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This week’s episode is entitled “Successful Event Pivots: Best Practices and Lessons from Will Curran“. Will, is the Founder and Chief Event Einstein at Endless Events.
We talk about what it’s looked like the last few months as he’s worked with clients to create engaging events online. Will has so much energy and enthusiasm. I ask him how much of that is a key part of the recipe for success.
“…you have to do start with really good content. You can’t just come in and say like, “Oh, we’ll just create a high energy experience,” and not have this thought-provoking, good content, good ideas and things like that as well.”
I think where the last couple of months have shifted, since in-person experiences have dissipated and now we’re a hundred percent virtual, is that people are also recognizing that there needs to be production value. I think that when people are now getting so much webinar fatigue and Zoom fatigue that they don’t want to sit and watch a square box with someone talking with slides right next to it, they’re looking for something high energy, and exciting, and, more importantly, different, I think, than anything.
I ask Will what are we doing today in a virtual format that he thinks will sustain when we can get back together again… and if there are certain components of great events he thinks are at the top of the list, in terms of, if you nail this, it’s more likely to be a top notch event. In other words, what are some of the foundations of great virtual events right now?
Listen in now and/or read the transcript below to hear Will get super tactical (Yes, start with the strategy, then move into tactics).
Paul: Hey, welcome back everybody. Time to grab your surfboard and see if we can swim out into that turbulent sea of ideas today here with the man who is advising NFL players as we speak. One by one, they’re calling him up, we’ll probably get interrupted, telling them whether they should accept the offer and sit out the season or not here. That’s Matt Heinz.
Matt: Well, maybe we could just do that live in real time. If they call, put them on speaker phone, and be, “Hey, Aaron Rogers, what do you think? Should you play? Should you not play?”
Paul: Yeah. “Tom Brady, what do you think buddy? In or out?”
Matt: I don’t know, man. I feel very fortunate that, I mean, I talk and type for a living, so I can do it from anywhere, including the temporary, wouldn’t call it Heinz Marketing World Headquarters. It’s still alive. I’m paying for furniture storage, apparently, now. But I just feel very fortunate. I think we had shows recorded, which some of you probably listened to. But back live after a couple weeks of vacation, so excited to be back here live.
Paul: And what do you think? Are people are going to opt in? I mean, I was just listening to the news prior to this. I didn’t even know. Today is the day, for those listening live, they have to decide if they’re going to take 150 grand and sit out the season, I guess that’s all you get, or are they going to try and play? And they got to let the league know today.
Matt: Well, and it’s interesting, right? Because I brought up Aaron Rogers. Some of these players, they’re just set for life. They don’t have to make another dime. As long as they’ve been good with their money, they’re fine. The NFL has, among the four major sports, it is the weakest of the unions and therefore the weakest relative to player rights and financial opportunity. So there is a high percent of NFL players that are constantly on the bubble and constantly, in any given game, on any given day, at risk of just getting cut and not having money. So it’s a safety issue, but it’s also a, just like a lot of people, it’s like, “I still got to make a living,” issue.
Paul: Right. But if you’re playing football, I know we’ll to get to your guest here in a second, but if you’re playing football, how do you avoid tangling with somebody? You don’t know. It’s one thing to baseball, you’re standing far away from each other here, but football, man, you’re wrestling around and rolling around with these guys. Are they all going to… One of them suddenly wakes up and says he has coronavirus the next day, and everybody from yesterday’s game is now out and quarantined? It’s crazy.
Matt: And this is not… I guess we’ll get eventually to sales and marketing. I mean, this is not just a two hour deadline. I mean, who’s to say after a couple of games, either the external world or what’s happening within football, are you really going to worry about the money if you’re afraid of getting coronavirus?
Paul: I don’t know. Well, let’s bring your guest in and see what he thinks about it. Maybe he’s got some ideas on how to handle all this, or lead us to a different topic altogether here.
Matt: Well, we got lots we can talk about. We’re going to run out of time if we don’t pay attention. But anyway, thank you very much, everyone, for joining us on Sales Pipeline Radio. We’re not going to spend time on a lot of the formalities, but you can catch us live at 11:30 on Thursdays. You can catch us on demand at salespipelineradio.com, and all of our past, present, and future episodes up there at salespipelineradio.com. We’re talking to some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing on a weekly basis. Today is absolutely no different. I’m really excited. I’m excited and also a little intimidated, I’ll get to that in a minute, to have with us today, the founder, and Paul, the Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, Will Curran. Will, thank you for joining us today.
Will: Thank you guys for having me. That was an incredible introduction. And I’m scared to know why I’m intimidating you, Matt. I got to know.
Matt: Well, so I’ll give a little bit of backstory. So I did not know you until a few months ago. We did an event hackathon together for a company. We were on a group together that, by the way, at the hackathon, we were the winning team on the hackathon, let’s put that out there upfront. I give you the majority of the credit. I was very… I felt like the outsider in the group, because I come in there, and not only were all of these groups had these amazing, experienced event marketers, event producers, event professionals, but it was very clear when I joined, there were people in the industry who were fanboying and fangirling over you. They were just really excited they got to actually be in an event with you.
What you have done in the space, your Event Tech Podcast, Event Brew, you’ve been doing some pretty amazing stuff in this space. So, that’s just what you have accomplished, and clearly, the aura you bring when you’re at an event, I don’t know maybe I’m a fanboy now too. But no, it’s very impressive. I mean, we’ve all got these interesting stories of, when you get into a niche, how you do that. Was this something you thought you were going to do when you were a little boy? How did you become an event professional?
Will: Yeah. I mean, I actually started making websites when I was a kid, in middle school. And then, in high school, my freshman year, I actually started deejaying. And deejaying had been the cool thing I wanted to do before. Now everybody’s a DJ who can have an iPad and a bunch of MP3s. But back in the day, it was like, “Oh my gosh, being a DJ would be so cool.” And I thought about that, but then I think I naturally stumbled into being a DJ because of the internet radio station I had and everything like that, but then eventually, doing large scale, gigantic corporate B2B conferences and things like that.
I remember when I was doing the deejaying for a couple of years and then got to college my freshman year, I was like, “Yeah, it’d be so cool to do a thousand person event with some concert sound systems and things like that.” And three months later, I did one, and I was like, “Okay, what’s next?” I’m like, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if we do this?” And three months later, we would do that. And then it just always naturally grew. But no, I think I had an idea that I wanted to do something like this, but I didn’t have that clear, concise vision where I was like, “Yes, I want to be one of the most influential people in the events industry.” I was just like, “I want to create awesome stuff and I want to have fun along the way.”
Matt: Well, I love to hear that story. And I think some of the best influencers have that story, and they’re influential because they’re authentic. I think very rarely do you see the most influential people with an intention, ultimately, initially of, “I want to become a thought leader.” It’s people like yourself, they just put on their hard hat and do the work. And you’ve been doing it now for over 13 years. I am curious. Chief Event Einstein, this is the first time I’ve seen that as a title? What’s the backstory on that?
Will: Yeah. So, when we were growing as a company, it was really tough because we started very traditional, like president, vice president. And then, as we’re growing, eventually I realized that it was way more fun to have weirder titles because A, it was good for the organization because then you didn’t have people who were like, “Well, I’m the this of this, so therefore I can’t do that.” But then also, at the same time, it was also, I just did it on a whim. And I thought, I was like, “What are people going to say?” But then it became the… There’s two things I get compliments on the most, my title and my avatar that I use as my picture. People just comment on it all the time.
And I was like, “Well, no one ever comments on being like, ‘Hey, nice VP of sales title. You got there. And Oh, by the way, nice headshot.’” No one ever says that. But literally, I’ll get emails. People are like, “I love your avatar. I love your title.” And I was like, “You know what? If that helps people remember me a little bit more, then I’m keeping it.” And that’s where it came in. It’s definitely got me some flack sometimes too, because it definitely sounds a little conceited in some ways. But I think it gave me flexibility to say, “Look, I just know a lot about events, and I love thinking a lot about events and coming up with crazy ideas for events.” And it just fit kind of perfectly versus that CEO title, for sure.
Matt: I love it. And I think it’s very on brand for you because you are a very creative person. You’re a very high energy person, I will say. And part of the reason I give you a majority of credit for our win on the hackathon is I think we had a really good idea for how to hack the event we were given, but the presentation we gave, I mean, you turned it into an event. I mean, there was walkup music. I mean, you basically deejayed the thing, and it was very high energy, there was background music. And I think, especially in a virtual event, when you lose the ability to have someone sitting in front of you, when attention can be fleeting, that production quality and that energy becomes really important. Talk about what that’s looked like the last few months as you’ve worked with your clients to create engaging events online. How much is that energy and enthusiasm a key part of the recipe?
Will: Definitely. Well, I want to give you some credit, because you helped out with a lot of the content. I mean, honestly, the wording and the thought process that you were coming up with was where I had to base off all what I was going to say and things like that off of. So I got to give you credit, because it wouldn’t have been possible without you. It wasn’t majority me. There was a lot of math in there, too. So I just wanted to give you some credit there, but I think that it goes to show that also you have to do start with really good content. You can’t just come in and say like, “Oh, we’ll just create a high energy experience,” and not have this thought-provoking, good content, good ideas and things like that as well.
And I think where the last couple of months have shifted, since in-person experiences have dissipated and now we’re a hundred percent virtual, is that people are also recognizing that there needs to be production value. If you, for example, watched Stranger Things on Netflix and it was filmed on a smartphone and all of those things like that, you probably would be like, “It’s okay. The story is good, but the production value is not really there.” But then, because the production value is there with it, you stick to it, you are a hundred percent invested. And I think that when people are now getting so much webinar fatigue and Zoom fatigue that they don’t want to sit and watch a square box with someone talking with slides right next to it, they’re looking for something high energy, and exciting, and, more importantly, different, I think, than anything. And what’s great is that there’s so much history of broadcast, and television, and filmmaking that has existed prior to this, that it’s created some great opportunities, for sure.
Matt: Yeah. Talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Will Curran. He is the founder and Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events and has really been in the heart of, and at the forefront of, a lot of companies converting what have been a lot of live events, at least temporarily, into virtual events. And Will, one of the themes that I’ve heard a couple of things I want to cover with you here in our time together, one is that I think a lot of in the past people have considered in-person events versus virtual events as an either/or. We don’t have the option of doing both now, but I feel like we’re working towards a scenario where it’s going to be an and, where there’s going to be the opportunity for in-person opportunities while extending the halo effect to people that couldn’t be there, they don’t have the opportunity to be there, they can’t afford it, but that is a broader multichannel body of work. Are you seeing those conversations happen, and what are we doing today in a virtual format that you think will sustain when we can get back together again?
Will: Yeah. So in the biz, we call that a hybrid event. So we actually do call it a hybrid event. What’s cool about this is this stuff has existed for so long. This term of hybrid event isn’t just created in the last six months since COVID had started and everything like that. It’s actually far beyond even when I was in the events industry. So what’s cool is the idea behind a hybrid event is this idea that you do have an in-person experience, you have a virtual experience, and the blend between them, and my definition of it is that the seamlessness between them is so smooth that the people virtually have the same quality experience that the people in-person have and vice versa, as well, and that the audiences get to interact with each other, engage with each other, that almost the audiences become one rather than separate.
So what are we doing now to move towards that? Well, the first thing is that people are starting to experiment way more on virtual. And I think that that’s such an incredible time right now to be, “Hey, let’s break things. Let’s make big, huge leaps forward and try and experiment with things.” But also as well, that figuring out, that, “Hey, what works virtually?” Because when we do come back to in-person experiences and they become hybrid, you will now know that we can’t just do a shot of a person standing there with a slide right next to them. That’s not exciting anymore. The idea that you still need people in the chat moderating on the virtual side. All the things your people are going to learn from virtual, they a hundred percent can apply to this hybrid sense as well.
And I think there’s a lot of really exciting things that are going to happen, but to go back to the point, too, is that I think that before, people used to think of hybrid, and they were just like, “Oh yeah, let me just stick a camera in the back of the room and people can just be a fly on the wall.” But then, right now, everyone’s realizing, “Oh, that doesn’t work for virtual.” And then, now they’re going to realize, “Well, wait. Maybe it’s not going to work for hybrid anymore and we have to create an experience like the Super Bowl, where there’s 20-30 cameras, there’s all this crazy cut to commercials, and graphics, and things like that.” And I think that there’s so much opportunity now for event professionals who are now experimenting in virtual to continue learning about hybrid. And I will say, it’s definitely still, even though it’s existed for a long period time, it’s still brand new to so many people. So if you’re out there listening and you’re like, “I need to do a hybrid event and figure this sort of stuff out.” Don’t worry. You’re not alone.
Matt: And I think people that maybe have not done the production value of some of the events that you’ve been involved with may look at some of this and think about all these different variables and get a little intimidated by it. But you’ve got to start somewhere. Are there certain components of great events that you think are at the top of the list, in terms of, if you nail this, it’s more likely to be a top notch event? What are some of the foundations of great virtual events right now?
Will: Yeah. I’ll get super tactical. Because I can keep it really high level and say things like, “You got to be strategic with it,” which is what I preach a lot of, is that start with the why, start with the Simon Sinek why. Start with the strategy, then move into tactics. But I think a lot of people understand that now, and you can happily Google event strategy if you need to, to learn more about that. So obviously, start with that. But let’s dive into specific tactics on what you can do. So one of the first things I think you could do to have a top notch production is designing, again, great content. So I already mentioned that, but I think that really thinking about the content in length, in terms of visuality, in terms of substance that it’s going to have on there as well. Because too many people are just like, “Yeah, we’ll just have the keynote, and it’s an hour long, and whatever it is.” People don’t want to sit on their computer screen for an hour.
Next thing, tactical tip for everybody, is a very, very specific role within the virtual event, which is the MC, the host, the person who brings the glue together. This person can make or break the event a hundred times over if you don’t have a good host who can keep everybody high energy. And I kind of considered myself, to talk about the competition, the host of our team. I didn’t really bring up a lot of the technical aspects of the event, but I was one who introduced us, I was the one who closed us, and I was like, “I’m going to kick off the energy, bring it up.” And then I think I had a middle talk where I talked, and then at the end, I closed us all out. But making sure that I was high energy, I was on camera, I was moving around, really, I think, makes or breaks a lot of this content.
Because you can have someone who is the best content, let’s say, for example, you have the Einstein of whatever your industry is, but they’re really dry, slow, whatever it may be. You can have that person come up, tell the cure to cancer onstage, but if they don’t deliver it the right way, people are going to be on their phones, looking down, distracted. They’re going to want to go walk their dog, whatever it may be, they’re checking their email. But if you get a high energy MC who can really introduce them well, who can set the stage, but then afterwards summarize what they say, kick the energy back up again, boom. People will be like, “Man, that Einstein guy was awesome.” And it will blow people away.
Matt: Love it. I love it. We got to take a quick break. We will be back in just a couple of minutes with more Will Curran, our guest today. We’ll be right back. Sales Pipeline Radio.
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Paul: Okay. We’re talking events with Matt and his guest here. I got to ask one question to this guy here. If he’s an expert on events, what does he think about what we started with, sports? Are sports going to be held this year? And when they do come back, eventually, will they include these online aspects? I suspect they’ll be not either/or, but yes and, for all sorts of business stuff. Are we going to do sports this year? And are we going to come back with the online stuff in the coming years?
Will: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I’ve actually been watching sports very, very closely, even though I don’t watch sport very closely. If that makes sense. I’ll give you an example. So the NBA has been doing some really cool stuff, is that they were one of the first to say, “Hey, we’re going to put all the attendees in Microsoft Teams and put their head shots all the way around the court, so then that way the players get to see them, and then also, they’re on camera. And then we had, obviously, for example, MLB opening weekend, they had cardboard cutouts of people. And that’s kind of cool. But then, literally the next day after opening day, they were like, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to find a way to 3D render people in the stands. So that way, they have their avatar there.”
And I think a lot of that goes into that hybrid sense of what it’s going to be like, definitely, moving forward. So it is kind of crazy to think about all the health benefits of it, but it still is helping push things moving forward. We used to say at the beginning of all this that the two main things that we’ll look for is when Disney comes back and when sports comes back in person, and that’s when I think then you’ll start to see all the corporate business, all the corporate travel start to come back when it comes to it. But the innovation is awesome, because they have a lot of money, so while all the other businesses are like, “Let’s not innovate. Let’s be safe,” the MLB and NBA are just putting themselves out there and doing some crazy stuff, which is exciting.
Matt: Yeah. The innovation is really cool. And I think we see it in events, we see it in marketing in general, we see it with sports. I think the fan engagement and what to do with the seats is one really interesting part about it. You’ve got the NBA with people that are literally there, live on video. Baseball has been fascinating, in terms of how they use or don’t use the seat. Some teams don’t do anything with the seats. Others let people buy a space in the seat. Others put giant heads of past players out there. I don’t know if it’s still there. If you look behind home plate at the Oakland Coliseum for the A’s games, they actually have Tom Hanks as a hotdog vendor. And apparently, Tom Hanks, when he was in high school, sold peanuts at the Oakland Coliseum. And they got him to record his voice saying, “Hot dog. Hot dogs here. Get your hot dog.” And it’s now blended in with the crowd noise they pipe in to Oakland Coliseum, and for TV broadcast as well.
And I’ll be honest, it’s amazing how quickly we get used to some version of a new normal. I don’t know what this says about me, but I do watch a lot of sports. I like watching golf. This morning, I was watching a little of the first round of the first major of the year, the PGA Championship. And I just didn’t realize until this conversation. I’m used to watching without fans now. The first time they came back and didn’t have a crowd on a golf course, it was weird not to hear people cheering. Now, just as a TV viewer, it’s the same as it was last year, from my perspective. So it’s interesting.
But hey, we got just a few more minutes here with Will Curran from Endless Events. And the other question I wanted to ask you, a couple of things before we run out of time here, one is around sponsor value. If you’re taking an event that used to be in-person, where people could exhibit at a trade show, there’s a lot of companies that are struggling where they used to get pipeline and engagement with prospects by being in-person with people, at the booth, doing the happy hours, replacing that value in a virtual format is not an immaterial thing. What are some things you’re seeing that companies are doing, both the sponsors themselves as well as potentially the producers, to create sponsor and advertiser value?
Will: Yeah. I mean, initially, when this all started to happen, people really leaned on that in-person-like experience. They were like, “We need a 3D trade show. I need to build a 3D booth,” and things like that. And I said, “You’re not buying… When you’re buying the trade show thought, or whatever it may be, you’re not buying a booth. You’re buying what the booth gets you, which is that ultimate goal and strategy you’re trying to achieve.” So, for a lot of people, it’s meetings, for example. For a lot of people, it’s building the brand awareness. It’s buying the sales opportunities that you’re getting, whatever it may be, the leads that you get from scanning badges, whatever that may be.
And so what I challenge a lot of people right now to do is stop thinking like everything was six months ago or whatever it was. Don’t go back to that thinking. Don’t say, “I need a booth.” Instead, think in the terms of the internet. And in terms of the internet, the equivalent of that is digital marketing. And that’s an obvious thing to this audience. I’m sure everyone listening right now are pros at building email lists, and creating awesome content, and things like that as well. But use that same thing, applying it to event opportunities. So for example… I love to use Endless as an example, because I think I have to be able to say, if I could put my marketing dollars anywhere, this is how I would do it. So for example, if someone came to me and said, “Hey, do you want to exhibit at the Events Industry Conference, whatever it may be,” and said, “Hey, why don’t you get a 3D booth, and we’ll let leads come and click on you, and they can come to your page and book meetings with you?”
I would say, “Eh, that doesn’t really do it for me.” Because people don’t want to naturally have a meeting with Will. As much as Matt hyped me up to be awesome, I don’t think people are going to be like, “Oh, I got to meet with Endless Events.” Instead, I think what they’re going to be looking for is on something else. So in the case of Endless, for us, it’s all about driving traffic back to our website. So what I would want to talk to the organizer and say, “How can I drive qualified people who attend this conference to come back to my website, to convert on an ebook, or whatever it may be?” And I’ll give you a great example of this. I would pay… For normal people, they’re like, “Hey, let’s charge 10 grand for a virtual booth.”
I would pay 10 grand to put a little ad on every page of the whole entire virtual event that says, “Get your free virtual event planning checklist. Click here to download.” And it drives back to my landing page. They convert that way. And boom, I have them as a lead on my site. I would pay money for that. But what I wouldn’t pay money for is that traditional, “Hey, I’m just going to set up a profile and people can book me in.” However, if you’re an exhibitor and you’re like, “I have great brand awareness. Everybody needs to have meetings with me. In fact, this conference, 99% of my customers are here. So this is their chance to renew their contract or hear about the new products we have,” then maybe a profile will work for you. But the thing is that, instead of thinking about it in terms of the past, think of it in terms of digital marketing tactics. And if you’re trying to figure out how to maximize these virtual events, learn digital marketing and apply that and ask for tactics to be executed because it can be possible within those virtual events.
Matt: So speaking of things you have to pay for, Paul, what you do not have to pay for is an amazing amount of great resources and value on the Endless Events website. Check out helloendless.com. We’ll put links to this in the show notes. On demand webinars, tons of eBooks. My favorite section, Will, is actually the template section, where there’s an event planning checklist. There’s an event budget template. There’s an event wifi bandwidth calculator. I’ve never seen that before, but that’s something that every event manager needs, given how crazy expensive that is. And they may not need it right away. But you also have a virtual event planning checklist there as well. So highly encourage people to check that out. What are some examples of companies that you’ve seen, either those you work with or those you encourage people to check out that you think are doing a really nice job right now with creating some more engaging, successful virtual events?
Will: Yeah. I’ll actually use a non-company one because it’s getting so many eyeballs and was so engaging, is check out Tomorrowland and what they did this last weekend. If you get a chance, they end up having something like a million people ended up buying tickets to it and spending 12 Euro to attend a virtual concert. Which, virtual concerts, what’s the difference between it and putting on Spotify right now. And so, I thought that was really, really engaging. That’s one to check out. I would also check out a lot of… Honestly, I would look at the events industry itself and see what they’re doing, because there’s a lot of people who are like, “Hey, let’s just experiment and let’s just do things crazy.” So if you’re trying to see what’s working, also look at what the events industry is doing as well.
And then I would also say a good company to look at as well is the companies like Samsung, and Apple, and everything like that as well. They’re more traditional in the sense that they’re doing live streams, but I think they’re showing off some really cool production value in terms of presentations. For example, Samsung had their UNPACKED event yesterday, and they were like, “Oh, and here’s the earbuds we just announced.” It’s this gigantic version, and they get to crack the joke and say, “This isn’t a life size model. They’re actually a lot smaller.” And then they hold the product out. But it was cool because that AR look of a floating object in front of you doesn’t translate in person because people had never seen it. But virtually, you can do all these crazy things in terms of production value.
And I think that they did a really good job transitioning between people, showing real life examples of things, but then giving palate cleansers of quick ad spots to say, “Oh, here’s this artist, how they use the Galaxy Note for five seconds, or whatever it may be.” But their production value I think is really good. So I would look at Tomorrowland for seeing absolutely mind boggling craziness. I would say look at the events industry if you’re looking for tactical, how to implement platform and stuff. And if you’re looking for live stream production value, Apple, Samsung, any major tech brand is really investing in this right now.
Matt: Well, in addition to this being the first time we have heard the term palate cleanser on Sales Pipeline Radio, tons of great advice. I definitely encourage anyone who is doing any level events, go to helloendless.com. Lots of great resources. Get to know Will and his stuff. Thank you so much, Will. Will Curran, our guest today on Sales Pipeline Radio. If you want to check this out again, if smoke was coming out of your pen as you were taking notes, Will gets a little excited and talks as fast as I do, definitely go back to salespipelineradio.com. We’ll have an on demand version of this episode. And we look forward to seeing you next week. On behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another week of Sales Pipeline Radio.