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Robert Kienzle of Knowmium: “Get participants involved before the live virtual event”

Get participants involved before the live virtual event. This results in many positives: it onboards participants to virtual platforms, it motivates them to attend the live event, and most importantly, it preps them to be an active participant. As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a […]

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Get participants involved before the live virtual event. This results in many positives: it onboards participants to virtual platforms, it motivates them to attend the live event, and most importantly, it preps them to be an active participant.


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 Robert Kienzle of Knowmium.

Robert has over 15 years of business training and coaching experience on all 7 continents. After completing his Masters in Communication studies at the University of Arkansas, USA as well as Oxford and Cambridge, UK, he began his career first in North America training politicians, organization administrators, and sales representatives in order to refine their rhetoric and persuasion. Robert worked as a researcher and consultant for global businesses and their agents in 6 countries. In Asia, Robert is former faculty at Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul. He currently works with Fortune 100 and S&P Asia 50 companies throughout the APAC region conducting workshops and coaching management in presentation, negotiation, personal branding, intercultural communication, influence, writing, and other skills. Robert excels at both in-person and virtual facilitation and designs every workshop with a high-level of interaction. Robert is twice a Distinguished Toastmaster in Toastmasters International and was a World Championship of Public Speaking semi-finalist in 2014 and 2015.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/9b736ece4272dcc8dc7f2c131652767b


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”?

Before I was 15, I worked odd jobs for my personal spending money. I did lawn work for neighbors during weekends and summers. In addition to being a full-time teacher and counselor, my mother wrote and distributed educational materials. There was always work available separating and creating packages from boxes of books, rolls of stickers, and printed materials in our home. When I was 15, I got my first official job at a local pizza restaurant. I continued working in restaurants, cinemas, retail stores, and newspaper subscription sales throughout my high school and university years. Sometimes I wished I could devote my entire time to university and university-based activities instead of working. As I work with Fortune 100 clients today, I recognize the values and experiences I picked up from my early years in the service and sales industries. It’s my goal to make difficult processes easier, to make unhappy or uncertain clients satisfied, and to put on the most professional face even when the day is drab. Dealing with retail and restaurant customers made my skin tougher and my appeasement skills stronger. Service customers are quite different than the professional clients I work with today, yet maintaining happy professional clients shares some roots with customer service in general.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

My first experience in corporate consulting was during graduate school at the University of Arkansas where I was also teaching communication courses. I worked with Unilever and their Walmart Global Team. The Unilever team coordinated with Unilever managers around the world (from Mexico, Brazil, Germany, China, etc.) who were responsible for Unilever products, placement, and marketing in Walmart stores. Everyone spoke English, but there were constant miscommunications. For example, when product display instructions were sent to Germany, the team back at headquarters in Arkansas would learn the displays weren’t set up correctly or were set up in incorrect areas of the store. Sometimes new product displays were not set up at all. Headquarters had trouble figuring out why steps that were thought to be clear in the paperwork and over phone conversations weren’t being followed. My group of graduate students helped Unilever analyze their communication patterns and messages. We found what many in the communication field might expect: cross-cultural communication was the culprit. “Yes” doesn’t always mean “Yes, I understand the instructions and will set up displays by the deadline.” “Yes” could mean “I understand, but I have no intention of actually doing it this way.” “Yes” might even mean “I’m still listening.” Our group helped everyone on the Unilever team get on the same page (or closer to it). By understanding different cultural ways of working and communicating, and by creating shared processes of work, we were able to make everyone’s jobs more coordinated and ultimately more cohesive.

This experience with Unilever’s Walmart Global Team was not my kicking off point for work in the corporate world. It was the bridge I had between the communication theories we studied and taught at universities and how they actually play out in the corporate world.

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?

While I don’t regard this episode as a mistake in terms of my client relations, it was a mistake in the eyes of my employer. When I was teaching university courses and conducting corporate training in South Korea, I co-facilitated a half-day presentation program for a new client. It was my first time working with this group of 10 managers. The head facilitator and I received the schedule for the program: 9am to 1pm. At 11:50am, we announced a final coffee break and gave a preview of our last hour: small group presentations and feedback. The participants looked confused and spoke up, “We have lunch at 12:00.”

The presentation program was set up to be highly interactive and flow in the four-hour block with no large gaps. Additionally, we had more appointments after lunch, so changing the schedule on the fly wasn’t preferred. My colleague explained, “Your L&D team scheduled the training from 9am to 1pm. We’d love to have lunch, come back, and run the final session from 1 to 2pm, but our schedules are fixed.”

The participants pushed back, “We always have lunch at 12pm and we weren’t told about the change of schedule.”

An individual spoke up, “I’ll have to miss the last hour. I’m too hungry to stay.”

At that moment, I suggested, “What if during the break, I buy the room some pre-lunch snacks like fruit and chocolate bars? Would that hold everyone until 1pm for lunch?” The group quickly agreed, and we completed the program with ease and smiles.

Did you spot the mistake? I didn’t either at the time, but my employer saw one. During the debrief with the boss at my training company, I told him proudly of our quick problem-solving solution. We were able to save the training schedule, save our later afternoon schedules, and make the participants happy. All it cost was about 20 USD for snacks. I said I’d file the receipt for the snacks in my monthly report. My boss wasn’t happy. “This training was scheduled from 9am to 1pm. It should have continued without any negotiation and especially without added costs. The 20 USD expense was not approved in advance and this can’t happen again.”

I was dumbstruck, but I apologized for the inconvenience and scratched my head. I told my colleague about the conversation. “Screw that,” my colleague said, “the firm is making over 1000 dollars on training and the owner wants to fuss about 20 dollars? That’s pennywise and pound foolish. If it costs 20 dollars to make a room full of participants happy and get great evaluations from them, that’s 20 dollars well spent on keeping a client coming back to us. Geez.”

That story’s lesson has stuck with me over the years: keeping both participants and clients comfortable and happy with our training might take some extra costs and extra time. The long-term value of a repeat client over the years is well worth it especially when the client knows you are willing to go the extra mile. This often results in more referrals.

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?

The film Office Space will always be one of my favorite films. 25 years later, it still captures the essence of working for a company that doesn’t care about employees. People are just disposable worker ants who should follow orders even if that means coming into work on the weekend with no incentives. The film is funny but the reality of the daily grind for many people isn’t. Even when I was saw this film in high school, I knew people, including friends with university degrees, who lived the daily grind of an office they dreaded, a boss that didn’t care about them, and their struggle to claw their way to middle management. It motivated me to go in different directions and try new things: to travel, to study, and to not accept the first job I found after getting my bachelor’s degree. I look at my current clients and find peace that most of them support their employees and their wellbeing. If they didn’t, they likely wouldn’t hire communication consultants like me nor offer professional development programs. Happy employees are usually more productive employees. That’s what makes Office Space so funny: an unhappy employee quits caring and working altogether and it leads to happiness in the end.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Know your limits and ride within them.” I learned this in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course when I was 20. It saved my life on 2 wheels more than once, and more often than not, my friends who actually crashed their bikes were the ones who never took the safety course.

In business (and life in general), I still follow this principle. Don’t over-promise something if you aren’t sure you can deliver. Don’t exaggerate your qualifications or abilities because if you’re found out, people won’t trust you. Don’t overbook your weekly schedule because if even if you can physically complete everything, you can’t mentally sustain it over time. All these business lessons could be summarized with “Know your limits and ride within them.”

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?

Because I work for a boutique training firm, I am responsible for overseeing events from start to finish: client engagement and understanding their needs, researching program content, designing content and activities, facilitating workshops, onboarding other trainers or co-facilitators, and developing pre and post-program interactions. We share content within our firm. We each customize programs for our clients, and having some fodder and tested activities from each other goes a long way. If diners praise the lasagna, keep the recipe. It still takes all the effort to cook, but you know which ingredients are needed.

2020 brought many opportunities to turn face-to-face programs into virtual events. I ran purely virtual programs before 2020 but had never needed to convert and develop so many. It was both challenging and exciting. Utilizing new software, seeking different techniques to keep people engaged, and mixing physical activities into online meetings were interesting. I’ve discovered new things to do once we get back into our clients’ physical offices, too.

For most of my professional career, I’ve organized a variety of private and non-profit events. To list a few: public speaking events and contests, scavenger hunts, overnight trips for large groups, house parties and private restaurant parties, and even my own wedding (4 different wedding/reception combos held in multiple countries, all with the same bride).

Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?

Live virtual events take longer to organize if you want them to go well and be interactive. Anyone can set up a Zoom meeting and speak for an hour straight on a topic. But (almost) no one wants to attend that, and if they do, they want to log in for appearances and get other work done while half listening. Virtual events have to create more points of engagement and discussion and be timed differently. They have to cover less content in 1 hour than an in-person event. Also, virtual events often take more pre-session steps for the participants like onboarding new platforms and software. The facilitator has to inspire and motivate people to actually do something before the live event. In face-to-face events, if something goes wrong, it’s probably technology. In virtual events that are done purely through technology, the chance of something going wrong rises exponentially.

A funny yet frustrating incident happened during a recent non-profit event. We usually run non-profit, volunteer programs on our own platforms. Our admin settings are familiar to us, so there’s less need to test capabilities with outside hosts and administrators. The recent non-profit organization insisted that we use Zoom. “Great,” I said, “Zoom is user-friendly and we have our own paid accounts. I’ll send over the meeting URL.”

“No no,” said the non-profit manager, “we want you to use our Zoom network. Our IT staff (based in another country) will have a test run with you, host the session, and control all the functions during the event.” Given the fact that I was donating my time for this non-profit event, I wanted to object to all these extra steps. I went along with them anyhow.

So now the extra planning steps with their IT team started. I told them, “With 21 people, having 7 breakout rooms should work well. It will give every participant plenty of time to share.”

The IT team replied, “That won’t work. We can only have 2 breakout rooms.”

I questioned, “What? Why?”

They attempted to explain, “That’s the way we do it. If we have too many breakout rooms, people don’t have time to discuss.”

Now I was super confused. I replied, “If we have 2 breakout rooms with 10 people in each room, people won’t have time to discuss. If we have 3 people in each room, everyone gets a chance to be heard.”

The IT guru said, “It takes too long for too many breakout rooms to open.”

Again, confused, I probed, “Please explain. Breakout rooms open at the same time, and while there may be someone who takes a few more seconds to enter a room, it’s something we do all the time with our corporate clients.”

Next, the IT chief said something that I still don’t understand to this day. The IT chief said, “After breakout room 1 opens, it takes a minute for breakout room 2 to open, then another minute for breakout room 3 to open, and so forth.” Was he generally ignorant of how Zoom breakout rooms work? Was he lying? Was he innocently misinformed?

I knew this was not the case, and if in some long shot this was the case, I was willing to push back as I was not only volunteering my time, but also my content, my agenda, and my show. “Sir,” I said, “in the years that I’ve been using Zoom and having used both my account and my clients’ accounts, that simply doesn’t happen, and if it does, it’s never been written about and your company’s Zoom network would make a great case study for the Zoom corporation itself.” Now I wished I had pushed harder to use my own Zoom account from the beginning.

A non-profit administrator in the test session came up with an idea. She said, “How about we have two groups of three people, so 6 total, in each breakout room. Both groups can have their discussion in the same breakout room at the same time.” If I didn’t have my camera enabled, I would have slapped my head in frustration.

I replied to the group, “Janet and Jamie, both of you have a conversation right now. Martin and I are going to have a separate conversation at the same time, all within this single Zoom room. Ok, go.” It took about 1 second of 4 people taking over each other in our headsets for the admin to realize this isn’t how human communication works online. Ultimately, the non-profit staff took my advice and let me run the show. We had 7 breakout rooms in the live event (with no problems or delays) and the session went swimmingly.

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?

Knowmium, my company! Oh, a non self-serving example? Miro. Miro is a super-powered online whiteboard and collaboration tool. We use it for long-term team projects and short-term workshop activities. As a company, Miro held their online event named “Distributed” in 2019 and 2020 (free of charge). In 2020, it had 38 speakers and over 14,000 registrants. Miro also has regional workshops with local, volunteer facilitators on their regional board.

Miro events do what so many great training firms do: they make events interactive. This is partially due to virtual tools like whiteboards being accessible and engaging. It’s also due to the program activities themselves. Chat, Q&A, emoji reactions, discussions, breakout rooms: all these things are built into major meeting platforms. Add to them all the 3rd party tools we can use in separate computer windows or on our smart devices. Great training firms and great trainers are going to find productive ways to use these to keep participants busy with the content and off their emails.

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?

First, never run a virtual event without testing the platform and virtual tools yourself. And I mean testing them initially to understand their functions and capabilities as well as testing them with the specific program content you’re running. Using a 2nd computer to see the user experience is good. Getting guinea pigs to be test participants is great.

Second, don’t neglect having a producer/co-host. If the event has more than 25 interacting participants: producer. If the event has participants that are new to you or new to each other: producer. If the event uses software that’s new to the participants: producer. A 2nd set of eyes, ears, and hands might not always be needed, but when it is, it will save your event.

Third, stop designing virtual events like you would an in-person event. Plan less content. Plan for communication and activities to take longer. Plan for longer pauses between one speaker and another. Plan time for small talk or ice breakers to rekindle the human connections we would get in the hallway or break room during face-to-face events.

Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?

I’ve already mentioned Zoom’s functions and breakout rooms and the need for interaction and activities. Any platform that allows people to be on video, be heard, and do something with buttons (and therefore their hands) is going to be a winner. There are a few lesser-known virtual meeting and event platforms worth exploring, too. Wonder (formerly known as Yotribe), Toasty, and Jitsi all allow video-based interactions and movement from one small group to another. We often jump off our paid Zoom account and organize events on these unique platforms just to have a change of pace. Plus, some of them have special capabilities that allow new types of engagement.

Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?

I previously mentioned Miro the collaborative whiteboard. The best thing to do is hop on and test a board with a free account. Here are things you can add and edit on a Miro board: text, links, shapes, built-in temples (workflows, mind maps, Kanban boards, etc.), your own templates, PDFs, Youtube and other links that display directly on the board, images from the Google Images tool embedded in Miro, icons, moveable connecting lines that stick with objects as you move them around, and more. The paid version amplifies the functions: giving anyone the ability to comment or edit the board without them setting up an account or logging in, group voting on items and groupings, admin locking and unlocking to prevent alterations, presenting areas as slideshows, exporting areas as PDFs and images, video chat within the Miro platform, and more.

Miro also has a competitor: Mural. They operate similarly and are both easy to navigate as a participant and as the admin/host.

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.)

1. Get participants involved before the live virtual event. This results in many positives: it onboards participants to virtual platforms, it motivates them to attend the live event, and most importantly, it preps them to be an active participant.

I have participants watch my 2-minute introduction video created specifically for their team. I introduce myself and the program goals. Next, participants make a 1–2 minute video that everyone else can watch. They answer professional questions and share some personal interests. It gets everyone used to being on video for the live event, and if there’s a tech issue, it gives us time to fix it.

2. Prep other facilitators and role-takers for a smooth flow and to show respect. Think about all the people you might work with before and during an event: the client that hired you, co-facilitators, co-hosts and producers, and presenters and panelists. Work directly with them. It shows respect and inclusion, and it gives them a chance to clarify processes and instructions. Conversely, there may be people who don’t need personal conversations or live briefings, so prep them asynchronously through videos and documents as needed. No one likes attending a meeting that could have been an email. However you choose to prep the other leaders, make sure everyone is clear on the event goals, the potential audience and participants, the schedule, the timings, any rules or protocols, and troubleshooting. If needed, rehearse modules and activities with people who will be contributing to the live event.

Early in 2020, I ran a public speaking workshop and invited experienced presenters to lead breakout room feedback sessions. The workshop attendees gave prepared speeches and the experienced presenters led the feedback. One of the experienced presenters couldn’t attend the live briefing. In the briefing, we covered how much time to give attendees during speeches and which feedback styles were appropriate. For those who missed the briefing, I included the session recording and guidelines in the follow-up email. During the live session, right before the breakout rooms, the presenter asked publicly “how would you like me to give feedback?” From the attendees’ point of view, this made my session look unprepared and uncoordinated. We didn’t have time to cover how to give feedback, and giving instructions in front of the attendees (who were mentally focused on their own speech delivery) wasn’t appropriate. Luckily, we had an extra presenter who was able to take over the breakout room.

3. Show up early and encourage attendees to do the same. Obviously showing up and starting an event early helps the facilitator prep and test tech. Having co-hosts arrive early ensures key players are ready for the event to start on time. Having attendees arrive early has advantages, too. First, it gives them time to test their connections and resolve tech issues (especially if they didn’t do any pre-session testing). Second, it gives them time to ask questions and talk with facilitators. At a minimum this builds rapport, and could prevent problems or confusion. Third, it gives facilitators a chance to run pre-ice breaker ice breakers: simple activities and conversations for those who are waiting for the event to start. In face-to-face events, people mingle and chat over coffee at their desks or in hallways. Create opportunities for those conversations by giving people something to talk about or simply type in the chat box. I like having people edit their screen name with their preferred first name, their location, and something personal like book recommendation, recent movie, or what they did over the weekend.

4. Schedule extra time and stick with it. This tip could be an entire book chapter (and it is in other places). Schedule less content than you think you will be able to cover. Schedule extra time for tech glitches, conversation gaps, and instruction clarification. Once you have an agenda, whether it’s public or just your own facilitator notes, stick with it as much as possible. Don’t decide to ad lib new content or new activities unless needed. If you do, you may end up turning a planned interactive session into a lecture-based listening-only webinar.

To demonstrate how processes take more time online, let’s compare a 1-hour face-to-face session with a 1-hour virtual session. We’ll use a business storytelling workshop as an example.

Face-to-face

9:00: Participants have already arrived. They’re seated with coffee and tea in hand. Many are already talking to people seated near them. The facilitator greets the room and runs a quick ice breaker. Everyone speaks for 20–30 seconds starting from the left side of the room to the right.

9:05: The facilitator previews the rest of the hour’s content and objectives.

9:10: The facilitator delivers an example business story and debriefs with 3 key elements on the power of stories. The participants are focused and attentive because they are in the same room and the facilitator has stage presence and eye contact with individuals.

9:20: Participants work on their own story for 5 minutes by outlining a personal success story. They can ask questions if needed.

9:25: Groups of 3 split into different areas of the room. Each person shares their story for 3 minutes and gets 2 minutes of feedback from their small group. If needed, people can continue asking clarification questions with the facilitator.

9:40: Everyone returns to their original seats and the facilitator asks for a volunteer to share their story with the room. Quickly, one attendee is nominated by their small group. They stand up and tell their story.

9:45: The facilitator runs a feedback session. Participants give feedback and opinions. The facilitator picks up key points and expands on more storytelling content.

9:55: The facilitator wraps up any additional talking points that didn’t arise during the feedback session and answers any remaining questions.

10:00: It’s time for a short break because the morning coffee is still flowing.

Virtual

9:00: Some participants arrived on time. About half have not logged in yet. The facilitator makes small talk while waiting for more people. One person says they got an email that the Zoom link isn’t working. It worked for everyone else. The facilitator resends that attendee the link.

9:05: 80% of participants have arrived and the session needs to start. The facilitator runs an ice breaker where everyone speaks for 20–30 seconds. The facilitator has to call out the next speaker’s name. Sometimes the facilitator has to give people feedback about their connection. Some have a bad echo because they didn’t bring a headset (as instructed in the session requirements). Some speakers have a long pause before they speak because they weren’t pay attention. They may have been checking email. Some late participants arrive at 9:15 and the ice breaker instructions have to be repeated again.

9:20: The facilitator previews the rest of the hour’s content and objectives.

9:25: The facilitator delivers an example business story and debriefs with 3 key elements on the power of stories. Some of the participants are looking down and glancing back and forth. The daily news may be on their screen. Some of their videos have been switched off (even though using video is part of the program requirements).

9:35: Participants are given 5 minutes to work on developing their own success stories. They can ask questions during this time. Some people get up and walk away from their desk. They turned personal work time turned into break time because why not? It’s their home and they want juice from the fridge.

9:40: Groups of 3 will go into breakout rooms, but first the facilitator makes sure everyone has the instructions and timings since there’s no two-way communication between breakout rooms and the main room. The instructor explains that each person shares their story for 3 minutes and gets 2 minutes of feedback from the other 2 people. The instructor puts these instructions in the chat box so people can save it. Some people arrive back from their personal break and ask for the instructions. One person asks questions about their personal story that could have been asked during personal work time. The instructor delays breakout rooms to give instructions again.

9:50: Breakout rooms start with a 15-minute time limit.

10:00: With 5 minutes left in breakouts, the facilitator realizes they originally scheduled these breakouts to end by 9:45. The session is already running 20 minutes late. The debrief session will likely need to be cut short. The facilitator receives a message that some members left breakout rooms early to take a personal coffee break and didn’t share their story or give feedback.

Comparing these two experiences shows the need to schedule less content than you think you will be able to cover. Schedule extra time for tech glitches, conversation gaps, online instruction clarification, and human error.

5. Interact! If you want people to build skills, give them practice. Watching cooking shows on TV doesn’t make anyone a chef. Rolling dough, baking pies, burning pizzas, and learning what works best makes a chef.

Interaction eliminates multitasking and boredom. It takes effort to plan interaction, and when it happens live, it fully pays off.

Emojis? Press them.
Chat box? Type in it.
Questions? Come off mute.
Virtual backgrounds? Present them.
Whiteboards? Draw on them.
Slide sharing? Annotate while sharing.
Breakout rooms? Discuss in them. Present in them. Collaborate in them. Create in them.
Physical objects in your participants’ homes and offices? Use them, show them, and talk about them.

Keep people’s hands and mouths moving if you want their minds moving, too. If you don’t engage participants, their emails and the daily news will.

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?

Hire an experienced facilitator like me. Just kidding…sort of. We recommend all facilitators and trainers get used to running virtual events themselves. Get advice and get help but take control of your own programs. If somehow an organizer has avoided doing virtual events in 2020 and is still getting business: bravo! Starting to run your own virtual events is like experimenting in a kitchen with new ingredients and new equipment. Play around, see what mixes well, see what gadgets do, and check what tastes good. On the other hand, there are many businesspeople who don’t need to conduct their own events now nor will they in the future. Hiring an experienced host may be worth the money and definitely the time and reduced stress levels. Even if you hire someone to run an event for you, be ready to communicate. A great facilitator will heed your goals, needs, and challenges within the event. Tell the chef how your family likes their steak cooked and what salad dressings are enjoyed.

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.

Could we figure out a way to take 10% of people’s social media time and funnel that into volunteering or outreach? Of course, social media has sparked and spawned a great amount of connection, education, and activism. I’m talking about idle social media consumption. If a portion of collective idle viewing could be redirected toward the greater good, we’d likely end modern day slavery and cure climate change within 5–10 years. Plus, 90% of the idle time would still be there for us to watch random people dance online.

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.

Since business and politics are completely intertwined in the US, I’m going to give a cliche answer with for a specific reason. I’d appreciate the chance to dine with Joe Biden and convince him that the private prison industry in the US must end. The mass incarceration of people for non-violent crimes is one of the biggest stains on recent American history. The current prison system enables modern day slavery. It supports racism and classism. Sending people (including youths) to prison is incentivized in for-profit companies. It eats up taxpayer funds and diminishes the US’s credibility when combatting authoritarian regimes around the world. It’s disgusting, it’s inhumane, and it flies a middle finger in the face of the United States’ slogan “land of the free.” I know this question may be aimed at my professional goals and my career, and bringing up a rotten and possibly divisive topic at the end of a business interview might turn off a few people. But having lunch with Biden to discuss ending for-profit prisons doesn’t benefit me personally or my social circles. It’s simply something selfless I could do if given the chance to influence a VIP. Obama didn’t fix the problem. Trump didn’t either. Biden’s next in power and the country shouldn’t wait any longer.

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