Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m so excited to have with us today, a guest has been on the show a bunch of times was our very first guest on episode number one, my good friend, the author of the irresistible consultants guide to winning clients, David A.. Fields. David, welcome to the show.
Hi, Will it is always so much fun and educational for me to be on the show with you.
Will Bachman 00:38
That’s very funny to say. So David, today I want to talk about how to run a virtual conference. And you have a an event that you run called the solo practice accelerator, you actually talked about that on the show, I think around Episode 180 or so where he talked about what you do in that event, that two day event. And you recently had to convert that from a physical event to an online virtual event. And I’d love to hear about your lessons learned from that and your tips for other folks that are running a virtual conference on how to make that effective. So I’d love to hear about it.
All right, cool. So let’s talk about that the so I want to I want to, to frame it slightly. So first, I’m going to change it from how to run a virtual event or a virtual conference, to how to run a kick ass virtual. Because just because we we worked really hard on it, and it went extremely well. And that’s abroad. So we took a two day in person nine to five event. You know, normally people are there and turned it into a virtual two day event. Even though a lot of folks said you can’t do that. You can’t, you know, people won’t stay engaged that long. And we show that you can you can run multiple day, I think four days would be really tough. I know someone who just attended one. And that was really hard. But you can run a full day of two full days, three full days, and have the attendees be extremely engaged. The other thing I just want to put around it is our experience was with a fairly small group, you know, so So call it 20. ish. And if you’re going to have 200, it’s going to look different than us. But if you’re gonna have 515 2030 4050, even we did I think you get when we show it, it can work extremely well.
Will Bachman 02:34
Great. Why don’t you give and and why don’t you give us one minute on what the solo practice accelerator is, in its physical normal form, just the agenda. So people can, you know, have a little bit of context, if you want. I’ll include the link in the show notes for when when David goes in depth on it for that last episode, but want to just give us a one minute overview.
Yeah, so it’s really it’s a hands on work session, it’s a two day work session on exactly what it says accelerating your practice. And we typically have a mix of anywhere from people who haven’t even started their practice yet that are solo consultants or want to be. And we also every time we have a few folks that even have boutique firms that have might might have five or eight or 10 employees. And it’s a mix. But in all cases, we’re coming together and working through pretty granular detail. For instance, what is your fishing line, and you get a chance to practice that in a way that you never get, you know, in kind of real life? And what is your visibility building plan? And we map that out? And what’s your infrastructure? What should that look like? And we map that out. And so we do all of that over the course of two days. It’s highly interactive. Normally, there’s a lot of breakouts, will you’ve been in, in, you know, some of the sessions and you know, we do a thing with a fishing line where people are facing each other. And it’s kind of a round robin, and it’s you know, high energy and you’re moving from person to person. That’s the in person experience. And while we didn’t try to replicate the in person experience, what we did do was try to say, what’s the kind of amazing participative engaging experience we can create? That’s virtual.
Will Bachman 04:15
Okay, so what did you figure out? How did you guys do it?
Well, there were a few things that we did that and there’s more we actually literally today had our session internally as a team on what do we do to make it even better next time, and there were things we can do even better next time. But we did a lot, right. The there are some some sort of funny mechanics. I will say that that we did, right, and I would encourage people to do because we went from an in person to virtual we were transitioning, we had to send materials to everyone, which normally we would give them person, for instance, as you know, will it’s critical at any one of my events to enjoy very good chocolate. So we have to send chocolates, and you know, so lunch, we’re sending chocolate, and worksheets and all of that I also purchased for everyone and sent to them a headset. Well, the reason I did this is because audio quality is much better when you’re wearing a headset. Not necessarily what you hear, but what everybody else hears when you’re talking. And so I said, everybody a headset, everybody wore the headsets, or they had their own. And that made sure that the audio, which is really fundamental, really basic, was good and working. We insisted everybody be on webcam. So there’s, there’s no one sort of drifting off doing other things. And at the beginning, I set the ground rules, turn off everything else, turn off your phones and have no other applications running. The only application running should be what we’re doing right here. So we kept people’s focus. So almost like some basic hygiene issues on how to run a meeting become even more important when you’re running a virtual session.
Will Bachman 06:01
Yeah, that point, at that point about asking people to be present and just get off email, shut down. Applications don’t multitask, really good take right and your broader point about setting ground rules before an event that everyone can agree to advise into, or, or at least if you kind of top down you set them. Great tip there. I’m sorry, keep going?
Yeah, well, we use zoom as a platform, which a lot of people are using, we use that because at least as we’re doing this right now, I mean, we use zoom anyway as a company, but the it has breakout rooms. And having breakout rooms is a critical part of what we’re we’re trying to do is get allow consultants to talk with each other, and help each other and get input from each other. And so we had that breakout rooms. before the meeting happened, we sent out instructions, and I posted a video to familiarize people with zoom and also with the breakout rooms, because there are some quirks to it. And it’s easy to get lost. And again, as you said in gray, you’re saying the importance of ground rules. We made sure people knew when you’re going to a breakout room is not the time to take a break. Right Now’s not the time to get up and wander away. Right? There’s other people waiting. Right? And they don’t know where you’ve gone. Right? So a normal live, you see, you know, you can call, Hey, I’ll be right back. I gotta run to the bathroom, something like that. Right. But you can’t do that virtually. So we had to make clear, we’re gonna send you to breakout rooms. When we do that you have to go. Because there’s someone waiting for you. Yeah. And everybody was great. Similarly, and I’m just gonna serve rapid fire throw things out here. Okay, well, the So one thing we realized is that also is very difficult to do actually, on a on a live session. And you and I have both experiences is bringing people back from any kind of break, or any kind of breakout. So how do you get people to sit down it’s herding cats, especially if you have 20 3040 people or more to get them all back on time is nigh on impossible. So what we did is we built into PowerPoint into our presentations, a timer, an on screen timer that so I didn’t have to leave the application, there’s nothing else. And there was if we went on a break, there was a big thing on the screen with a countdown timer until the break ends. And as soon as ended and went to a page it says time’s up, we’re restarting. I would go from there back into, you know, onto the presentation. And everybody was back. It was a beautiful day. Well, sounds better than better than versus Yeah.
Will Bachman 08:42
Sounds like you and I both, you know, had you know, when you’re bringing people back, it’s like, Okay, come on, we’re starting now. Let’s go. And it’s just, it’s, that’s better than real life.
It was better in real life. I mean, you know, we so we use, I have in my office here, a cowbell. And we have found that the best device in an in person setting for getting everybody to come back together. So it’s really crazy live cowbell. The virtual timer works so much better. I’m it’s a great time where people knew exactly how long they had. And when we were going to start. And you know, and so that worked. Now, I will say we, we invested in technology, okay, for this. I set up a studio. So this was not a you know, just sort of a I’ll sit in front of my webcam, and we’ll just give the same content. We set up a studio, and the studio had multiple camera angles. I had a very large monitor next to me, I mean, like a huge screen TV, one of the biggest ones you can get. So there was a camera angle, much like on the TV. Like when you watch the news, and there’s a presenter and he’s in he’s got the board next to him and he’s demonstrating stuff. So there was that kind of angle where it was you could see me so it’s a little bit more engaging. With me next to the monitor presenting, then we had a close up angle so that if I wanted to talk directly to people or people were asking questions, there was there was that then also the the presentation itself when I was presenting content that could go fullscreen, or have that full screen with me picture. So me in there, and we needed me as a presenter. And then I had two people on my team working and we needed at least those two people to make this thing run smoothly. One was the zoom controller to someone who is setting up all the breakout rooms ahead of time and moving people. And then when it came time to do the breakouts, it very smoothly transition people into the rooms, because she had been doing that behind the scenes. And she could get everybody into the rooms. And then someone we had a video controller, and a fairly sophisticated video set up to be able to go from camera to camera, and you know, do all these different things and feed it all into zoom.
Will Bachman 10:59
That’s cool. So your video was like, right at your house?
Yeah, I mean, it’s Yes, it we converted my family room, into his studio. Yeah. And, you know, fortunately, I realized this early that we were going to need to do this, and I just ordered it, you know, I just ordered a whole bunch of equipment, and got all the equipment
Will Bachman 11:23
in set it up. And maybe if you’re willing, David, maybe you could send me the your shopping list of the stuff that you bought, like any screens that go behind you, or the cameras or anything that might be really useful resource to include in the shots.
And at some point, we can have a technical discussion, because we did learn technical things. For instance, when you’re presenting next to a monitor, and you have a video camera pointed at you or a webcam that monitors throwing out photons, right, it’s like, you know, just blasting them out. And a web camera video camera is going to look at that and go Oh, look at that all those yummy photons coming from that monitor, I’m going to focus on that. And anything else around it is going to be dark, including the presenter. Yeah. And even if you dim that way down, you’ll have that problem. So we figured out some tricks around that. Another thing we realized beforehand, was that typically, in a live setting, if you have breakout rooms, you’ll send people to their breakout rooms. But if there’s instructions or things they need to refer to, they can pop their head back into the main room and look at the screen, right? You kind of leave that stuff up there for them to look at. And, and they come in, they look and they say, Oh, these were the instructions? Well, how are you going to do that in zoom, because zoom breakout rooms are really new instances of meetings, there, you can’t go back to the main room easily or pop back and forth. So what we actually did is we bought, you know, again, lots of technology investment, we bought a whole sort of slew of tablet computers, just little tablets. And they were also participants in the meeting. And the person who was running the zoom portion of it had literally a shelf with a whole display of tablets is quite funny. And, and we had them as participants in the meeting, pre assigned to one to eat breakout room. And then when the people go to the breakout rooms, she would then hit each one to join and then share the instructions. So you had a participant in each breakout room, just sharing the instructions having an on screen if you wanted.
Will Bachman 13:32
Yeah, if anyone from zoom is listening, that sounds like a feature that might want to add. So people don’t need to bother. We have a whole list 20 we have a
whole list of features. We’ve we’re sending them a note saying look, here’s all the extra things, we need to actually be able to do this better. Yeah. But you know, that was a hack. And it was a hack that was really effective.
Will Bachman 13:54
So a lot David of your sessions involves, there also be usually some period where people okay, you will sit kind of by themselves and you’ll give them an assignment. Yeah. What are your, you know, headlines that you’re going to have on your content? Or what content could you write? Or what thought leadership channel Do you want to use? What’s your fishing line? And then share those with others? How did you practically get that part done in the virtual session? Did you have people? Did you have a break? Did you have sort of a timeout where people were not in any breakout session, but just working on that on their own? And then come How did that?
Yep. So again, so what we had is an onscreen timer. And I would say you know, let’s work on this work on your again, whatever it is work on this plan for 15 minutes, your fishing line or workout, the problem and our 15 minutes. And the zoom controller on my end would mute everybody. We had an on screen timer that actually showed them the 15 minutes counting down. And you know, we got to see in a much more human interaction. In some ways than we normally would, because if you happen to glance at the whole gallery, which I would do probably more than others, you’d see someone’s cat walking across a laptop, that happened quite a bit, you know, someone, you know, sort of bobbing the baby up and down on their, their knee, you know, these kinds of things, which you don’t normally get to see. And then they would come back, we did that. And there was one exercise towards the beginning, where we had everybody raise their hand, in part, we have people practice some of these skills at the very beginning, the very first exercises to get them used to house zoom work. And we had people raise their hands. And then when they were done with the exercise, they would lower their hand. And that way, I could see sort of who was ready. So we did, we did, we didn’t use that as much. And I think it worked better just to have a clock.
Will Bachman 15:56
And also what was helpful for sorry, going well, and when you had people do exercises, were they just going to writing it by hand themselves? Was there no collaborative thing where you could like see everybody else’s response or see everybody else with a Google doc or something like that?
Yeah, so we thought about that, we consider that and opted not to do it. And it there’s a piece Still, we need to work out, we really actually played a lot with that with with some whiteboards with Google Docs. And we decided not to do that, because we we actually wanted one application open on the participants computer. And that was zoom, what they could do was use chat, inside zoom. And zoom also has a whiteboard. But at the moment, at least, it’s not particularly good. Sorry, for if you’re if you’re listening, and you’re friends of the so we found that people, especially like an efficient line, they just talk to each other and wrote things down, which is kind of like it was in real life. You know, or not in real life, but any person, you know, physical space. And that works fine. And I think not having an extra application open, I still feel like that’s the right decision. The more complexity you add, that’s yet another application that has to be monitored, supported by your technical crew, you know, deal with anything, and it becomes a distraction.
Will Bachman 17:20
When you we,
we felt it was very important to eliminate distractions,
Will Bachman 17:23
and the video person that you had working, were they in your living room there? Or are they working remotely and just select between different videos?
Well, in this case, I’m fortunate because, you know, I could enlist my wife, okay, you’re the video person. Otherwise, it would have been challenging, it is actually important to have the video person in the same room. And one of the things, we had to have some signaling back and forth, for instance, that I, you know, it’s for me to say, you know, go to camera, too, right kind of thing. And so we did a lot of rehearsing and practicing with the team, because the zoom controller was actually, she had been stuck in Montana. She couldn’t get home because all the flights have getting canceled. That part was fine. But having someone in the room was particularly useful. We had yet another computer monitor set up, where I are going to show you all the monitors we had set up, it’s somewhat crazy with a keypad, sort of remote to it, that the the controller in the room could use to signal me that there was a question or to speed up or to slow down, or that I had run out that it was break time. And so I had another signal coming on to me as a speaker, or as a presenter, to let me know, especially questions, which was important to signal me that there were questions. But again, we found with 20 people in the room, if someone could just say, hey, David, and it was fine. They were just unmute themselves or you space to push and say, Hey, David, I’ve got a quick question. And that work just like in person, it worked extremely well.
Will Bachman 19:11
Yeah, there’s a place, there’s probably a point where that breaks down a little bit. And that you need to have people use the chat. where, you know, if you get to 50 or 60, then it can become maybe unwieldy but right up to a certain point.
Rather than the chat. Actually, I highly recommend using the hand the hand raising is one of the things we actually discussed this morning as a team, the chat is actually much harder to track. And you have to almost have a separate person managing the chat because also the chat if you have a if we would have four or five people putting something into the chat, then you have to have the ability to scroll right and right and that that’s quite difficult to manage. On the other hand, if four or five people have questions at once, or have something to say which they do even in our group, right, it gets me It gets quite lively. If people raise their hands, then you just see all the hands up. And they can say, Hey, will you add something you want to add? You know, Nicole, you had something you wanted to add. And that, so I recommend that that hand signal feature more than chat.
Will Bachman 20:16
And by raising your hand, you’re not talking about physically raise your hand, but the zoom feature where you click to raise your hand,
the zoom feature, okay, those people raise their hand when, so we would have we had perhaps I suppose 25 people in the gallery kind of thing. And at that level, and I was facing a 40 inch monitor, okay? Okay, so I could see everybody. And it’s not perfect, because if you’re looking at the monitor, then you’re not looking at the camera. And it’s important to look at the camera so that you’re you’re actually creating some eye contact, some virtual eye contact with your participants. But I could see people raise their hands. And more importantly, the person in the control room recommended controls, in this case, my wife, she was able to see people raising their hands, physically raising their hands, as opposed to using the the zoom, hand raising.
Will Bachman 21:08
And what kind of cameras do you recall? Or if you don’t, we can put in the show notes.
We nothing super crazy. Panasonic video cam something?
Will Bachman 21:21
Not a cheap button was a $25? You know, webcam?
Oh, no, that was it was a few $100 I think each we had a couple of them. The video controllers is about a grand. Yeah, I mean, it’s an investment to but on the other hand, you know, again, we kind of thought about this for us, we try to put on a high end event. And to be able to have the different camera views, keeps it more interesting and lively. And allow also gives me the ability, for instance. So you can see me presenting Nexus screen, which just feels more engaging. We tested this with some people before we went into it. So each of the views was actually fairly important, in one way or another. And the only way to get all of that was with a, you know, I may have gone overboard on the controller. But, you know, it’s it’s a one time investment. And just like you’ve invested in high quality recording equipment for these podcasts,
Will Bachman 22:27
right? And the video controller what I’m not what is that? Exactly? That’s something we can switch between different video shots.
Yeah, so yeah, so there’s very cheap versions, where you can have four HDMI or 12 HDMI inputs, and then switch one to another, that you can do actually quite quite cheaply. But to be able to mix the sound differently if you want to do that, or to do picture and picture or to to do lots of stuff, which we didn’t need to do, that takes a little bit more sophisticated piece of equipment. So we had video in from two separate cameras. And we really didn’t need a third, just managing the two was enough. And from my computer that I was presenting from, because I do have content to share. So we had that from my computer, it went both to the monitor next to me, and then also into the video mixer. So there were three sources all streaming into the video mixer. And then one output, which then went into the computer, which then was hooked into zoom. And we also I must say we purchase sort of stupidly high bandwidth to make sure that we never had any problem on our end with bandwidth.
Will Bachman 23:44
Yeah, that’s crazy.
Yeah, so sort of like gig gigabit bandwidth upload is more important than download the the all the companies all promote their download speeds. But if you’re running a zoom conference, you need to upload speed, right? You need to be able to push out your video without any glitches.
Will Bachman 24:06
And you were able to purchase that upload speed from your local provider. Yes, that’s interesting. Yeah.
Well, again, you know, it’s a it was a it’s a cost. It’s an expense but we’re putting on a high end conference here. So you no big deal. The it was an expense because I don’t need to spend $300 a month personally for my business. I don’t need that level month in month out. But you know, I needed to bring it on for a month and have them install it. It’s a one time expense. And again, kind of like you know, it normally you know it kind of balanced out because I had a hot much higher technology expenses doing this and I think it is worth investing in it not being cheap. If someone had said David I don’t have a webcam, I would have sent them a webcam on All right. But at this point, everybody has a webcam. So I didn’t need to do that. You know, otherwise I’m I’m catering to them and giving them all the food and all of that, which is also very, very expensive. So I did I just didn’t worry about that. Yeah, you say that I’m worried about how do we make it a high end experience.
Will Bachman 25:18
Excellent. So, David, this bin full of really helpful practical tips. So in terms of the technology set up in terms of, you know, the kind of staff that you need behind the scenes to run on these. Thanks so much for joining and sharing some tips on on your virtual event.
I’m happy to there’s a lot of this going around anyone listening, if you have questions about how to run the event, or if I didn’t cover something you think would be helpful. Just reach out I’m happy to share.
Will Bachman 25:46
And I should also mention before we close, if you want to follow David, I love David’s blog. I read it every week. It’s the first thing I read on Wednesday morning. Sign up for his blog. You can find out also about upcoming practice accelerators visit David A. fields.com. And there is a lot of goodness there, David, thanks for joining. Thank you Well