us.
During the day we invited everyone to join different breakout rooms and work with smaller groups on the various exercises we had planned. Plus we factored in quiet thinking time, as well as open Q&A sessions, to help mix up the day.
How did our event turn out?
To be honest, beyond my wildest expectations. We not only had everyone who bought a physical ticket – bar one – be able to attend the day, we also sold a further four tickets for the virtual event at the full £125+VAT price.
When everyone around me during our last week of promotion was offering free webinars and giving away content, I really did wonder whether it was the right thing to do. But I stuck to my belief that our event was worth it; it was the content and container that created the value, not the food and refreshments that the venue would have provided.
We’ve learnt a lot about how to make more time for our Breakout sessions and how to manage the chat better, but here are just some of the comments we got back from those attended:
“Really good. I think the use of the two ‘locations’ worked brilliantly. Of course, there is a lot to be said for meeting people in person but I think you did brilliantly. I started using online meeting technology in 2000 and I’ve rarely experienced a better session. Well done.”
“Surprisingly good, no post-lunch slump. I found my focus didn’t drop during the event and I probably talked to more people than perhaps I would have at a live event, not sure, I’ll have to attend a live event and then feedback on that!”
“I loved it. It meant I could take part without the worry and expense of travelling to the event. I get put off from attending events because of the logistics around my lifestyle, but this was a great way of doing it. Plus, no travelling for hours to get home afterwards either. Or getting up early to get to the venue on time.”
And we made sales.
I was nervous about this part of the day, for sure. Without being in the room with people, there is no opportunity to speak at length during the coffee break or in the bar afterwards. But this didn’t seem to make a difference.
It helps, for sure, having a programme that serves the right level of support that’s needed right now. Momentum is about supporting business owners to play the long game, to plan for the future and put in the systems, processes and team in place to help them grow. However, what we deliver isn’t a low cost membership so even with the four figure price tag, I was delighted that our event worked both as a training day, and a sales day.
We loved this format so much that I am planning another live stream event shortly (details coming out very soon) and it’s certainly made me rethink my event strategy going forward. Although there is no doubt that we will go back to meeting in person at some point, there is absolutely the risk that we will see a ripple effect of shorter lockdowns in the Autumn and next year.
Those businesses who have not cancelled their training events during this period, but postponed them to later this year, may find that if they don’t adapt to a new way of delivery, that they will have to cancel if we go into another lockdown again. And if they are unable to refund tickets because they’ve spent the ticket sales already, it’s going to cost them.
If you run live events and workshops, I’d love to know what you are planning to do. How are you adapting this new world of virtual delivery? And what have you been inspired to change and try out?
Until next time, do less, be more, play bigger.