Tigh Loughhead of Forcery: “The lesson here, and one I learn over and over”

The first step is to think about how to get people to come. Hopefully, I have a concrete idea for the value proposition of the event already, but I’ll scope out my needs for generating awareness, be it email, social media, partner/influencer marketing, and create a schedule for outreach and promotional collateral creation. As a […]

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The first step is to think about how to get people to come. Hopefully, I have a concrete idea for the value proposition of the event already, but I’ll scope out my needs for generating awareness, be it email, social media, partner/influencer marketing, and create a schedule for outreach and promotional collateral creation.

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 Tigh Loughhead.

Tigh Loughhead is leader in digital transformation and a community builder. The founder of Forcery, a MarTech consultancy in downtown Manhattan, specializing in Salesforce solutions. Tigh offers strategic guidance for marketing, process automation, and sales enablement, helping businesses leverage technology to scale. Tigh is a three time Salesforce MVP, a Trailhead Academy Instructor, and a Community Group Leader for Pardot in NYC as well as a Forbes Technology Council alum. Tigh is also an author, a speaker, and an evangelist for marketing automation when he’s not riding Italian motorcycles in New York City and throughout the world.

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”?

I grew up with my hands in the dirt on an organic farm in rural Pennsylvania. My family didn’t have a television until I was 12, and we grew most of our own vegetables (and chickens). When we did finally get a computer -I vividly remember the piebald Gateway 2000 box, the machine was a revelation to me.

I was a bit of a solitary kid, and went to a “Waldorf” school, where I was immersed in art and philosophy, but I was also building websites before I finished high school- and I’ve been fascinated by the intersection of art and technology ever since. Digital marketing and community building are a bit of a marriage of that art and tech, and I’ve drawn upon those vastly different personal experiences throughout my career.

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

I moved to New York City in April, 2008 after college- just in time for the financial crash. I had always thought I was destined for a career in law, but most companies had indefinite hiring freezes at that time, and I was averse to rack up even more student student loans.

After scraping by with odd jobs (bartending, computer repair, wholesale ecommerce), I was referred to a marketing agency startup in borrowed office space from a PR company. Over the next five years I wore many hats, but the team grew from 4 to 30, and when I left we had two floors overlooking Madison Square Park in Flatiron.

I was very involved in the early New York startup culture at the time as well, and realized that the personal relationships that people forge at networking events is a kind of crucible of career advancement. The Salesforce user group scene is really active in NYC, and I kept showing up and contributing enough till I was asked to run a group myself, and for the past five years, I’ve been building communities online, putting together events and on behalf of brands.

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?

Sure- so I loath public speaking… I used to be petrified of just the thought of getting up in front of an audience. Back in 2015, I had enrolled my firm in a product launch feature called “Engagement Studio.” After the release, there was a Salesforce user group event where community members were asked to share some of their campaigns. As an early adopter, I showed up as the only member ready to present- and tried to talk my way out of the whole thing.

I managed get up on the stage.. and to finish- but my voice cracked and I sweated profusely throughout the entire talk. I was sure I bombed, but some bigwig Salesforce watching, and asked me if I wanted to fly out to San Francisco later that year to present at their massive tech convention, and I’ve been invited back to Dreamforce to speak every year since.

The lesson here, and one I learn over and over- is learning to ask why something makes me uncomfortable- and this questioning has propelled me to take on more risk and achieve much more professionally than I would within my comfort zone.

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 love Russian classics and Science Fiction, but my favorite series of books over the last few years has probably been Yuval Noah Harari’s trilogy on the nature of humankind. The idea of shared fictions all of the “-isms” supported by collective belief (rather than objective reality); they really create a narrative that underpins what it means to essentially be human; and this is something that has fascinated philosophers, linguists and marketers all at once. I find it profoundly interesting and useful to try to understand how individuals and groups find meaning- as people will do just about anything given a purpose.

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

I am (virtually) around thousands of people for work, though I fancy myself a bit of a secret cynic, coming from a family of lawyers and judges. I read something that stuck with me in my teens, in a book of quotations that read “I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education,” from a turn of the century playwright Wilson Mizner.

To tie this back to the last question, as my professional career of building community has developed, I’ve needed to be able to talk to just about anyone, regardless of their background, education,or anything else. I’ve needed to learn how to empathize with how people find meaning, specifically in what institutions or conventions do people believe? And yet, while I admire and try my best to sympathize with what provides value and meaning to others, I continually (and sometimes neurotically) second-guess those motivations as well, and I think my doubting has left me far more open-minded than when I started.

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?

Sure- so as with many things in life, I kind of fell into organizing events, and realized one day- “hey… I’m actually pretty good at this.” Back in 2015 I started helping out running a “Trailblazer Community Group” for Salesforce for their marketing automation product Pardot. I was also very involved in the startup world, and spent my days after work attending Slack developer meetups, Google Tech Talks, FinTech events and many others- and I began to meet so many interesting people. I discovered that there is an entire ecosystem of relationships that can fundamentally alter anyone’s professional journey.

I also learned that you can get 15 people out to any event with free pizza and beer. Today our NYC User Group today is nearly 600 members and the largest Pardot user group in the world. I have to find not only engaging presenters but (used to have to) procure event space in downtown Manhattan to host meetings. Our events grew from 15–20 attendees to sometimes over 150, and successfully ran some fantastic events at Splash headquarters, at Salesforce Tower overlooking Bryant Park, and even on the 48th floor of 7 World Trade Center. For the past year, all of our events have been virtual. I also teach classes for Salesforce’s Trailhead Academy, which are smaller virtual events that Certified instructors run on Zoom and Webex,

I’ve also featured at a number of large, events both in-person, like speaking at Marriiot Marquis at Inman Connect NYC, or virtually the 2020 Digital Adoption Summit, in addition to Dreamforce and numerous other Salesforce event..

In my personal life, I’m just as passionate about motorcycles as I am digital transformation. I started the first and only NYC motorcycle club officially sponsored by the Italian brand Ducati called Gotham, which has grown to over 400 members. I organize events and manage the entire community across multiple channels. We have bike nights, track days, rides and a number of other social events, both online and in person.

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

The most important thing I’ve learned is to always over prepare and have a fallback plan. I’ve presented in a number of webinars over the years, and a couple of years back, I was slated to present on marketing artificial intelligence for an upcoming product release. However, I had a trip planned to Ireland with my wife’s family, so I rented a classroom at National University of Ireland, Galway near where we were staying for a few hours. Upon arriving, I could not get the platform On24 to transmit audio, and frantically purchased an internationally calling plan, which did not fix the issue of poor cell reception. Frantically (and about 10 minutes into the live presentation), we realized that we could use Google Meet to transmit my system audio to On24, where attendees could hear around the rest of the world.

Obviously, early in 2020 we also moved all of our Pardot User Groups to virtual events, and now all fo the classes I teach are strictly online as well. Networking is a totally different prospect when participation (or even showing your face) is completely voluntary. Making personal small talk and finding new ways to get people to interact really help the success of virtual events, as online people are much more likely to tune out.

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?

I think online events have been little hit an miss over the COVID crisis- I’ve been watching a lot more concerts as virtual events this year, and some have been absolutely incredible, like the “Picture Show: A Tribute Celebrating John Prine” (who was one of the earliest pandemic deaths), which I watched with my family on Facebook Live. Other initiatives have been ambitious- the whole idea of “the bubble” turned NBA games into literal live virtual events, though sports keep faltering as athletes continue to contractCOVID-19.

And in the business world, I almost think large virtual events are almost a new phenomenon. Last year started off with a whole lot of momentum around transitioning large-scale in-person conferences to virtual experiences. I featured at the Digital Adoption Summit, but by the end of the year there was almost a sense of summit fatigue. Salesforce cancelled their giant tech-conference Dreamforce, only to do the keynote live. SXSW, which cancelled their massive annual event in Austin, is launching a massive virtual experience this year as are CES, the Cannes Film Festival and Mobile World Congress.

I think it’s too soon to tell who will really be successful with virtual events yet though, as the major players are still trying to balance revenue generation + production costs with attracting + maintaining audiences.

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 two biggest mistakes I’ve made are failing to address A/V quality and virtual event security. Early on in the pandemic I was actually Google Meets-bombed, and it was one of the most mortifying experiences of my professional life I’ve ever had. If you’re not familiar with the term “Zoom-bombing,” hackers are for some reason continually looking for virtual events to disrupt, hijacking the events and often broadcasting off-color or obnoxious content.

I had run several great events before on Google Meets without issue. However, inviting registrants is always a challenge as I didn’t always have access to attendee’s email addresses. I was unaware that anyone I had manually “admitted entry” into the event (a button I can click as a moderator), and 40 minutes into our broadcast the virtual event was overrun by sights and sounds that ruined the entire virtual event. Suffice to say, I invested in another webinar platform the next day with strict controls over user participation.

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

That’s a tough one- as different applications vary so much in terms of their functionality and ease of use- depending on what type of virtual event you want to run. Just signing people up for an event, EventBrite, Meetup and Splash are fantastic, though the former two make it really easy for users to sign up and register; whereas the latter offers quite a bit more flexibility in terms of design and curating an event sign-up experience.

On the actual event hosting platform side- I feel like there is a little bit of a digital arms race between Zoom, On24, Bevy racing to monetize the consumer shift to virtual events, but also to guarantee security and new features, and probably a whole new class of apps I don’t know about yet.. Even the older webinar platforms like Webex and GoToMeeting/Webinar, while definitely clunkier for both the event organizer and attendee, offer more solid integrations with various CRM systems, and are still more of a one-stop-shop for planning virtual events, and that becomes important to think about if an event is part of a larger journey.

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

Yes. As an event organizer, you have to plan for how your audience can interact, and how you as a moderator can lock them down. Perhaps the personal interaction is simply providing an avenue to find out more- but perhaps you actually want to have break-out rooms or overflow sessions. Perhaps you want a Q&A. Will this take within the event, or externally (via Twitter feed for example)? Should attendees be able to raise hands, or communicate via emoji interaction? Or, perhaps you want to allow moderators to unmute attendees to ask questions directly. Understanding how to both facilitate engagement but also maintain control over speakers and the audience will be crucial to managing the flow of the event.

In my example of getting Meet-bombed above- I didn’t fully understand the security features of the platform, and it proved disastrous to our virtual experience.

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.)

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?

The key to creating an electric event in my opinion is really meticulous planning- I like to map out every step of the event just like a marketing campaign, and whiteboard the entire process- before actually actually getting started.

The first step is to think about how to get people to come. Hopefully, I have a concrete idea for the value proposition of the event already, but I’ll scope out my needs for generating awareness, be it email, social media, partner/influencer marketing, and create a schedule for outreach and promotional collateral creation.

Then, we need to think about how we’ll capture attendee information. Will we build a standalone website, or use an existing platform- and this includes how we’ll track registration status and payment processing as well supporting the live virtual event. Unless we have sponsors funding the event, this can get very complex very quickly. Once we’ve aligned on platform(s), we can move on to planning.

The next step is to write this all down, and create a schedule for all of the promotion, prep-sessions, sponsorships and dry-runs. Mapping out milestones for each stage of event build-up, as well as setting targets for attendance and exposure, allows us to make adjustments if registrations are lackluster

The fourth step is to confirm with our speakers, and align on both content, the format of their presentation. One of the steps that is frequently overlooked is to ensure A/V functionality of our speakers. Clarity of diction is crucial to communication and to the quality of out event- I live in downtown Manhattan where they’ve been doing roadwork on gas mains for the past two months a couple blocks away and investing in a high-end noise-cancelling headset was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.)

Lastly, follow our plan. The real key to creating an event with electric energy is not attracting big names (though that won’t hurt). Electric events flow seamlessly and deliver content of real value to audiences, and our virtual event production needs to be executed as strategically as possible.

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’ve been doing a good bit of mentoring over the past year, and I’ve become enamored with this notion of “sending the elevator back down” if you can or if you’re able. Now, I’m hardly at the top floor in all areas, but I think one thing we are missing in American society is available professional development within communities, and the voluntary investment by managers and executives of time and resources to guide people to new career paths to learn more / reskill .

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.

“Oh, boy.” Well, I’ve actually had lunch one time with Marc Benioff, so I can cross that off my bucket list. I’m not particularly star-struck by media personalities, but I do listen to a series of fantastic history podcasts done by a writer named Mike Duncan. I’ve been listening to him for years, and I’d love to have breakfast with him someday.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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