Bring in speakers who know the art of live-online interaction. Virtual kick-offs require extra effort to keep people engaged. Where some motivational keynote speakers might light-up the stage in a big ballroom, keeping people on the edge of their seat, it’s more challenging to hold people’s attention over a Zoom screen.
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 interviewing Karin Hurt and David Dye of Let’s Grow Leaders.
Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results- Without Losing Your Soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc Magazine’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells- building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series, Karin and David! 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”?
Perhaps not surprising for two people who love leadership, Karin and David are the oldest children in their families. Leadership didn’t always come easy, however — David’s earliest “leadership” memory is of locking his brothers and sisters in the basement in an attempt to influence them to clean the house. From those early missteps, however, David started studying leadership and asking questions about how people come together to get things done. He had a chance to practice leadership through Scouting and leading clubs in school.
If you knew Karin when she was a young girl, chances are you were in one of her “shows.” Every cousin and friend has a story of being roped into a holiday production of some sort. Ironically, several of them are working with us now at Let’s Grow Leaders in behind-the-scenes production.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
We’re often asked, why in the world would you leave successful executive careers, to start a leadership development company?
The truth is neither one of us set out to rid the world of cynical, dehumanizing leadership. We both just hit a point of such utter frustration, that we started to blog.
We were seeing too many examples of executives and managers destroying themselves and their teams with a win-at-all-cost mentality. Or others who were so focused on being liked by their team (or pleasing their boss), that they didn’t speak up or hold people accountable — and weren’t making much of an impact.
Although we didn’t know one another at the time, writing our blogs from 1700 miles apart, we were both passionate about two things: (1) Convincing leaders that you can get breakthrough results without losing your humanity and (2) Giving managers the practical tools to do so. After a while, our blogs began attracting readers from around the world who kept asking, “When are you going to write your book?” And “Can you come teach MY TEAM how to do that?”
Neither of us could resist the urge to do this for a living: the need was too strong and we wanted to make a broader impact.
Now, the love story.
So, we met online (not the swipe right or left kind but David swears he would have swiped right) and started reading and supporting one another’s work.
After a while, we realized we were writing the same book, so we decided to collaborate. We wrote our first book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results — Without Losing Your Soul while David was living in Colorado and Karin was in Maryland (evidence that YOU CAN nurture creativity, collaboration and trust in a remote team).
Soon after the book was complete, we realized we had fallen in love somewhere along the way. Got married. Merged our businesses. And now we help human centered leaders like you, resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees.
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?
When I (Karin) was still at Verizon, I was giving my first big internal keynote speech, and there was a reception before the event held around a reflecting pool at a fancy hotel. I was nervous and excited. Then I saw one of my friends I hadn’t seen for a long time on the other side of the room, and excitedly walked toward him — right into the reflecting pool. I had to give the keynote in a soggy suit.
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?
To Kill a Mockingbird’s message about empathy, justice, and persistently working for what’s right regardless of how long it takes were meaningful. Early in my career, I (David) recall an early leadership moment in my first frontline leadership role where I was frustrated with an employee’s behavior. Over the weekend, I went for a walk and Atticus Finch’s words came back to me: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” That helped me get out of my own frustration and understand the employee and how his past experiences informed what was happening now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
For me (Karin) it’s Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” The most meaningful things I’ve accomplished so far both personally and professionally have felt a bit like I was jumping out of an airplane. Sometimes you just have to take that leap.
And for me (David) it’s from Longfellow’s Psalm of Life “Not enjoyment and not sorrow is our destined end or way, but to act that each tomorrow finds us farther than today.” I love the focus on growth and journey. Every day will have its ups and downs, but it’s an encouragement to me to learn and grow.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Prior to the pandemic we were leading global, live-online leadership development programs with cohorts of leaders from different countries. We found the virtual format made it much easier to do spaced learning over time, which is ideal for adult learning, giving participants a chance to immediately apply what they’ve learned in between sessions. We also built our Let’s Grow Leaders Learning Lab for micro-learning reinforcement.
This experience was invaluable once the pandemic hit and we needed to quickly pivot all of our events to live-online. Perhaps one of the most fun was the keynote with the Dominican Republic Project Management Institute where we entered the stage as avatars and had a real-time translator.
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?
We were incredibly impressed with Amazon’s approach to global summits and we’re delighted to be a part facilitating our Courageous Cultures program based on our new book in several of their virtual events.
What made it so great was the authenticity of the senior leader — who was so open and vulnerable with his team. And then, giving people opportunities to share their source of strength during this time. It sent a beautiful message that people matter above all else — which then set a perfect backdrop for the strategic work they were doing.
They also made it tactile.
They sent a box with all the swag they would have given in person — tee-shirts, a journal, and Legos to build metaphors of what it means to have a Courageous Culture. Everyone wore their tee-shirt and laughed as they talked about courage, values, and practical ways to encourage micro-innovation and speaking up as they built metaphors out of Legos in breakout rooms.
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?
Lack of authenticity. The speakers doing too much talking. Not leveraging breakout rooms. Tech issues like internet stability because they’re working over Wi-Fi, or bad lighting. Speakers not looking into the camera.
When bringing in an outside expert, be sure they know how to leverage interaction to draw your team into the story and keep them focused.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
We’re big fans of Zoom Meetings. It’s easy for everyone to use, reliable, adaptable for different purposes, and the breakout rooms are best-in-class.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
There are many tools available, but the past year has seen so much happening with streaming software and hardware that allow you to create high-caliber, multi-camera experiences akin to produced television. As Mac users, we’re fans of Ecamm live and Streamdeck, but there are many others to choose from.
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.)
Here are our 6 suggestions for a great virtual event.
- Be real. Telling authentic stories with a bit of vulnerability is the secret sauce to building trust and connection at these large events. It’s important to close the distance between the executive speakers and the team by showing up real. And it matters even more in a virtual kickoff meeting.
The good news is, it’s not that hard. If your kid comes through with a pop-tart, bring them on your lap for a minute. If the parakeet lands on your head, that will make for a good laugh. Let them see the human in you — and give your team opportunities to be human too.
Share what you’re grieving and acknowledge the hardships and losses the team has endured.
Your team will engage with your inspiration and fun, once they know that you get it and that it’s been hard for you too.
We watched as one executive shared his own stress and struggle with COVID, which he had been dealing with since it first emerged in China and then in Europe and then now in his US teams. He shared his personal story of guilt from working so much and his concern for his small children who were exposed to COVID. And then he expressed deep concern for what everyone on the team had been going through — and was very sincere about saying he knew the work they were doing was amidst this backdrop. It was so human. So real. You could have heard a virtual pin drop. And the team was so engaged for the rest of the summit.
- Make it easy to share ideas. The biggest challenge with remote teams is the lack of a virtual water cooler. If your team is like most we work with, they’re longing for creative, spontaneous collaboration and to share what they’ve learned during this fast pivot.
Our FREE I.D.E.A. Incubator Guide can help you identify where you most need some great ideas and then help your team brainstorm, vet their ideas, and articulate them in a clear and compelling way.
- Celebrate and recognize the “how” as much as the “what.” As you think about who to recognize in your virtual kick-off meeting, if there was ever a year to think beyond the numbers, it’s now. Who truly lived your values? Who stepped up to support struggling team members? How about the unsung heroes behind the scenes working long-hours to support your fast pivot?
During times of stress and change, it’s hard to over-celebrate. Take time to make a ruckus and let people know how much you appreciate them and their hard work.
- Leverage the wisdom in the room. Your team has extraordinary examples of doing the best they can with what they have from where they are. It’s likely that many of your team members have become “experts” in areas they never even dreamed about: balancing work with homeschooling; running effective remote team meetings creative remote team communication. What if you pulled together “expert” panels from across your teams in virtual breakout rooms and your virtual kick-off attendees pick the topics they are most interested in attending?
- Bring in speakers who know the art of live-online interaction. Virtual kick-offs require extra effort to keep people engaged. Where some motivational keynote speakers might light-up the stage in a big ballroom, keeping people on the edge of their seat, it’s more challenging to hold people’s attention over a Zoom screen.
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?
- Consider the purpose for your event. What do you want your participants to think, feel or do as a result of your investment?
- Plan for a mix of energy and approaches including many ways for people to interact and engage. Consider using breakout rooms for more intimate interaction.
- Plan your tech, keeping it as simple as possible for the participant. Think through the experience from the user’s perspective — every time they have to do something new, challenging, or switch platforms, you break continuity and risk losing their attention to work or other life distractions. Minimize their tech-effort while maximizing the emotional change-of-states they experience during the event.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are both people 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.
Helping more leaders to be the courageous leader they want their boss to be.
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.
Brené Brown. Our Courageous Cultures research and tools is so aligned with her message. We would love to have a conversation with her about that.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.