Prepare, prepare, prepare! To even remotely replicate the energy of an in-person event, you have to make sure you prepare enough to cover the simple things. Monotone speaking, stumbling over subject matter, dull visuals, and other things that can be easily overlooked are setting you up for failure, not to mention making sure the streaming platform and any tools you’re using won’t act up in the middle of your event. Simply being at a live event, no matter what it is, whether a concert or a conference, automatically exudes energy. You may need to go above and beyond to recreate that, but if you’re able to do that in your preparation, your virtual event will go over extremely well.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewingJordan Canada.
Jordan Canada is theDirector of Operations of Prime Social Group, an independent concert and music festival promotions and productions company putting on live events around the world. With over 10 years of experience in producing and marketing live events, he’s worked with some of the biggest names in music including The Chainsmokers, Travis Scott, Diplo, and more. He also founded and runs @LifeInColumbus, Columbus, OH’s, leading lifestyle Instagram account.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
My name is Jordan Canada. Yes, that is my real last name, and no I’m not from Canada. I’m born and raised in Columbus, OH, where I attended school from elementary through college, and still live there today. Growing up I would always listen to the music my parents played, and when the opportunity to join the 6th grade band came up, I picked up the trumpet and started noodling away. My love of all things music spawned from there, and then grew to listening to my own newly-purchased CDs at home and going to concerts. Listening to music and going to concerts became a large part of me in high school and college.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always been interested in music, whether it’s playing music, going to concerts, listening to it, and so on. In college, I had a friend who began to get involved with Prime Social Group, which at the time was just starting up. I started tagging along with that friend to “street team meetings” where we’d learn what concerts are coming up and got tickets to sell to friends and posters to hang up around. After a while, I applied for a formal internship, which I was accepted for. From there, I started focusing more on social media after there was an opening with our Social Media Director position, and I ended up earning that position. I worked in social media for 5 years until there was another opening in the company, this time with the booking department. I asked to get involved with bookings, and that request was accepted. I started dipping my toes in that area until our Marketing Director took a job elsewhere, and I was essentially made the de facto Marketing Director in addition to my previous duties. Once that role got filled, I had already been running many of the day-to-day operations already between the various hats I was wearing, so it became formal with the “Director of Operations” title in 2018, a role I still enjoy today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
With the music industry, as with other industries I’m sure, there are a handful of untold, unspoken faux pas. One of those is sharing riders of the artists we book. Riders list the technical and hospitality asks and requirements the artist and their teams need (think the famous “green M&Ms” story). Someone had leaked the rider of an artist we were close with in a blog, and I shared it on our company social media pages thinking it was good content for our followers. Needless to say, I had multiple people run to my desk hysterically when they saw that post.
What I learned from that though is many of the faux pas or common mistakes from your job, you’ll only learn by making them as many times people won’t tell you everything. In other words, you’ll only learn and grow by doing!
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I recently read Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out, which is about Bill Graham who you could consider the concert promoter equivalent of Steve Jobs. It was extremely eye-opening; he was a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to the US, and built his company from the ground up without compromising the quality of the events he was hosting. It was fascinating to learn about an icon in your industry, learn about the history and rise of rock and roll, and to find out that he had earned everything himself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Screw it”. Yes, “screw it”, or sometimes the expletive version. I started carrying this with me when doing auditions for concert band in college. I would always go in extremely nervous feeling that there was a lot on the line for these auditions, and as a result, would not perform as well, then would leave that audition defeated. Starting my junior year, I basically said “screw it, what’s the worst that can happen?” A poor audition would just mean I’m not seated as high in concert band, but that’s it. I’ll still be in school, I’ll still be playing music… but that was really it. Once I started saying “screw it” and not focusing on all the nervousness, I went into these auditions more calm and composed, and performed better. This has helped me not only be less nervous for other major events later on in life, but has allowed me to go into other situations with a more open mind too.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
As a concert and festival promoter and producer, organizing events is my day job. Annually, we’ll host upwards of 10 major music festivals hosting thousands of people, and around 50 concerts hosting anywhere from 300–2,500 people. During the organizing, I’m involved with not only the preparation and execution of the actual event, but also assist with the marketing and the pre-event preparations like contracts and so on.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Once Covid hit, we ran a virtual event in lieu of our live events that were the core of the business. I was involved with many of the technical aspects in addition to the marketing around these events. I also hosted a virtual trivia event through @LifeInColumbus that went off very well.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Proximity and Brownies & Lemonade did a virtual music festival at the beginning of April that was impeccably executed, called Digital Mirage. It featured an impressive lineup of artists performing pre-recorded sets that was formatted like a real music festival, and they generated a ton of buzz before the event as well as much praise after it was done. They did a great job making it feel like a true event you can be excited for, and spent a lot of time making sure everything went without a hitch. They more recently did a 2nd edition of this and it was wonderfully executed as well. They did well with curating the entire programming, as well as working on the finer points of what to do during down times and make it really feel like it’s not just another virtual event.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The main thing I’ve noticed is simply a lack of preparation. Just because an event is virtual doesn’t mean you don’t need as much preparation; if anything you may need more! If you’re doing a presentation, make sure you know exactly what you’re talking about. Make sure all your materials are finalized and you know how to include them. Make sure your tech is working properly. If you’re on camera, do you know what you’re doing to wear, or what your background will be? Simply taking a few extra minutes to make sure your event is properly put together will be the difference between an amateur event and a professional one.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
I’ve seen Google Hangouts be a simple, easy way to do smaller, one-way broadcasts. It’s intuitive, easy to join, and there’s no time limit. For larger audiences, I’ve seen Youtube Live work well, including for that Digital Mirage event I mentioned previously. The comment section on Youtube Live is a great way for folks to chat in real time.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Personally I haven’t used any “fancy” gear for our livestreams. My only tip that is applicable to my experience is to consider the lighting and background if you are going to be on camera yourself, in which a proper light may be necessary (for example, a Ring light).
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! To even remotely replicate the energy of an in-person event, you have to make sure you prepare enough to cover the simple things. Monotone speaking, stumbling over subject matter, dull visuals, and other things that can be easily overlooked are setting you up for failure, not to mention making sure the streaming platform and any tools you’re using won’t act up in the middle of your event. Simply being at a live event, no matter what it is, whether a concert or a conference, automatically exudes energy. You may need to go above and beyond to recreate that, but if you’re able to do that in your preparation, your virtual event will go over extremely well.
- Run through the content you’re going to provide. If you’re on camera live, do a read through or “dress rehearsal” of what you’re doing to say. If you’re providing a pre-recorded video, make sure you watch the final draft of what you’re doing to provide to viewers. With one of the virtual concerts we hosted, no one watched the final draft of this pre-recorded program that we put out for the public to view. If we had done that, we would have noticed that no one edited out a part of an interview that was held between acts where the Director of the interview stopped the interview, told the host to try it again, and then ask the same question. As a result, THAT moment became the most talked about moment of the program, and hurt our reputation as it was an extremely amateur incident.
- How are you going to stand out? Nowadays, virtual events are everywhere. So what is going to make yours different? The most common answer will be in the content. If you’re hosting a virtual happy hour with special guests, why will this one be different? Is it the subject matter of discussion? Or is it the guests you’re bringing on? Why should people pay attention to this virtual event when they can consider a million other options? With our virtual concert, we were lucky to host ours before everyone and their brother was hosting similar style virtual concerts, as it was unique at the time. That’s why you see artists like Dua Lipa making sure that the production value of her recent virtual concert blows your mind, because she knows she needs to differentiate herself. While Dua Lipa spent 1.5M dollars (!!!) on the production of her recent livestream concert, you don’t need to break the bank to stand out. But, you do need to consider how to stand out. When I hosted a virtual live trivia event near the start of the lockdown, it went over great due to being a unique thing that nobody else was doing at the time. Because it was something new, attendance beat our expectations.
- Don’t forget to market your event! There’s a lot of things you need to do to prep your virtual event and make it the best event you can possibly have, but it’s all for not if no one attends! Make sure to do the simple things: Make a Facebook event, email your subscribers, promote on social media, have any guests/partners/affiliates promote from their pages… Don’t be afraid to shell out a few dollars through Facebook or Instagram ads too. This was an oversight for the first virtual concert we had (due to a handful of reasons) and as a result, attendance was lower than we expected and it can easily be traced back to a lack of marketing efforts.
- Don’t forget that real people are watching. When you’re sitting behind a computer, it’s very easy to forget that actual people are watching, and you’re not just presenting to faceless beings. This is something that can easily get overlooked when you’re in your home office talking to a piece of technology in front of your face. Whether it’s 10 people or 1,000 people, you should make sure that they feel included. This can include engaging with folks directly via a live Q&A session or asking people to chime in with their thoughts on a topic in the comment section, or it can also simply be going into the mind of your target viewer to understand what they want to take away from this. Cater the content towards who you want to watch your event, and make it feel like you’re reaching through the screen to them.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I believe they should see if anyone is doing anything similar to a proposed idea. If they are, see what they’re doing and what you can take away. What things are they doing that you like? Things you dislike? Take note of their content matter, and how you can make yours different from this event. And, if there’s nothing like the idea you have in your head, then you have found out that you have a unique idea! I would still recommend watching other similar style events (i.e. live Q&A, pre-recorded presentation, etc) regardless of the content of the event so you can take away positives and negatives about how the structure of their event ran.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would simply want people to become more selfless. Especially during Covid, it’s very easy to think of yourself, and frankly it makes sense. You’re seeing less of your friends and family in-person, you’re staying in your home more often, so it’s very easy to only think about what’s going on in your bubble. But outside of it, other people are running into similar issues as you may be experiencing too. Whether it’s they’re struggling with mental health, the loss of a job, or they’ve contracted Covid, you never know what someone is going through. I am definitely guilty of this myself, but I would want everyone to encourage everyone to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, as we’re all going through this life changing together but may be going through different circumstances.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Dolly Parton! Not only is she a fantastic musician and entertainer, but she’s leveraged her profile to do many wonderful acts of kindness and charity. I believe she is a great role model and that many people could learn valuable life lessons from her.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you for the opportunity!